Review: East Walnut Hills’ Most Recent Restaurant Newcomer, Solstice, Serves Up Delicious, Tropical-Inspired Fare

Along with the burger-centric Heyday and another new addition, Rusk, Solstice gives city folk a nice choice of places to meet work colleagues or friends at lunchtime.

Aug 9, 2023 at 5:12 am
click to enlarge Solstice is a new tropical-themed restaurant in East Walnut Hills. - Photo: Emory Davis
Photo: Emory Davis
Solstice is a new tropical-themed restaurant in East Walnut Hills.

This story is featured in CityBeat's Aug. 9 print edition.

East Walnut Hills just keeps on rolling along, debuting interesting bars and restaurants at a smoking-hot pace.

Even so, there have been casualties, most recently in the closing of the café/wine bar Symposium. And I still mourn the closure of Branch less than a year ago. But for every loss, the neighborhood picks up a couple of new places. With everything from the simply elegant Le Bar a Boeuf to the unique deli Pickled Pig, Walnut Hills boasts a satisfying variety of restaurants to rival those downtown or in Over-the-Rhine.  

The most recent newcomer is the tropical-themed Solstice, which opened late in June. The folks behind Solstice are familiar with the neighborhood, given that their charming cocktail bar, Anjou, is a stone’s throw away, on Woodburn Avenue. For Solstice, they took over the space that once housed Suzie Wong’s Chinese restaurant, invested in significant renovations and brought a unique-themed bar and restaurant to serve not only East Walnut Hills but also a whole lot of adjacent city neighborhoods. Prices are mid-range, parking is easy in a free lot behind the building, and the menu offerings hit a sweet spot between familiar and adventurous. The restaurant’s tagline is “Tropical Tacos and ‘Tails” — as in cocktails — which clearly sums up the strengths of this inviting addition to city dining.

The owners’ focus on the tropics extends to just about every detail, and realizing their vision took well over a year. Co-owner Chris Wolfe said some of that time was eaten up by supply-chain issues as well as equipment they thought was functional that turned out to need replacing. But decisions about flooring, placement of the bar, and lighting sprang from the overall tropical theme. For instance, various light fixtures are placed to represent the sun, sea and sky that you might see in the parts of the Earth between the regions marked by the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. 

It’s all very high-concept and begs the question of whether the effort succeeds as, you know, a place to enjoy a meal. With that in mind, I went with several in-town friends on a relatively quiet weekend night soon after Solstice opened. The dozen or so bar stools were full when we arrived but thinned out quickly. In fact, the crowd was relatively sparse for a Saturday, though it was right after July 4, which tends to be a slow restaurant week.  Based on the good experience we enjoyed there and positive word-of-mouth I’m hearing, the tables will likely stay full. 

In contrast to most taco-centric eateries, the cocktail menu doesn’t lean heavily on margaritas or other tequila drinks. That’s in part because it’s not a Mexican restaurant; instead, the focus is more generally on the tropical parts of our planet. Thus, drinks, as well as food, borrow from flavors developed near the equator — including Africa, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. There is a margarita, and I enjoyed a tequila cocktail they call Baby Sheldon that was quite good. Rum is a more common base for the bar’s inventive offerings; next time, I’ll try something mixed with that tropical spirit.

The food section of this menu is fairly simple, divided into “Sharables” and “Tacos.” Truth be told, I’m pretty much over restaurants telling me I’m supposed to share my food, but you can’t fault Solstice for being off-trend in that regard. Their sharables menu section definitely includes enticing suggestions. Our attentive, helpful server pointed us toward some of her favorites, and we ended up trying ceviche, a papaya salad and fried cauliflower — with minimal sharing, as it were.  

The generously portioned salad was stellar, a combo of green papaya, jicama, crispy green bean, red bell pepper and seasonings, lightly dressed, the crunch and fresh veggie flavors not disturbed by lettuce. The leftovers tasted just as good for lunch at home the next day.  Their version of ceviche was somewhat controversial at our table. Its only seafood was shrimp, and we thought it’d be better with a different fish, or perhaps a combo with shrimp. The accompanying yucca chips had both fans and detractors. You might like them just fine, but they seemed bland to me. The fried cauliflower, on the other hand, was a hit; it was cooked al dente and had a touch of sweetness in the saucing.  

We didn’t get to the lettuce wraps (either with chicken or tempeh), nor the crispy pork belly. Cheese dip with mozzarella, corn, bell pepper and a few other ingredients served with tortilla chips rounded out the “sharables” I would consider trying on a return visit.

Tortillas are made in-house, which is the foundation of credible tacos. Of the eight choices here, half come on corn tortillas and the others on flour. We gravitated toward the corn-wrapped offerings, which I’ve always preferred. They won’t make you think of Mexico, necessarily, with seasonings and ingredients such as tamarind, fish sauce, garam masala, cardamom and berbere. The ones based on shrimp, lamb or pork stood out, and the two vegetarian offerings were delicious in their own right, as well.

As of our visit, they hadn’t quite figured out dessert. But there’s an ice cream shop a few doors down if your sweet tooth needs attention.

Solstice closes on Sunday and Monday and serves dinner the rest of the week. It’s also open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, which expands the neighborhood’s midday options. Along with the burger-centric Heyday and another new addition, Rusk, Solstice gives city folk a nice choice of places to meet work colleagues or friends at lunchtime. Weekend brunch is on the horizon, too, so stay tuned for that. 

Solstice, 1544 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills. Info: solsticecinci.com.

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