Café Sole sits on the corner of Southard and Frances like a grand dame sipping a glass of Sancerre in the shade. She’s cool, sophisticated and a perfect summer companion. John and Judy Correa’s upscale neighborhood French-Caribbean bistro makes any evening feel like a special occasion. We were there on a quiet Tuesday evening, but the experience brought to mind a favorite aphorism, “Every day is a holiday, every meal a banquet.”
Café Sole continues to bring back locals and visitors for their intimate setting, with candlelight and ceiling fans, warm accents — their dining room is anchored by a stained glass triptych of rosettes and a peacock — and even warmer service. Our server, Nate Booton, was accommodating and professional. The service exudes the same Old World charm as the classics on the menu. Nate was familiar with the wine list and ready to guide with recommendations; we ordered an excellent Sancerre from the Loire Valley, followed by a lovely, well-balanced Côtes du Rhone.
The experience extends beyond the wine service: Saganaki is doused in brandy and lit aflame tableside. It is decadent and briny, served with caper berries and warm pita. Luxurious favorites — escargot, foie gras on toast — dot the menu, along with beautiful preparations of fresh local seafood, including hog snapper, grouper and tuna. The shrimp are Key West pinks; the conch is Bahamian.
We ordered what the house recommends: the beautiful conch and beef carpaccio, Chef Correa’s signature hog snapper preparation and a moist-inside, crispy-outside duck à l’orange. The conch carpaccio comes in tender, thinly shaved sheets, studded with capers and a bright pop of lime juice. The beef carpaccio is a classic preparation — delicate slices of beef dressed with creamy parmesan, crowned with a generous, peppery arugula salad. Both melt in the mouth.
The pan-fried hog snapper has that unmistakable sweet and subtle lobster-like flavor, complemented by a creamy red pepper hollandaise. The duck was perfectly cooked, and the sauce a perfectly, not cloyingly, sweet finish to the savory meat. Both entrees, as is the Sole way, were accompanied by a rainbow of mashed potatoes, lima beans, shredded carrots, rice and a roasted tomato. The accompaniments make it a well-rounded and filling plate, warming in the way that a home-cooked meal is, if your housemate happens to be an award-winning chef.
The diners at Café Sole have quiet conversations in the candlelight, to the soundtrack of sleepy soft jazz and a full moon in the July sky. As we finished the last of our wine, Nate brought the “Quatro,” an excellent sampling of desserts, including a pleasingly tart Key lime pie with toasted peaks of merengue, a velvety crème brulee, and decadent petite tastes of white and dark chocolate zabaglione. Capped off by expertly pulled shots of espresso, the meal was a lesson in elevation: eating not only to live, but to practice the art of being deliciously alive.
If any friends are reading this: I’m always up for an invite to Café Sole. In fact, I’m plotting my return: first the baked artichokes stuffed with crabmeat, then the grouper romesco in a spicy roasted red pepper and hazelnut sauce, and if I’m feeling ambitious, perhaps a nightcap of bananas foster. And of course: the Sancerre.