When I think of a winery, my first image is of a charming stone farmhouse perched at the crest of a golden hill, overlooking vast, rolling hills of grape vines. Solterra Winery & Kitchen would like me (and you) to picture a cool outpost elbowed right in the middle of the busy Coast Highway in Leucadia.
Using grapes from the owner's father's vineyard in Sonoma, as well as ones from around Southern California and Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe, Solterra (934 N. Coast Hwy. 101) makes its own tasty blends of wine right there in the vast, trendy space. Towers of wine casks fill the restaurant, sharing real estate with dining tables, a large bar area and a narrow but cozy patio in the fresh air, perfect for people (or train) watching.
I was once a Leucadian, back in my freewheeling, pre-stroller-pushing days, and if Solterra had been open at the peak of my perceived coolness, I could easily see myself walking down the street for some after-work wine and nibbles. It's a bit more Napa of a feel than laid-back Leucadia is used to, but the vibe is relaxed and the setting comfortable. And although I liked everything I ate, there were no culinary show-stopping moments.
With hot and cold tapas like traditional tortilla Española, as well as boquerones (white anchovies) and octopus, there's a Spanish flair to the small-plates portion of the menu (except for the corn nuts—more on those in a sec). I dug the heaping plate of patatas bravas, classic Spanish drinking food featuring creamy-yet-crisp chunks of potato slathered in a crema that, to be truly authentic, needed a bit more heat. Spanish food is almost never spicy, except for patatas bravas, and although I like the dish, I wanted that bit of kick.
Another snack available on Solterra's tapas menu is a bowl of those corn nuts. In terms of ingredients used and technique applied, these sure are some artisanal corn nuts. But, other than being a bit lighter than the gas-station-market version, I'm not sure they're worth the five bucks. Stick with the citrus and harissa olives to pair with a nice, jammy red.
The artichoke flatbread was a delicious way to fill our tummies, with a tangy Cabrales blue cheese and Spanish Manchego working as beautiful accompaniments to the artichokes and sunchoke purée. The whole thing was chewy, cheesy and hearty, a word that doesn't always describe veggie-only options.
We rounded out our meal with a terrific arroz con leche, a fancy term for rice pudding. I realize rice pudding is a somewhat polarizing dessert (my husband gave me the stink-eye when I ordered it), but what's not to love about sweet and creamy with a delightful texture? Solterra's version is light and decadent without being cloying, drizzled with a rich date and caramel syrup and sprinkled with crunchy, spiced pistachios for a wonderful textural addition.
So, maybe I won't exactly be dreaming about Solterra's food. But I know I'll be back for the consistency, the ease and all that wine.
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