A quick history lesson on south Louisiana would teach you that both the French and the Spanish majorly influenced the region. Here in the Capital City, we regularly celebrate our French heritage—think beignets, Mardi Gras and even the name Baton Rouge. But amid all the French, we don’t often see much recognition of the Spanish.
The concept behind Solera has been in the works for a while, says general manager Mitch Rodgers. Bin 77 originally purchased its sidebar space in Perkins Rowe with hopes of making it a tapas bar, but it was hard to manage the two concepts in a shared space. So when the former Marcello’s space in the Southdowns Shopping Center opened up, Rodgers and owner Brian Dykes knew it was perfect for their Spanish restaurant concept. Plus, Rodgers and Dykes have a personal connection to the space. Long before it housed Marcello’s, the building was home to Southdowns Lounge, where Dykes and Rodgers met their wives.
And who better to bring Spanish cuisine to the Red Stick than executive chef Nick Puletti, whose grandmother moved to the United States from Castilla-La Mancha when she was 16. Puletti grew up traveling to Spain every other year, visiting family in Madrid and exploring the coast by train. And even though he stopped visiting regularly at 18, he says his culinary experiences in Spain have stuck with him through his five years in Baton Rouge.
“I don’t think anybody else knows Spanish food like me in the city,” Puletti says, “and I really want to bring that to Baton Rouge.” Puletti was the executive sous chef at Soji: Modern Asian, but the desire to share his Spanish roots with the city led him to open his own paella catering company before finding out about the opportunity at Solera.
Puletti and Rodgers’ main goal is to teach Baton Rouge about Spanish food. Diners can order several dishes from the tapas menu to share, essentially making a meal from an array of appetizers. But for those who aren’t ready to embrace this kind of dining, they can also order entrees for a more traditional dining experience.
Much like the South, the Spanish love to “make the meal an event,” Puletti says. The country’s social culture revolves around eating and drinking, and its residents embrace a more laid-back lifestyle than other parts of Europe. “You have Italy and France, which are kind of like your New York and LA,” Puletti says. “And they get all the attention, because everyone loves that. But Spain is like the South—we might not get much credit for our food, but at the end of the day, it is the best food. It’s the stuff that’s going to make your heart feel good and boost your attitude.”
And Solera’s space provides a great atmosphere for an introduction to Spanish dining. The team has made some changes to the interior, with arched doorways, red and creamy white accents and enclosing the patio space for more dining. The bar area serves a casual happy hour with tapas. As part of the cocktail menu, guests can choose between three Spanish gins and match the gin’s flavor profile with their choice of tonic. There’s also a selection of signature cocktails, sangrias and Spanish wines and beers.
The formal dining room offers a more intimate experience complete with a long list of Spanish wines carefully selected by Rodgers, who is a certified sommelier. Solera also features event space, including a private dining area that seats 12. The restaurant’s paella can only be ordered on weekdays in the private dining room, since it is traditionally made in large batches. But for those small-group paella-lovers, the Sunday brunch features paella and sangria.
With all these different features, Puletti says, “I think we have the potential of becoming like the neighborhood place.”
Solera opens for dinner service this Thursday, Aug. 15, and will open for brunch and lunch following its grand opening Sept. 3. Starting Thursday, the bar will open at 4 p.m. with dining room to follow at 5 p.m. and closing at 10 p.m. It is at 4205 Perkins Road.