The unexpected hotel restaurant
Sol at the Sonesta in Redondo delivers an eccentric take on Asian fusion
The management at a hotel in an area with many dining options has a difficult choice for their restaurant: stay safe or go bold. Most stay safe, creating a generic menu that will appeal mainly to the hotel’s clientele. A menu of steaks, seafood, and simple pastas isn’t a road to fame, but it’s easy to execute and satisfies the needs of people who stop in after getting their shuttle from the airport. A few hotel restaurants go in the opposite direction with a flashy concept that attracts local diners as well as travelers. If that works, residents and travelers alike will keep the place booming.
When the Sonesta Hotel in Redondo was the Crowne Plaza, they tried both strategies at the restaurant, then known as Splash, which started with breathtaking French-influenced food, but shifted to high-style Italian. They later switched to food service so generic that you could almost forget what you were eating while you were still eating it. In the early days under the new management their main restaurant, renamed Sol, was open for breakfast only, but a few months ago they opened for dinner with a new chef at the helm.
Hayato Yanai trained at Japanese and French restaurants in Tokyo, and the menu he crafted for Sol is something of a surprise. There are Japanese and Chinese influences, but nothing French. And except for hamachi crudo and ahi tartare, there is no seafood except a pair of shrimp dishes and a calamari appetizer. For a place with a view of the ocean to serve no cooked fish was an unusual decision. There are also no American hotel standbys like steak, pork chops, or roast chicken. A teriyaki burger is as close as they get. Anyone who prefers those items can get them at the bar in the lobby, but you come to Sol to try Chef Hanai’s ideas.
At our first dinner there, we tried what was described as a spicy cold noodle salad and a bowl of wonton soup. From the name, I had expected the salad to be cold noodles in a spicy sauce with various vegetables, but this was a lettuce and chopped tomato salad with a sliced hard-boiled egg and separate piles of candied walnuts, crisped wonton skins, sliced skinless chicken breast, green onion, and cold rice noodles. The dressing was on the side, and while it had some tanginess from vinegar and sesame, it wasn’t spicy at all. It was fine as a set of simple flavors that could be combined to taste, but wasn’t at all what we expected.
The wonton soup was more interesting, and rather different than usual. It was a very Japanese version of a Chinese dish thanks to the use of a soy broth with sesame oil instead of the usual chicken stock. The wontons were housemade and flavorful with the slightly springy texture of fresh dough. It was a diverting take on a classic. The only thing that might have improved it was chopping the bok choy a bit finer, since it was in large chunks that made it awkward to eat.
On the second visit we tried starters of five-spice honey burrata salad and a cha-siu toast. The burrata salad was a startlingly original take on the traditional caprese, with fresh mozzarella topped with subtly spiced honey next to a rough tapenade of chopped olives, and capers alongside halved roasted golden cherry tomatoes. The flavors went together brilliantly: sweet tomato, subtly spiced honey, balanced with vinegary and salty olives and capers. This is the must-have starter at Sol, at least of the items we have tried so far.
That’s not to slight the chashu pork toast, because that idea was both novel and sound. The tender roast pork was paired with sauteed mushrooms and put over Italian-style toasted bread with brie cheese. I’d have preferred a whole grain bread or baguette because the Italian bread got soggy in the middle, but the flavors were very good. You’ll need the knife and fork to finish this neatly, but you will finish it.
I should mention that the dividing line between appetizers and mains is nonexistent on this menu – ask your server how filling an item is when deciding what to order. On both visits the staff was very helpful despite the restaurant being understaffed – the same person was taking orders, bartending, and bussing tables. This worked, barely, when the large restaurant was sparsely populated, but I can’t imagine what it would be like if a large party dropped in.
Our second courses were a braised short rib with gochujang glaze, pork risotto, and Asian-style shrimp tacos. The shrimp tacos were the most conventional item of either visit, three small flour tortillas filled with sauteed shrimp, cabbage, and pico de gallo with a drizzle of sriracha mayo. They were good but not special. We much preferred the pork risotto that neatly split Italian and Japanese influences. It was made with a dashi stock and parmesan that gave plenty of umami and flavor, topped with tender shredded pork and wonton crisps. The portion looked small but was filling, and it was simply delicious.
The beef short ribs in gochujang sauce were a surprise because from the description, I had expected Korean-style thin ribs in spicy sauce. Instead, we were served boneless ribs in an intense stock sauce that had the barest hint of Korean spiciness. These were fork tender and showed off the natural flavors. They were served over whipped russet mashed potatoes and, like almost everything else here, topped with green onion and wonton strips. A side veg would have completed the plate nicely, perhaps a dash of cooked spinach or some green beans, but that’s a minor quibble.
Sol has a full bar and some specialty cocktails, like a barrel-aged boulevardier and Manhattan. The boulevardier was heavy on the Campari, which I like, but might not please those who don’t like bitter, fruity cocktails. They also have a respectable wine list. I liked the Larner Syrah on their by-the-glass list enough that I’m considering buying some for my home. The servers offered tastes of wines and the pours were generous.
Little hospitalities like that make a difference.
The only desserts offered were ice cream, creme brulee, and chocolate lava cake, and we were full enough on both visits that we didn’t partake of any of them. Dinner at Sol was moderately priced, with a meal for two with a glass of wine each running just over $40 per person. For a dinner in pleasant surroundings near the pier, that’s remarkable. I hope Chef Hanai expands the menu and adds more seafood, because he has some fine ideas and I’d like to see what else he does.
Sol is located in the Sonesta Hotel at 300 N. Harbor Drive. Open Wed. — Sun. 5-10 p.m. Validated parking in structure. Wheelchair access good. Sound level low. Full bar. (310) 318-8888. Sonesta.com. ER