As long as it takes to get a seat at SoLita, the service is exponentially quicker. Our waiter was fast but never hurried and wore a friendly smile throughout. He set us up in record time with our appetizers, including a rustic beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts ($12). In it, red and white beets were roasted and cut into thick al dente quarters, while the cheese and nuts had been oddly spackled along the sides of the bowl. Still, it was earthy and delicious. An order of shrimp brandy ($14) had a more straightforward presentation, with lush, tender shrimp sitting in a pool of basil-infused brandy cream sauce. The only problem was the stale pesto croutons that could have doubled as doorstops.
While we plunged into our starters, a waiter delivered to the couple next to us a fish so large that it looked like it could feed a platoon — or at least three or four hungry dudes in Ed Hardy shirts. The fish was dressed with a mountain of flat-leaf parsley, roasted tomatoes, and red onions. So I copied him.
It seemed like an odd choice: picking bones out of a whole roasted bronzini ($28) while scantily dressed folks canoodled around me. Still, I couldn't resist the draw of the fish. When it arrived, it was even more impressive than I'd thought. The bronzini (Mediterranean sea bass) had been cooked in SoLita's wood oven along with onions, tomatoes, artichokes, and lemon, and the mixture formed a sort of alluring broth on the plate. The whole thing was lavished with parsley and olive oil, which, along with the toasted lemons, created a perfume more intoxicating than any in the restaurant that night. So what if I had to pick through a few bones? Fish this tender and flavorful is worth it.
Also worth it: Danielle's order of delicate spinach ravioli draped in velvety Mascarpone cheese sauce ($18), tender and rich. And despite a rather pungent odor, so was a side dish of Brussels sprouts deeply caramelized with vinegar and chili ($6). They ain't exactly hookup food, these smelly sprouts. But then again, neither is garlicky pasta, and that didn't seem to be stopping anyone. I boxed up about half of my massive fish and passed on dessert — we'd had all the eye candy we could stand for the night.
I wanted to check out a few of SoLita's other dishes, so I returned on a slower weeknight with some coworkers to scope the scene. This time, the restaurant was far less crowded, its palatial white leather banquettes and lounge-style couches virtually empty.
In that quiet room, the clubby vibe almost became comical. Our mega-Italian waiter — obviously used to screaming over the din of drunken babes and loud party music — practically yelled to the table as he recited the specials. Funnier still was that he couldn't seem to finish a sentence without barking the term "youse guys." Still, "us guys" couldn't complain about the meatballs. Even at $6 a pop, the moist rounds were damned near perfect. So was a chilled seafood salad dressed in olive oil ($14), the shrimp, calamari, and mussels receiving a zingy kick from a squeeze of roasted lemon. Every few minutes or so, our waiter would appear between mouthfuls to offer a cocktail and suggest we "chill" for a bit. Shoot, maybe he was lonely.
We were having a good time chilling, actually, until our entrées came out. A bowl of bucatini all' Amatriciana ($18) featured thick, hollow, spaghetti-like pasta but was bogged down with an overly rich sauce of near-burnt onions. It didn't help that the pancetta crisps throughout had rendered it an oily mess. Pan-seared snapper ($24) was better in conception, with a thick cut of crisp-fleshed fish mounted over a mound of plush farro (large-kernel wheat grains sort of like a rustic version of bulgur). But the ultrafresh tomatoes and light wheat were marred by overcooked fish.
No dish better exemplified the whole of SoLita than the veal sorrentino ($24). Hidden somewhere under a messy pile of cheese, tomatoes, and prosciutto was a piece of veal, pounded flat and seared nicely but still not quite tender. It could've been a fine dish if executed with more grace or restraint. Instead, it was ham-handed and loud, food designed to pair with thumping beats and a raging sex drive. Maybe that's passable when the lights are dim and the crowd is wild. But here, midweek, it was sort of sad. And no amount of gold chains was going to fix that.