Dining

The Sole is Where You Go for Seafood

Bernie WHITMORE

“Where to go for seafood in Worcester?” That’s an easy one; the Sole, of course. 

The Sole Proprietor’s reputation was built on years of quality, service and value. Funny thing, though; as time passed and its popularity seemed to explode, the friends I hang out with found ourselves dining at The Sole less and less frequently. What started out as fun and informal – in the same tradition with the beloved clam shacks encountered on back roads along the coast – transitioned into a place for special occasions and people with a surfeit of discretionary income.

Having said that, it remains true that The Sole Proprietor exists as one of very few seafood restaurants in town, and high-quality seafood is something most of us cherish. Time for a return visit!

Arriving at The Sole, fortune beamed on us in the form of Buster, the huge inflatable crab straddling the entire roof of the restaurant. That meant a special menu with all sorts of crabby features!

We started out with a couple crab specials. First, my friend ordered the Pan Seared Crab Cake. It was served at the end of a rectangular plate nestled under a salad of garden-fresh pea tendrils and thin apple slices. Fermented butternut squash paste was schmeared down the center of the plate in an artful way.

He opined, “This is one of the best crab cakes I’ve had. EVER! I say that because it’s filled with crab – no filler!”

“So what binds it together? Magic?” I prodded.

“I don’t know… panko crumbs on the outside, pan-seared crunchy golden brown. But no bready filler. Nothing to cheapen it,” he rebuffed.

While he was experiencing the sublime, the dish before me was a study in how not to treat seafood. In defense of the kitchen, something in my subconscious made me skip right over the first word in the name of my appetizer, Buffalo Fried Jumbo Soft Shell Crab. Every other aspect of that dish was so exciting to me that I let my guard down. Perhaps I could have special ordered it without the spicy glaze.

Who would dare to dream of taking a beautiful jumbo crab – a study in delicate seafood flavor – and drenching it in a thick coating of buffalo dressing? Chicken wings – certainly. Creatures fresh from the sea – never. Granted, there were hints of crab flavor when I forked into the very center of the body cavity. I was inclined to conclude that this must be a menu item designed for people who don’t care for the flavor of crab but wish to be included in the Buster celebration.

Fortune changed for the better with my entrée of Roasted Dijon Crusted Cape Cod Bluefish. A large fillet was draped in creamy-rich, mildly seasoned mustard sauce studded with chunks of crab. It came with jasmine rice surrounded by an arc of deep green broccoli florets drizzled with sweet hoisin sauce. All aspects of this dish were well conceived, artfully presented and a delight.

But let’s have a word or two about bluefish. Many claim it’s too fishy. As if that might be a bad thing. In my opinion, it’s a fish for those who love wholesome seafood. It’s almost always fresh and served as big hearty fillets, especially when ordered in the early summer months when these fish arrive in New England in huge schools and can be hooked by line surfcasting from shore.

My friend prefaced his entrée with a cup of Crab & Corn Chowder. Sweet creamy corn, not surprisingly, formed the basis of this chowder crammed with flakes of crab. ’Twasn’t thick enough to hold his spoon upright, but that’s a test I don’t find particularly compelling. I’m more interested in a chowder’s flavor – not starchy, not potato-bound and not overwhelmed by other odd flavors. Corn dominated this one, with flavors of crab sneaking through.

Now, on to his Haddock with Lobster Newburg. This was classic a Sole Proprietor/New England seafood dinner. A snow-white, flaky haddock fillet was coated with Newburg sauce crammed with bits and larger chunks of lobster knuckle meat. Served with rice pilaf, it was a dish that proved as bulletproof as ever – my friend had nothing but praise.

There was a time when ordering Newburg sauce was a risk; too many chefs were either purchasing it industrially prepared or concocting their own with too much cheap sherry. The Sole’s was always reliable; this evening proved the chefs still have their golden touch.

The Sole Proprietor • 118 Highland St., Worcester • (508) 798-3474 • thesole.com

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