Inside or out, Solaris is tops

by Brian Clarey

Journalists are not supposed to write about their friends – kind of a conflict of interest thing. But when you practice journalism in a place like Greensboro, that’s not always so easy to do. While this is not exactly a small town, it’s cozy enough so that all of us are separated only by a couple degrees, three at most.

Christian and Courtney Reynolds, owners of Solaris Tapas Restaurant, are a sight closer to me than that. They are, in fact, my friends, and I’ve avoided writing about their restaurant for more than two years. But I’ve decided they should no longer be penalized just for deigning to hang out with me. Let this admission serve as my disclosure.

Four years ago the couple took over the downtown space that once held McAdoo’s, known for its light fare and wacky wall hangings, particularly the Volkswagen Beetle that jutted out from one brick surface. They refurbished the interior, painted the exterior a jolly yellow, dressed up the patio a bit and were ready for business.

I’m out on the patio right now, a warm, breezy evening, sitting on iron patio furniture underneath the single shade tree while cars, bikes and pedestrians make their way along Davie Street. A group of women sit at an outdoor table under the lanterns, finishing off the last of their cocktails, and two couples, maybe in their 40s or 50s, linger over the last swallows of wine.

Christian takes a respite from the kitchen and sits down with me.

“It’ll be four years in June,” he says. “Man, it goes by quick.”

He’s brought a couple dishes out with him, one old and one new.

The Mediterranean tuna has been on the menu since the beginning: an expertly seared slab of succulent, rosy fish sliced thin and placed atop a bed of greens. With it comes a dollop of relish made from black and Spanish queen olives, roasted red peppers, fresh basil, lemon juice and diced tomatoes.

“It’s like a Mediterranean bruschetta,” Christian explains.

The dish also comes with a round, fried potato cake about the size of a fancy bar of soap.

The next dish, the Gran Marnier duck breast, is an invention of Derek Cress, who has worked here since the sign went up. The breast is marinated in orange juice and cooked on a flat-top griddle, served with orange and bacon sautéed spinach and a small pile of parmesan risotto.

I take them both down with gusto.

And that doesn’t make me some kind of pig. This is a tapas restaurant, after all.

And perhaps a word should be said here to discern tapas – a style of eating based on small portions of many different dishes – and topless, which is what the uninitiated think the hostess is saying when she answers the phone.

Solaris is not a topless restaurant.

But you can graze like a free-range farm animal here, choosing from a menu loaded with small bites that range in origin and influence from shrimp dim sum to fried pickles. Other highlights include bacon-wrapped Medjool dates, a white cheddar dip called “Good Time” that was one of the original menu items, a passel of soups and salads, a host of seafood dishes like crab cakes and trout amandine, pizzas, pork and beef selections, a short paella menu and desserts, which the menu notes is “stressed” spelled backwards.

And stress, the Reynoldses know, is a part of the business.

“Hey,” Christian says, “I’m thirty-two years old, and whether this [restaurant] is here ten years from now is no big deal. I got four years under my belt – cooking, being the boss, being the ultimate authority. You can’t learn that kind of stuff any other way. That’s the reward. But I’m glad I did this when I was younger.”

There also exists a decent wine list, a nice selection of beers and plenty of party liquor served over the hand-carved wooden bar, one of the nicest in the city, that anchors a modest nightlife scene that incorporates rock, blues and DJs on a stage in the main dining room.

“We started that about two years ago,” Christian tells me on the patio. “It’s actually been pretty steady.”

About six months ago they started serving lunch, which has also seen some success.

It’s getting dark outside right now, and our table attracts more people as the sky grows black and the lights of Davie Street flicker to life. It’s all cold drinks and easy conversation, and my friend Christian Reynolds gets philosophical.

“It’s the people,” he says. “I’ve met so many people since we started this.”

Some of them are sitting with us at the table right now. And another warm breeze rattles the boughs of the shade tree.

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