The Scoop: Just across the corner from City Hall sits the dramatic little Soluna Cafe and Lounge....The Scoop: Just across the corner from City Hall sits the dramatic little Soluna Cafe and Lounge. Its ensemble of locally inspired cuisine and inventive cocktail selections are a perfect performance delivered by a relaxed, professional staff and an atmosphere that feels like it could be connected to a local theater. Dramatic red curtains, twinkling lights, Moroccan lanterns, and flickering reflections from candlelight. It's all fitting, considering most of Soluna's dinner crowd often comes, with tickets in hand, to grab a bite and a pre-show cocktail before heading over to the nearby theatres. And after the curtains rise at the symphony, the opera, the ballet, or the Orpheum just down the street, Soluna puts on its own show with a movie screen in the back of the house. Or rather, it puts on an added show of a movie... because, of course, the California cuisine served here is a show in its own right. The food menu features sustainable and organic ingredients and locally-inspired New American cuisine. And Executive Chef Francis Hogan adds his own dramatic flair with European influence and creative presentation. And don't forget the cocktails, because if there's anything that gets us in the mood for a standing ovation, it's an old-fashioned libation.
With all the drama and theatre and culture surrounding the Civic Center area, you'd almost expect to see a box office at the front doors of Soluna. The place even looks like it was cut from the same cloth as an intimate local theatre. The lighting, the curtains, the draped ceilings and rounded red velvet boothsit's romantic, somewhat dramatic, yet completely cozy and casual. Just what I'd be looking for pre-show to sip some cocktails and dine on a show-stealing entree before the main act across the street at the theah-tuhhh. Or if you work around the Civic Center area, Soluna makes the perfectly appropriate lunch escape or post-office happy hour with in-house mixologist Matt Norris before you head homeward.
My opening act was the Phoenix which Matt mixes up using Distillery #209 Gin, St. Germain, Sage, Lime, Bitters and Soda; many of his creations use house-infused liquors, and many of the cocktails change according to the latest creation he dreams up. But the lead role at Soluna goes to Chef Francis Hogan, whose past roles include stints at Farallon and Two, and also as a culinary teacher at the Art Institute of San Francisco. He takes notes from his time in Paris and London, but his mastery of California cuisine is all over the menu here. Dishes are made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. He knows the farmers where he gets his produce; he follows the Monterey Bay Seafood Guide. He takes pride in his daily-changing menu, making everything in-house from scratch from the chicken sausage to sauerkraut to pickles, pastries, ice cream he only buys raw ingredients. And from there, he creates his masterpiece meals.
I spent my evening at Soluna after the pre-show crowd had already scurried out, tickets in hand, in time for the Friday night 8 p.m. curtain call. But my show at Soluna was just starting... in the form of the drop down movie screen playing Crash as I settled into my booth. Stage left, City Hall sets a scene through the window, with the foggy night lights over the dome. And as the lights go down, Chef Francis suggests a perfect red wine pairing to go with my order of Oxtail Ragout with Wild Fennel Gnocchi. And when my plate arrives, I'm reminded why my favorite shows require no stage, no ticket, no Italian opera score. I'm much more moved by a truly passionate performance in the kitchen. And thanks to my casual, cozy meal at Soluna, I do believe I'll be back for another encore eating performance.
Menu Changes Often
Pecorino Truffle Fries, $6
Fritto Misto, $12
Beer Battered Fish 'n' Chips, $15
Reuben Sandwich, $9
Housemade Chicken Sausage Sandwich, $8
DINNER Oxtail Ragout with Wild Fennel Gnocci, $13
Ale Battered Crispy Alaskan Halibut Cheeks, $21
Olive Oil Poached Ahi Tuna, $23
Monday - Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Lunch from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Happy Hour from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.