In the second part of our interview with Chef Anthony "Radar" Risoli (see here for part 1), we learn more about his trendy Las Olas eatery, SoLita, and what's in store for the season. SoLita is one of about 40 restaurants participating in New Times' food and wine event, Pairings, on Thursday, September 16.
New Times: SoLita has been quite successful since opening earlier this year. What is the concept behind the restaurant?
Anthony Risoli: It's a contemporary and hip setting for good Italian food. I think the restaurant business has evolved, and it's just as much about entertaining as it is about dining. These days, you need to give customers a lot of options and sensory stimulation. We have a lounge, a bar scene, and a dining room where the vibe is very relaxed so people hang out, see and be seen.
You and your partners spent a few years at Café Martorano. How do you think that experience prepared you for opening SoLita?
I can't comment on that.
Can you tell us a little bit about SoLita's menu?
menu is Italian, but not your traditional red-sauce food. I've created
lighter menu items, even lightening up some of the more traditional
dishes, and just make sure it all has lots of flavor. We really
encourage the waitstaff to work with the customers who order the
traditional staples and try to have them order a special or some of the
more unique dishes on the menu.
Are there any menu items that have a special meaning to you?
are a couple of items that I have kept with me since my days at the
Saloon back in Philadelphia in the '80s. The two chefs there, Nino and
Bruno, were very encouraging and taught me how to make an amazing veal
chop, hunter style, and a salmon prepared with Meyer lemons. I feature
either one or both as a special fairly regularly. But my favorite dish
is the trottole buon gusto. It doesn't get as much attention as it
should, but the combination of bacon, wild mushrooms, tomato, and sage
make for an unbelievable sauce.
Has the menu stayed the same since you opened?
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There are definitely some items that have changed and been deleted since we've opened. We adjust as we get a feel for what our customers want. We are getting ready to introduce a new menu this week with some fresh pasta dishes, pizzas, and lots of specials. The key is to always keep it fresh and exciting.
What has been your worst dinner-guest experience?
Being a new restaurant, you really put up with a lot, because you want customers to be happy, and in this economy, you appreciate every guest. But there are definitely some that push my buttons. There are a lot of customers who come in and request changes to menu items to the extent that they are creating their own. I try to accommodate as much as I can, but it can be tricky too, because if they are thinking of a dish they had at another restaurant and mine is not exactly the same, then all of the sudden it's "not good." But I think the worst was this one guy who came in for dinner one night, and granted, we were slammed and his table had to wait for entrées, but he came up to the kitchen area where I was expediting and started poking me in the arm -- "Hey, where's our food"... I really needed to take a deep breath for that one.
So what can we expect from SoLita in the coming months?
Like I mentioned, we're coming out with some great new menu items. We've got a wood-burning oven that I haven't tapped into fully yet, so I'll be looking to add some pizzas and whole-fish specials.