216 E 53rd St (2nd & 3rd Ave)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 644-1166
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Cuisine: Tapas/Small Plates
2nd Cuisine: Spanish
Area: East 50s
Once upon a time, tapas were slightly exotic. Today when there are many places where tapas are available, you can do a lot better eating them somewhere other than Solera, although, judging from the crowd, plenty of people are perfectly happy here. The décor has a slightly worn, old-world look and feel with white stucco walls hung with Spanish prints and blue and white pottery with a “garden” room at the back. (It’s roofed in and gets a vaguely outdoor ambiance from greens behind it.) Despite the carpeted floor, the main room can get intensely noisy. Up front is a large bar and more tables but that entire area was empty, perhaps attesting to a restaurant that is past its prime.
Service is adequate though far from snappy. Sangria is available in both the red and white versions as are all manner of wines and Sherries, a perfect accompaniment to tapas. Alas, the tapas themselves are pedestrian both in variety and execution with salt as the main ingredient. The Ensalada Russa lacks the traditional peas and is really a mayonnaise-laden potato salad with some bits of carrot and red pepper. A pile of chorizo was just that and the empanada del dia was so over-salted it was inedible. The only saving grace were the boquerones, fresh anchovies with the taste of the ocean. A lump of something presumably intended as a spread that was put on the table along with a plate of olives at the beginning of the meal was pinkish with a strong, unpleasant taste.
A lot of paella was being served and can be had in many versions: vegetable only; arroz negro meaning black rice with shellfish and other fish; with chicken, shrimp, clams, mussels and other varieties. Like most items on the menu, the paellas are overpriced with the veggie version weighing in at $28 a portion. The plates I looked at appeared short on shellfish and long on unpleasantly sticky rice. Main courses include filet mignon with a sauce of piquillo peppers; a fried calamari, garlic shrimp and chorizo combo; and greasy salmon “a la plancha” accompanied by a spinach stuffed artichoke. Desserts are $10 for the likes of lemon mousse in pastry with a blood orange sauce; flan and a warm apple tart with apple compote. I opted for coffee only (although oddly not mentioned on the menu) and appreciated the brown sugar crystals served with it.
Solera was wonderful when it began and was widely hailed as serving great Spanish food. Now it has gone downhill and has a limp, dispirited air as if no one cares. The waiters certainly don’t –getting another piece of (very poor) bread in an effort to desalinate my mouth was something of a challenge—although they respond pretty quickly with the check. The food is dull, badly seasoned and barely presented but rather dumped onto a plate. For these prices you can find far restaurants serving superior Spanish food and a world of innovative, fresh, well-made tapas. If I were a matador facing this bull, I’d shrug and walk out of the ring.
Review By: Mari Gold