A title with specific dsecriptors is a testable hypothesis. Take 'Solstice Seasonal Cuisine,' for example. 'Solstice,' without its modifying adjectives, is a stand-alone moniker - it cannot be falsified, refuted, or rejected. Addition of descriptors, though, makes it testable and - logically - fodder for meaningful investigation.
Solstice Seasonal Cuisine opened recently on 124th Street, furthering the street's tony geometric growth. Its name, upon first observation, implies strict adherence to seasonally available ingredients. Entry to Solstice reveals disco, which is a bold musical choice for any restaurant; the probability of disco going sideways in dramatic fashion is significant, but Solstice makes it work. A grey and white palette works with squarish, Coachman-esque lamps, and a backlit herbarium hypnotizes from behind the bar.
Solstice's barn-door menu opens to reveal a smattering of cocktails, wines, starters, entrees and desserts. A brief selection within each category circumvents the problem of reading a novella in order to pick a dish. A Manhattan - in this case, a 124th Street Manhattan - is a good test of the barkeep's mettle, and arrives with a sinuous orange ribbon and a lolling sphere of ice orbiting in the glass. Proper ratios of sweet vermouth, angostura bitters and sultry smoked rye mingle and seduce with smoky, citrusy accuracy.
Jumbo Scallop and Cornmeal-Crusted Oysters, the evening's chosen starter, constitute a quasi-minimalist positioning of just-cooked scallop, two carefully cantilevered potato crisps, and a trio of crunchy-chewy breaded oysters. A tangled bird's nest of sprouts and a few tastefully placed sprigs of greenery hint at the herbarium's substance.
Sweet Pea Falafel are mealy, steaming hot, and densely resonant with earthy pulses. A quartet of crisp carrot chips frame the dish and impart suble sweetness. These crisps hide chalky blobs of salty labneh cheese. This cheese, taken in concert with the falafel, are sheer bliss.
Halibut and Prawns emulate notes of seafood visited in the preceding appetizer, though the titular fish presents a titch overdone. Buttery prawns, though, are as unctuously rich as their podium of mille feuille podium. Little sunchoke leaves, in all the pungent restraint, play with the halibut's russet-hued chorizo cream sauce. Were the fish just a little less overwrought, this combination would be singular.
The meal concludes with a beguiling chocolate mousse overlaid with a cloudy meringue swirl and cardamon-scented foam - plus a few strategically-placed raspberries. The summation is one of rich, bittersweet cocoa counterbalanced with eggy air - an astute ratio of earthly flesh to heavenly aspirations.
At the end of it all, though, one ponders the seasonality of each dish's constituents, for no specific explanation, on the part of either wait staff or menu, addressed this conundrum. Specific descriptors, such as the phrase "seasonal cuisine," do indeed beget expectation and validation, and this phrase appears far too often these days to stand untested. I've no doubt that many of Solstice's ingredients are highly seasonal, which would anchor their eponymous hypothesis in hard data, and the kitchen certainly has skill, but the variables that comprise Solstice Seasonal Cuisine require greater elucidation.