Sunday, February 1, 2009

Happy Hour at Solera

The other day Hilary and I fulfilled a long-held (if somewhat modest) dream when we made an appearance at Solera’s 5 to 6 PM Happy Hour. We sat in the lobby-cum-lounge on two stools that looked like oversized bongo drums, at a window table overlooking Ninth Street and the skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis. Though it was cold and dark outside, the lighting inside was warm and it was fun watching people pass on the street. A group of ten young office-workers (eight women, two men) were having a lively evening at the one long table in the middle of the room, but we had the lounge to ourselves for half an hour, and during that time I consumed a very good martini that was served with three olives and two slices of lime on the side, while Hilary nursed her Happy Hour glass of sangria. (The drink specials are not outstanding.)

But we had come to sample the tapas, and by the time we’d left an hour later we’d tasted them all. We ordered four for a start, and the waitress brought them as they were ready. The first to arrive was a small plate of five shrimp and Tetilla croquetas. Tetilla cheese (queixo de Tetilla in Galician) is a specialty of the province of Galicia. The milk comes from the "rubia gallega" cow breed, and the name tetilla (Spanish for small breast) refers to the cone-like shape of the cheese itself. The croquets looked like little rugby balls, and they were both exquisite and sizzling hot. ($2)

While we were nibbling on these morsels two plates of grilled asparagus arrived—eight or ten thin firm stalks on each plate, sitting in a mound of red romesco sauce, a product of Tarragona that’s typically made from almonds and/or hazelnuts, roasted garlic, olive oil and those small, dried red peppers called nyores, along with roasted tomatoes, red wine vinegar and onion. The asparagus was tasty and the sauce, though mild, was made more interesting by the crunchy nuts floating within it. ($2)

Next we split a Chorizo Bocadillo with Galician remoulade—in other words, a little hamburger with spiced mayonnaise, the size and shape of a tennis ball. Slightly smaller than a White Castle slider and considerably more interesting. ($2) As an accompaniment we also sampled a small plate containing sections of Piquillo peppers stuffed with herbed goat’s milk cheese—the sharpest and most acidic of the offerings. ($2)

The least interesting (and also most expensive) tapa was the poached shrimp with hot pepper/citrus vinaigrette. The six little creatures, stacked two by two on a plate, were bland and the hot peppers were nowhere to be seen or tasted. ($6) Before setting of across the river to a showing of Last Chance Harvey, we put in a second order of the croquetas and sampled a plate of grilled bread topped with serrano ham and manchego cheese. ($2)

Couples and groups had been filing through the lobby/lounge and on into the restaurant at a steady clip as we ate—perhaps to enjoy a platter of paella before attending the Bob the Builder show at the State Theater just down the street. As we returned to the car through the cold January night, I was thinking that an ample plate of patatas bravas might have provided an element of hearty bulk to counterbalance the sophisticated but delicate morsels we’d been nibbling on.

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