When a young Polish woman left her home country to come to America and build a life, there was no such thing as the Solidarity movement, so she named her restaurant after a city – Warsawa. When a young American daughter took over the restaurant to refresh it and continue the family traditions – she chose Solidarity as the new name.
The 1980’s Solidarity movement in then communist Poland was “an independent trade union movement in Poland that developed into a mass campaign for political change and inspired popular opposition to communist regimes across eastern Europe” as their website puts it. Today the Solidarity movement in Santa Monica means great Polish cuisine, in a comfortable home style setting with the same family recipes that were brought over from the “old country”.
I started the evening with a tour of the open-air back patio, which is quite spacious and has a full bar. The fire pits were pretty, but unnecessary in the 74 degree late summer weather. The patio was swarming with people from Social Lingo, which holds a mixer every other week for people who want practice their language skills and meet some new folks. This looked very interesting, and I’ll likely be back for that.
The rebranding from Warsawa to Solidarity was designed to bring a younger, hipper crowd while not alienating the stalwart regulars who came for the pierogi and borscht, and clearly it’s working in the back patio. The restaurant is one of a few remaining eateries that are located in what used to be a home, which adds a certain comfortability to the dining experience. Each “dining room” is cozy and helps avoid the dreaded noise pollution that destroys so many fine dining experiences.
For my visit this past Tuesday, I had no worries of noise pollution. The Tuesday after a three-day weekend is notoriously bad for the restaurant business, and as I was the only customer at 9 p.m. I was certain of either great service or no service. Lucky for me, Adam was still on the clock and service was punctual without being overbearing.
The menu is a simple list of favorite and popular Polish and European dishes. It’s not an extensive list, which is a good thing as the bigger a menu, the harder it is to maintain consistency and quality of food. There is a nice selection of pierogi with a traditional cheese and potato leading the pack of beef and onion, chicken and onion, and a mushroom and sauerkraut. This was my first time here, so I went with the traditional and found it delightful. The pastry was not gummy or chewy – it was that perfect combination of soft and crunchy that happens with well-prepared pan-fried dumplings after being boiled. The duo comes out on a half-moon plate with a dollop of sour cream and a scattering of fried onions, they were substantial but not overfilling, a perfect appetizer size. The goat cheese filling tang was tempered with just enough of the potato’s earthiness to create a balance of tastes.
For a main I had the beef stroganoff. The large portion came with a side of spaetzle and a warm slaw of cabbage of peppers in a sweet and tangy dressing. The stroganoff was a marvelous blend of beef, mushrooms and a sour cream sauce that added a robust beefy creaminess to the dish. The beef itself was tender and tasty, not some overcooked but still leathery piece of cow. I enjoyed the counterbalance of the warmed but still crisp vegetable slaw to the spaetzle and the tanginess helped to refresh and clear the palate after the creamy stroganoff.
The dessert choices were varied from the usual warm apple tart ala mode, to the chocolate offering, but Adam the wonderful waiter recommended the blintzes with raspberry compote. When all choices are equally priced, I tend to follow the waiter’s recommended choice and he didn’t lead me astray here. These are not the frozen blintzes you get at most restaurants. The crepes were house made and piping hot, filled with a cinnamon spiced cream cheese that was flavorful, but not sickeningly so. The warmed compote accompanies the crepes in a ramekin, and the waiter poured it over the blintzes allowing the flavors to meet. This delay in saucing forestalls the mushiness that can happen when a cake is drenched in sauce in the kitchen and then has a delayed delivery to the table. This type of thoughtful food preparation is what separates good restaurants from mediocre.
The biggest “defect” I found was with the food presentation. There’s a heartiness to the food, but it could be delivered in a more attractive package. The stroganoff was a pool of meat and sauce, the spaetzle were piled and spilling in all different directions, and the slaw was creeping into the sauce and spaetlze. This is the main area of improvement at Solidarity. It’s been said we eat with our eyes first, and though this is a home-style restaurant, there’s a level of “upping the game” that can happen here.
I was treated to a tour of the “secret bar” in the back which has smallish private room, and its own en suite restroom. This would make a perfect spot to host a smallish dinner or cocktail party. It would also be ideal for a small meeting of 10-20 perhaps.
Parking is not available in the lot next door, so it’s street parking only.
Solidarity rates a solid 4 out of 5 stars for food, service, and environment, a 3 for presentation. Prices range from $6-18 for small plates, $7-8 for salads and sides, dinner mains are $16-35.
1414 Lincoln Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401