But when a restaurant opens in a neighborhood with not only a proven customer base, but an elephant-like memory, chances of success greatly improve. Judging by the line snaking out the door last Saturday night, such is the case for Sole Spanish Grille which opened in November on East Boulevard in Dilworth. Restaurateurs and brothers Tri and Phong Luong, who also own Miro Spanish Grille in the Stonecrest Shopping Center, were once fixtures on East Boulevard. In the 1980s, Tri Luong cooked and then managed Charlotte's first Spanish restaurant, Tio Montero, which was located in the space Brixx now occupies on the corner of East Boulevard and Scott. Phong Luong worked there as well. In the 90s the Luong brothers opened and later sold the midtown Ole Ole before opening Miro in south Charlotte. The name Sole is from Ole notes Phong Luong. "We added an "s'."
The Luongs are Vietnamese, not Spanish, but that's just one of those quirky aspects of Charlotte's culinary scene. Another charming peculiarity is the long term affection Charlotteans have held for Spanish tapas which have been popular here for almost 20 years.
Sole is located in the spot formerly occupied by the now defunct Bistro East. Before the building was renovated in 2001, the popular old timey Wad's Sundries had been there for decades, serving the kids from Myers Park High School orangeades after practice and the Dilworth crowd hot dogs.
The interior of Sole has not changed much since the renovation. The 64-seat interior features rough golden walls and lots of oak. The 12-seat bar area is separated from one dining area by a glass-paned oak wall. The back dining area contains spacious booths and a few tables. One can eat in the bar, but on crowded evenings, space becomes a consideration since during colder weather people opt to wait for a table in the bar area. The patio seats another 30.
The Luongs have divided their responsibilities and Phong Luong runs the front of the house at Sole with a practiced hand. He greets people by name and runs an efficient ship, although, some of the servers are a bit green.
In the kitchen, the Luongs have found a kindred spirit in Ricardo Fiquerora who trained under Tri Luong for four years. Although Fiquerora is from Mexico, he sets forth a convincing argument about passion for the cuisine of the old country. Sole's menu is similar to the menu at Miro. "The menu is about 65 percent the same," reports Phong Luong.
The wine list is short, but well-chosen, with most selections from Spain and South America. The menu's dishes are titled in Spanish with English descriptions. Although most of the dishes are Spanish in origin, there are a few arrivals from the New World, such as the fried plantains, and a Nicaraguan pork tenderloin entree with black beans, rice, and fried plantains.
The simplicity of Spanish cuisine is what incites loyalty from customers. Dishes are far more agreeable than esoteric; in other words, there is no need to bring along a Barron's Food Lover's Companion to see what is on the menu. Items are fresh and set forth without too much fuss, and consequently will have long term appeal.
Start with an assortment of tapas. A twosome or a group can easily make a meal of a clutch of shared tapas, which range in price from $5 to $9. We started with the Mejillones Diablo (tender mussels reclined in an invigorating bath of spicy tomato sauce). In another appetizer, fried potatoes appear in a thick pale-pink aioli, but I missed the garlic of a true aioli.
If you forge ahead beyond the tapas to the entrees there is an abundance of hearty dishes from which to choose, especially the seafood selections. A precisely grilled salmon, both delicate and fresh, was served on a bed of sauteed spinach with a small cup of smooth tangy red pepper aioli. We also liked the Mallorquinas, a large dish of liberally scattered, succulent jumbo shrimp commingled over a mound of linguini.
Sole's menu is filled with tempting offerings: paella valenciana, zarzuela de mariscos (seafood stew), even a grilled New York strip steak with blue cheese and garlic mashed potatoes. Entree prices range from $11 for stuffed eggplant to $17.
Folks in Dilworth already seem to appreciate the Luong brothers return to East Boulevard. "It's exciting," Phong Luong says. "It's like coming home."
Eaters' Digest Now on Monday nights from 6pm until 11pm at Sir Edmond Halley's Restaurant, 4151-A Park Road, they're serving sushi, prepared by chefs Tobin McAfee and Kengo Egami, paired with English and Irish beer. 704-525-2555.
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