Timing is everything

Experimenting pays off at Solo Bistro
By BRIAN DUFF  |  November 5, 2008
AFFORDABLE CUISINE: A prix-fixe meal at Solo Bistro.

It reflects something about the experience at Solo Bistro in Bath that a fifty-something woman dining with her McCain-era parents felt inspired to interrupt a young pair nearby to impress upon them the importance of voting. What it reflects is that the service was slow. The two generations that have run the country into a ditch seemed to get a little restless, and then were relieved to turn away from each other to impart a little wisdom to the generation poised to attempt (and likely fail) to turn things around.

Luckily, Solo Bistro is a good place to sit out the suspense of this passing of the torch. In choosing to name itself after alienation, despite cultivating all the trappings of community, the bistro gets the current moment exactly right. Indeed, while an intergenerational chat across tables seems like a victory for solidarity, in practice the parties seemed to misunderstand each other, and were happy to be rescued by the arrival of their meals.

Solo does convey a community spirit very well. The open space puts on display the tight group (owner, chef, waitress) that run the place. The dining room has a clean, pale Scandinavian look lightened by some colorful touches, and warmed by the open kitchen, the dark wood floor, and a wall of brick. When the food arrives it is mostly worth waiting for. It certainly feels well worth what you pay. Thanks to a three-course prix-fixe menu of $23 ($16 on Wednesdays) Solo Bistro is affordable in a moment when that has become a profound necessity.

Chef Esau Crosby’s cuisine reflects the sort of skill one expects from a former sous-chef at Fore Street, but at his own place he can indulge a wider range of culinary interests. The result is a menu with a few options so tempting you might wander off that prix-fixe after all. We did to chase after a buttercup-squash gnocchi. Squash-sweet and soft with a bit of chew, the dumplings were terrific in a rich, creamy, sherry sauce with thick pieces of bacon. It outshined the fixed menu’s cabbage soup — whose salty-sour flavor and thick pieces of corned beef were right for the season. A bitter and crunchy salad with pickled pear, beets, radicchio, arugula, and a very sour dressing was both interesting and tasty, though it would have been even better if it had not arrived with our soup and appetizer.

The pre-set entrée of grilled salmon had a slightly burnt flavor despite the moistness of the fish. It was hard to figure out just why — but most likely it was a smoky fire-roasted chili sauce that was like a very finely chopped salsa. The thin strips of grilled green pepper alongside were not too exciting. The regular menu’s slow-roasted pork and parsnip stew was a better choice. Sharply sour bits of parsnip spotted the tender pieces of pork soaked in a bitter broth and climbing over a bready and interesting, if odd, “potato-donut.” The fixed menu finished with a very nice tart with chewy quince and a creamy custard.

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