3500 NE MLK
This comfortable and inviting space has hit its stride and found its audience*, but the food lacks refinement. With nearly every dish, it felt like the emperor had been ill informed of the state of his attire.
The fried calamari appetizer ($15) at first appears to be a generous and imaginative thing, with the interesting additions of fried dates, lemon, zucchini, smelt, eel, eggplant, kingly shrimp, and plump sea scallops. Unfortunately, these things do not cook at similar times and temperatures, and the namesake item does not crisp well.
The Tuscan fava beans salad ($7), with pear, fennel, and pecorino, was another overcompensation of size for quality and concept. A massive ring of unflavored, dried fava beans sat atop a similarly bland bed of shaved fennel, and someone with a flair for color had put some sliced pear next to it. The dish was leaden, daunting, and perhaps best summed up by my date, who simply said, "No woman can feel sexy eating this." The burrata ($16), with tender roasted pancetta, arugula (the menu says basil), and tomatoes, is much better, but the menu should note that it serves three or four, as it contains about a pound of slightly sour imported Italian cheese.
The entrée of catfish ravioli ($15), stuffed with large morsels of flavorful fish, Taleggio† cheese, and arugula, is a signature item. They are ravioloni, giant things the size of sliced bread, two to a plate and smothered in a simple, garlicky sauce of whole and crushed cherry tomatoes. Undressed they would be pleasing to any catfish lover: The firm, earthy meat is a good match for the similarly distinctive cheese. However, the big acidity of the sauce masks this clever combination.
Solda's pride and joy is clearly his risottos; there are five on the menu (all are $14). They are prepared in the Venetian style of all'onda—"on the wave"—meaning they are loose, like a thick soup. The squid ink and herb version is delicious and fragrant, al dente, and not at all chalky or fishy. Sadly, a version with zucchini, fried sage, and sweetbreads arrived without the sage, and the chopped zucchini did not justify its bulk with noticeable flavor. The two large sweetbreads were well trimmed and fried, though, with a creamy texture and satisfying offal richness.
Many things are done well, despite that raking. Solda's handmade pasta has excellent chew and texture. The staff are professional and friendly, children are treated well, and Solda himself is a beacon of hospitality in the space's abundant positive energy.-CHRIS ONSTAD