SolaceAfter scanning the menu at Solace, I realized that the most accurate translation for "tapas" is probably "bar food." That's not a bad thing. Yes, you can get Buffalo wings and fried calamari but also gnocchi and duck prosciutto. Chef Robert Marilla shows the creative potential of a culinary niche long dominated by fryers and microwave ovens.

The décor can best be described as Italian Renaissance contemporary, with curved archways and tiled walls—something like one of those futuristic Star Trek civilizations modeled after a recognizable historic era. The entrance is dominated by a tropical fish tank and a shiny, curved, black granite bar. Leather couches and tables at the back offer further opportunities for conversation and mingling. Despite powerful ceiling fans, a trace of cigarette smoke lingers in the dining area.

The menu includes a handful of entrées (filet mignon, venison, and mahi mahi, among others) but more than two dozen tapas are the main attraction. Spanish and Italian wines are well represented, in keeping with the restaurant’s Mediterranean influences. Manchego cheese and mission figs are the highlights of the plata fria, but the Spartan salad turns out to be a fairly ordinary feta and olive Greek salad. Hot plates are more memorable. Thai garlic and ginger shrimp are tender and delicately prepared, while buffalo meat, Gouda cheese, and mushrooms update the classic slider. Cinnamon pork medallions with sweet potatoes, after the style of a holiday meal, are filling and tasty.

Aside from trying a new course each time your wine glass is refilled, the best part of a menu of small plates is that it gives the kitchen and diners the opportunity to try new things. So far, the experiment seems to be working.

20930 F-5 Torrence Chapel Rd., (704-895-5115) $$$, D, FSB, R.

Categories: Food + Drink, Quick Bite, Restaurant Reviews