Workers are returning to the office. So are new office-based restaurants.
One of the newer gastronomic venues of note is Solstice, located at the 5-year-old Boardwalk complex along Jamboree Road in Irvine, about a mile from John Wayne Airport.
Originally scheduled to open last fall, Solstice finally welcomed diners in late February.
“The pandemic pushed the project behind,” said Culinary Director Chef Demetrio Zavala, who also oversees the restaurant’s second location in Newtown, Pa. “We were waiting on materials, but everyone was having the same issues. Our restaurant was built from scratch.”
So were the surrounding office buildings and thousands of condo and apartment units added to the immediate area in recent years, one reason Solstice seems to be in an enviable location to take advantage of a captive audience.
Solstice bills itself as a seasonally driven restaurant concept, and the restaurant’s name bears that out, both in terms of menus and the four distinct dining areas of the restaurant.
Designed by award-winning LA-based hospitality architecture and design firm Preen Inc., Solstice provides a progressive dining experience that mirrors the changing of the seasons. Solstice offers four different dining zones, each with a unique vibe and color palette that fades into the next, much like the subtle changing of the seasons.
The 5,000-square-foot restaurant includes a trellised patio and a bar complete with an outdoor lounge on its breezeway.
Chef Zavala is responsible for developing the menu and curating Solstice’s ingredients. Zavala has competed in and won several Food Network TV competitions, including “Chopped: Grudge Match” and “Chopped: Beat Bobby Flay.”
Zavala’s menu features seasonally curated dishes that spotlight ingredients harvested at the peak of their season. The restaurant opened just in time for a spring-centered menu. The summer menu was released last week.
“Summer is stone fruit time—watermelon, peaches, plums. And corn is a big summer thing,” Zavala said.
Of course, there are dishes that may never leave the menu.
“We sell a lot of butter cake,” said Zavala, referring to the strawberry yuzu butter cake with yuzu crème anglaise, strawberry elderflower jam and cream gelato. “We were also doing a spring pea hummus, but we’re moving to a zucchini hummus. The other thing we’re using is corn in a lot of dishes, including the cob. We try to utilize every component of everything we get and not let anything go to waste. My philosophy is to appreciate the farmers and what it takes to grow vegetables. We’re doing the best we can to get the most out of the ingredients.”
Among Zavala’s favorite new dishes are a watermelon salad and a peach butter cake.
“We take a whole peach and roast it inside the butter cake to make it extra gooey,” Zavala said. “We are very ingredient forward and make the most we can do with the ingredients. We make sure the dish is craveable, has flavor, looks good, has texture. We dissect every dish.”
Zavala offered several basic concepts about the food he serves to guests.
“If I put a dish on the menu as a chef, and a customer wants to talk to you about it, and you’re not willing and don’t feel proud enough to go out to the table and interact with them, then the dish is not worth putting on the menu. You should love what you do, and it should reflect in the food. Food is my way of touching people and making a difference in their lives through food. A good meal can alter your attitude and your day. That’s why I do what I do.”
And he’s doing it despite some remaining pandemic challenges.
“Staffing is difficult,” Zavala acknowledged. “A lot of people don’t want to go back to work. It’s hard to find people right now.”
Add to that an increase in wages, plus the cost of food.
“We went from paying $20 to $45 for scallops, tuna went from $13.99 to $26.99. We want to give a great value to our guests but at what point do you start pricing yourself out of the market that it’s too expensive to go out to eat,” Zavala wondered. “And all of our purveyors are more expensive. We’re paying a surcharge and a delivery charge to offset the gas price.”
Despite those challenges, Zavala is focused on the guest experience.
“Food will bring them here, but the overall experience brings them back.”
The OCBJ Review
My experience dining at Solstice with two fellow foodies last month will indeed induce a return visit.
We started with the parker house rolls with apricot jam and allspice butter, and the spring pea hummus with vegetable crudité and house-made toasted focaccia. The hummus dish virtually hummed with notes of spring.
The seared ahi tuna with carrot puree, orange gelee, cauliflower and sherry emulsion were wonderful—perfectly seared, with the sherry sauce poured atop the tuna providing the perfect accompaniment.
I love avocados and was immediately drawn to the avocado melt with provolone, herb mayo, and coleslaw served on multigrain bread. This is a dish that I’d order every time—if I wasn’t curious about the rest of the menu.
Another dish we shared and devoured: rye dusted crispy chicken Reuben with coleslaw, Swiss cheese and Solstice sauce, served on a brioche bun. The accompanying hand-cut fries are some of the bests I’ve had.
For a side, we selected poached asparagus with golden raisins and micro flowers. A simple dish, yet fresh and flavorful.
As filling as those dishes sound, we still managed to sample several desserts: coffee spiced ricotta donuts with chocolate and caramel dipping sauces (an addicting dish), the citrus olive oil cake (tastes that popped on the palate), and the hallowed butter cake, which deserves every accolade.
Each dish was a culinary work of art in its own right, with attention paid not just to the ingredients but to the composition of the plating and the presentation.
I can’t wait to try the new summer dishes.
Solstice: 18555 Jamboree Road, Irvine, (949) 241-7088, solsticeoc.com