If location is everything, then the newly opened Sotola Bar & Grill already has a tasty advantage. With its wrapped balcony overlooking both the ocean and the Soquel Creek estuary, the new dinner house and lounge is sure to attract a steady stream of summer visitors. But already the new destinationâ€”in the site of the former Stockton Bridge Grilleâ€”is busy winning local fans, thanks to the seasoned skills of chef Anthony Kresge. The brainchild of locals Ashley and Adam Bernardi, Sotola boasts a gleaming new dining roomâ€”attractive furniture, lavish plants, Mediterranean windowsâ€”and a separate, spacious bar area.
Katya and I were ready for a serious dinner, and the Sotola menu fit the bill. Farm-to-table is the central theme of this short but exciting menu of new American cuisine. And while the cocktails seem destined to spark excitement, we opted for glasses of La Honda Sauvignon Blanc 2015, filled with grassy citrus and minerals, and a velvety Syrah from Zaca Mesa 2012 ($10 each).
A generous order of frito misto provided plenty of pre-dinner foreplayâ€”calamari, broccoli, zucchini, batter-fried and drizzled with excellent garlicky rouille ($13). But it was the intricate entrees that made the biggest impact. I ordered the eveningâ€™s line-caught special yellow tail, which arrived richly aromatic, seared to perfection ($28). Surrounding the fish was a ring of distinctive and spicy chimichurri and a bouquet of golden beets sliced paper-thin. But there was more textural interest, as well. A generous band of earthy wild rice/barley pilaf nestled next to the fish, along with a distinctive salsa of micro-diced pineapple and fresh thyme. The dramatic creation was crowned with a froth of infant sprouts. Yes, it does sound like a lot going on, but it all worked, each sauce and accompaniment flattering the central pointâ€”the spectacular piece of fish. Even though pineapple is not my favorite item, I had to admit it made a brilliant flavor note along with the rich yellow tail.
Katyaâ€™s incredibly huge pasture-raised New York steak (40-day aged Black Angus weighing in at $38) came with its own opulent array of enhancements. On top were crisp clouds of onion rings, plus a beautiful saute of mushrooms and cipollini dripping the sort of mushroom reduction that beef adores. Under the gorgeous piece of steakâ€”which arrived exactly rare as requestedâ€”lay a delicious though mysteriously unwarm layer of potato and spinach gratin. Tiny rosettes of garlic and basil aioli had been piped along one side of the plateâ€”lots of fun to dredge each forkful of beef into. The message was clear: here was a serious dish living up to its serious price tag.
Even in the dimly lit dining room, we enjoyed every bite of our generously portioned entrees, both of which supplied enough high-quality items for another dinner the next night. I admit we ordered the pasture-raised steak just to see what might justify such a hefty price tag. The proof was in every juicy bite. It was easily the best steak Iâ€™ve had west of Manhattan.
Tempted as we were by the idea of a flourless chocolate torte called Heaven on Earth, we absolutely couldnâ€™t manage another bite. Next time; the menuâ€™s listing of bouillabaisse linguine studded with fresh local seafood sounds like an excuse for another visit all by itself.
Sotola was packed the evening we went, and given that service fine-tuning is ongoing, Iâ€™m betting this attractive labor of love finds a strong clientele of regulars. Kudos to the Bernardis and their ambitious dinner house on the Capitola Esplanade.
Sotola Bar & Grill is open open daily from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. 854-2800, sotolabarandgrill.com.