Aug. 30 2011 05:49 PM

Solace & The Moonlight Lounge moves into Encinitas

Photo by Jenny Montgomery
Urban Solace, the North Park brainchild of chef Matt Gordon, has no shortage of fans. And considering what feels like an explosion of new eateries along Highway 101, coastal North County seems as logical a place as any to expand the brand. Hence, Solace & The Moonlight Lounge, a dining-and-raw-bar combination in one crunchy, green LEED-certified Encinitas building. The vibe and energy of the whole place is bright and earthy; it's maybe not quite the urbane cool kid its North Park brother is, but it exudes a breezier west-of-the-5 attitude.

Needing solace from my own kitchen, I paid a visit to the new spot while it was still within the first few weeks of the soft opening. Normally, I'd give a place much longer to work out the kinks, but it was there and I was hungry, so let's everybody stop arguing. (Dramatic foreshadowing: Had the evening not gone well, I'd be reviewing someplace else.)

Props to the Solace crew for accommodating my, shall we say, demanding dining friend. She's sweet and has a twinkle in her eye, but she has inflexible food likes and dislikes. “Apparently, I'm picky?” she guilelessly said to me, before politely asking the server if it would be too much trouble to substitute two-thirds of her choice for something else. She wanted the Jidori chicken, but instead of sweet potatoes, she wanted french fries, and instead of chard, how about asparagus? (I considered quietly moving to a different table to avoid being tainted.)

Now, I realize chefs out there are probably shaking their fists in outrage because they work so hard at creating their menus and developing flavor combos; they're not wrong to find this particular trait of their patrons to be, at minimum, irritating. But the kind folks at Solace could not have been more easy-going about giving my persnickety pal a delicious dining experience and a plate filled with tasty menu items pieced together all custom-like.

Like what you'd find at the North Park locale, the Jidori chicken is excellent. This version is lemon-and-salt
crusted, and although, to me, the skin wasn't too outrageously flavorful when nibbled on, that hardly matters when you're eating chicken as tasty as this. She may avoid sweet potatoes, but my friend left hardly a shred of meat on that bird's bones.

They're doing some great things with seafood, which makes sense considering you could easily throw a picky patron and hit the ocean just a few blocks away. The mustard-crusted local halibut is quite tasty, as halibut usually is and as anything crusted in mustard should be. But be sure to check out the black bass glazed with smoked salt and sugar. I expected a very strong flavor but instead tasted something subtle and layered. The fish was pillowy-soft and tender, and the salty-sweet glaze didn't beat me over the head with a kettle-corn-contrast of flavors but instead gently permeated the fish like a light and tenderizing brine.

Save room for dessert. Though you'll be tempted by the novelty and Girl Scoutiness of the “Les S'mores” offering, I say go for the goat-cheese cheesecake, plated on a pool of spiced honey and a this-shouldn't-work-but-shut-the-front-door-it-does drizzle of basil syrup.

There's no question that Chef Gordon and his crew know how to create good food in a nice atmosphere. Both Solace spots offer a hard-to-quantify feeling of being welcomed, embraced and well fed. Sitting down to share a meal there is the best way to understand the restaurant's name.

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