Sola Updates

Press

Time Out Chicago : Issue 53

March 2-9, 2006

Here comes the sun

It’s not a day at the beach, but Sola manages to take the edge off winter
By David Tamarkin Photograph by Donna Rickles

Note to restaurateurs: sun imagery works. Especially in the middle of winter.

Case in point: Sola, Lincoln Square’s comfortable new venue for chef-owner Carol Wallack’s cooking. Even though the name translates to “alone”—a reference to the fact that Wallack is on her own this time around, having just come from a collaboration with her sister at Deleece—customers and the restaurant’s publicists are focusing only on the first part of the word: Sol. “Sun.” And judging from Sola’s crowds, sun is exactly what Chicago is craving.

The essence of the sun—or at least the sun-soaked culture of the West Coast and Hawaii—is what Wallack tries to infuse into every dish on her menu. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t; either way, her menu is usually successful. The caramelized onion tartlet is a superb starter, its golden crust a rich base for the creamy, sweet-and-savory combination of onions, apples and Gruyère. And her brandade (whipped salt-cod puree) contains a touch of ginger, just enough to lighten up this classically rich dish—and, of course, to mark it with Wallack’s stamp.

Another Wallack original is “Carol’s Colorado Lamb Chops.” She’s been working on this dish for years, and it shows. The lamb is so tender it’s practically creamy, and the Dijon crust plays off the lamb’s gaminess brilliantly. It almost made up for the lackluster grouper, set atop a pile of bland purple rice.

Dessert is a funny concept for a restaurant that attempts to capture the essence of the beach (and all the trim, toned bodies on it). But Wallack consulted HotChocolate’s Mindy Segal on her creations and came up with a few that fit with her philosophy. The Thai coffee crème brûlée and pecan molasses cake are both fine. But they aren’t essential, and it’s just as well if you skip them. Besides, as Sola tries to remind us, swimsuit season is just around the corner.