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location > 2820 Roosevelt Road,
phone > 619-270-9670
chefs > Stefano Ceresoli and Mark Pelliccia
AT LUNCHTIME one dreary Tuesday, when May gray puttied the skies a steely, battleship shade, Solare glowed like a hearth on a wintry night. It was as if a few sunbeams had slipped through the blockade and slid down a flue into the room——although the glow may have emanated from the ravioli del giorno, golden pasta pillows stuffed with butternut squash and splashed with a sunny sauce of butter and fresh sage. About half the crowd seemed to be eating them (but not a guest who despises butternut squash, no matter how artfully packaged), and the busy room echoed with cutlery and conversations.
Solare translates as “sunshine,” and this impressive new restaurant in Liberty Station has become a beacon for Point Lomans and others eager to eat well after exploring the cultural and commercial venues at the former Naval Training Center. Where mess halls ladled dubious plats du jour, co-executive chefs Stefano Ceresoli and Mark Pelliccia plate the elegant cuisine of Milan and other points north along the Italian boot. Ceresoli, who owns Solare with his wife, Roberta Ruffini, long has been responsible for the fine cooking at their Caffe Bella Italia in Pacific Beach. Pelliccia, whose father founded Luigi’s at the Beach a quarter-century ago in Mission Beach, has worked at a number of stylish hotel restaurants in Italy.
Menus that range from the simple, rather lovely toss of penne, basil, tomato and buffalo mozzarella served at lunch ($10) to the dinner hour’s piquantly sauced, ovenroasted sea bream for two ($50) must seem like manna from heaven to guests from the ’hood. Point Loma has not been a hotbed of exalted cuisine in recent years, but Solare and other good dining options at Liberty Station have changed that. At present, Solare’s buzz sizzles loudly, and on recent visits the place has been populated by large tables of ladies-who-lunch, business parties, couples enjoying unhurried meals and uniformed Navy personnel from nearby bases.
The restaurant’s U.S. Navy–issue exterior, which Liberty Station literature categorizes as “Spanish Colonial Revival style,” camouflages a distinctly contemporary, somewhat stark interior that might be called “Far East Revival style.” Ceresoli and Ruffini indulged a yen for Zen with highly polished wood floors almost shiny enough to reflect the bronze-painted air ducts that snake overhead. Seat pads upholstered in metallic Balinese fabrics soften the angular chairs that surround bare teak tables with glass insets, and gauzy draperies reveal evanescent colors when daylight pierces the tall windows. Given the hard surfaces——cobblestones pave the dining counter at the open kitchen——waves of sound wash back and forth when the crowd is in full cry.
At the very center of the room is a curiosity, a glasswalled wine vault that holds a single table for four. Even here, it’s not quiet, but this unique table could earn the cachet once enjoyed by table nine at the now-gone Top of the Cove, where many engagement rings changed hands. The virtuosity that characterizes the cooking owes to an insistence on preparing recipes the old-country way——which is infinitely preferable but is mostly not how things are done in San Diego. For example, the minestrone ($6) avoids the tomatoes and pasta usually encountered in local versions of this soup. Puddled in the bottom of a big white bowl, greens and largish cubes of potatoes, carrots and zucchini crowd a light broth thickened by the almost molten vegetables. It’s excellent, especially when showered with powdered Parmesan.
Soups acquire new identities when the kitch - en brews a ribollita, a “reboiling” that concocts a new dish from an old one. The day the cooks blended minestrone and Tuscan whitebean soup with chunky cubed beets, the lurid color threatened permanent stains to the uniforms of four naval officers who nonetheless spooned it up with great enthusiasm.