Bar Solita is the latest venue to be featured on a Chef Brian Duffy Instagram Live menu read.
The bar and restaurant opened in late 2018 and is operated by RVA Hospitality, a multi-concept operator running three other restaurants “with different flavors for anyone to enjoy.”
RVA’s Tarrant’s Café and Tarrant’s West specialize in American and Italian cuisine, Max’s on Broad serves French, Belgian and Southern food, and Bar Solita dives deep into the Mediterranean.
Soft tones, plants and a massive but inviting bar space are key elements of Bar Solita’s design. Those same elements are carried through to the menu.
Chef Duffy’s immediate impression was that the menu communicated to guests that Bar Solita is an upscale venue. He didn’t have a physical menu in his hands but his keen eye pointed out that it seemed like it was 11x17, larger and heavier than a standard 8.5x11 menu.
The colors used for typesetting, boxing and design elements match the venue’s décor: soft, inviting, upscale and Mediterranean.
Turning a critical eye to the menu, Chef felt that there was too much white, open space on it. However, that can be remedied easily by simply increasing the font sizes of headings, food item names, and descriptions.
Wines & Cocktails
Bar Solita’s Dinner menu kicks off with wines by the glass, cocktails, and snacks. Roughly two-thirds of this menu section is occupied by wine, with both single glass and bottle prices listed. Sparkling wines are listed first, which Chef appreciated.
“It’s what people are looking for,” said Chef of the wines by the placement of sparklers. Chef was further impressed by the very approachable price points for the wines available by the glass: they ranged from $8 for a glass of Simonet Blanc de Blancs to $18 for a glass of Veuve Clicquot Brut.
So, while the venue’s interior design and menu communicates a higher-end experience, it’s not intimidating. And offering Veuve and Moët by the glass is an impressive move.
Cocktails are broken into six subsections: House Specialties, Borrowed (more on this in a moment), Ubiquitous (classics like the Daiquiri and Old Fashioned), For the Table (a large-format, shareable cocktail), Mocktail (one listed), and Happy Hour (days, times, drinks, and prices listed).
The cocktail section inspired what would become repeated references to the following adjectives to describe the menu and team behind it: upscale, approachable, and creative. Many of the drink names continue Bar Solita’s inventive narrative, including Forget the Flowers, Spanish Inquisition, and Hungry Like the Wolf.
This leads to the Borrowed drink section, which features the following category description: “great artists steal,” credited to “us, just now.” (There are little sarcastic and amusing notes included in other menu sections, pulling the creativity and approachability threads tighter.) Two cocktails are listed here: one created by revered bartender and operator Sam Ross, one made famous by La Floridita bar in Cuba in the 1920s. Both drink descriptions include a source citation.
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The final section is Snacks with four options. Chef saw an opportunity to sell more snacks by drawing the eye to it with a larger font or boxing.
Bar Solita is known for their wood-fired pizzas and that’s where the dinner menu begins, listing them at the upper left. Tacos, Sides and Beverages (soft drinks, water, coffee) follow Pizzas on the left side of the menu. Entrées, Soups & Salads, and a small box listing protein add-ons are on the right side of the menu.
The center of the menu really draws the eye: the two sections, Tapas and Pastas, are boxed in a muted pink tone from the top of the menu to the bottom.
Given the impression that the culinary team at Bar Solita is inventive, Chef said that he’d like to see “more aggressive” pizza options on the menu. He suggested keeping the basil pesto and classic margherita but replacing the other classics (pepperoni, Buffalo chicken, breakfast) with more creative pizzas. He also found a typo: “Capocolla” and Arugula.
There are three tacos offered on the Bar Solita menu: beef, shrimp and fish. The accoutrement accompanying the three proteins are almost identical, prompting a suggestion from Chef. He suggested keeping the beef taco on the menu as the “classic” offering but using entirely different items for the shrimp and fish tacos.
That change would adjust and likely improve guest perception of the tacos. With similar trimmings/fillings, the tacos are basically just proteins priced between $11 and $13. But using grouper or halibut for the fish tacos, explained Chef as an example, elevates the guest expectation and means the price can be increased.
Sides and Beverages
Chef didn’t spend much time on these sections. He recommended adding more to the sides, pointing out that some dinner items come with slaw which could be listed under this section. And he thought the soft drinks could be listed elsewhere, like underneath the wines by the glass.
The price of first item in this section, beef medallions for $24, is covered by a gold-colored design accent. This plus the typo Chef found in the Pizza section point to the importance of paying attention to the details.
Operators have a million things to keep tabs on, so this is where having management and team members, family members, friends or another third party to proofread menus comes into play. The little things do make a difference. None of that is to say that Bar Solita’s menu is at all poorly designed—it’s a beautiful, impactful menu.
Chef suggested pulling the signature Solita Burger, Solita Slider Trio and Lamb Sliders out of the Entrée section because of the lower price points: $14 to $15 compared to a range of $19 to $31. Perhaps the bar and restaurant would benefit from creating a Sandwiches section for those three items.
Soups & Salads
There are seven items under this section ranging in price from $6 for the soup du jour to $12 for the chicken spinach salad. Chef explained that Bar Solita can increase the price of their classic Caesar salad to $11, particularly if they make their dressing in house. In fact, Chef suggested raising the prices of all the salads.
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He advised relocating the orzo salad to the Pastas section for two reasons. One, orzo is pasta, so the move makes sense. Two, orzo is filling because it’s pasta.
It’s possible Chef was even more impressed by the Brunch menu than the Dinner menu, and that’s saying a lot. When he said, “You’re crushing your brunch menu,” it was clear he loved what he had seen. He also said that it seemed as though Bar Solita’s brunch has “a boatload of moving parts,” but as long as the kitchen can execute brunch smoothly, that’s not a criticism.
Cocktails are listed on the upper left of the brunch menu, split into two subsections: Brunch Classics (“Day drinking hall of fame!” reads the description) and Extravagance. Beverages follows underneath Cocktails.
Omelets are located on the upper right, followed by Crêpes & Pancakes, Wood Oven and A La Carte. Similar to the dinner menu, Brunch and Sandwiches & Salads are located in the center, boxed in an eye-catching but subdued shade of blue.
Two major items caught Chef’s eye: the $625 3-litre bottle of Laurent-Perrier also known as a Jéroboam and equivalent to four 750ml bottles, and the Wood Oven section. Chef suggested possibly offering a lower-priced Jéroboam and including a Mimosa service with it. Such a service provides guests with the ability to customize their Mimosas, should they so choose to make a cocktail out of their Champagne, with an array of juices, fruits and garnishes.
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Of the Wood Oven section, Chef said it was “a tragedy” that it wasn’t included on the dinner menu. “Utilize your wood oven much more,” he said, suggesting adding one or two wood-fired items in every section. A wood-fired brunch item that stands out is the shareable cinnamon bun.
RVA Hospitality clearly understands that their menus are their concept billboards. In the case of Bar Solita, it’s an extension of the venue’s interior design.
Chef Duffy would like to see more creativity in some sections, something he was confident the Bar Solita team could tackle. He’d also like to see vegetarian and vegan items listed within different sections. He loved that desserts aren’t listed on the dinner menu, which isn’t surprising given his preference for secondary dessert menus and the use of dessert trays.
Give this a read: Want a Free Menu Consultation from Chef Brian Duffy? Now’s Your Chance!
Overall, Chef was impressed by both the designs of the Bar Solita’s dinner and brunch menus, along with the food and drinks themselves.
Ready for more? Chef Brian Duffy will return to the Nightclub & Bar Show this year to helm the F&B Innovation Center. He has assembled a dream team of high-performance chefs: Nick Liberato, Kayla Robison, Monti Carlo, Tu David Phu, Jennifer Behm-Lazzarni, Pete “Panini Pete” Blohme, Chad Rosenthal, Matt Varga, and Kevin Des Chenes. You absolutely do not want to miss his three-hour menu read: anyone who brings him their menu will receive an analysis and recommendations—register today!