Telegram & Gazette
By Christine E. Thompson

I’m telling all my friends to go to The Sole. Folks around Worcester are lucky to have this outstanding seafood restaurant. And for those who live near Boston or Providence, it’s time for a road trip.

The ambiance is energetic and lively. The only detraction was the noise level in the dining room, especially from the party of 15 seated nearby. A nautical theme prevails, with models of sailfish and tuna mounted on the walls, a lobster tank at the corner of the bar and photos of fishermen proudly displaying their catch. Rectangular ship lanterns with cobalt blue and white glass give a contemporary feel to the dining room.

From the valet service to the busboy, everyone was focused on friendly and prompt service. Our server, Cori Bamberg, easily answered our questions about the menu and checked in with us often through the evening.

The innovative menu offers a wide selection of hot and cold appetizers as well as sushi and a raw bar. The swordfish burger ($7.99), simply and perfectly seasoned with salt, pepper and a little cayenne, was served over a warm salad of tomato, artichoke and red onion. We also ordered the firecracker sushi at $11.99, an inside-out, sweet and spicy lobster and avocado roll, with extra crunch from the matchstick sweet potato fries included in the filling.

Ms. Bamberg told us that the menu changes frequently, with some favorites staying – tuna steak Barcelona and swordfish au poivre – and new items introduced depending on seasonal availability. The kitchen also offers simpler and more traditional seafood preparations as well as a few chicken and steak options.

Entrées come with salad or soup. For a small additional charge you may substitute one of the special side salads for the house salad. We ordered the goat cheese and fennel salad for $7.99. Shaved fennel and julienned apples sat atop an abundant serving of mixed baby greens, tossed with a light coating of lemon, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We also ordered the seafood chowder, a thick cream-based chowder at $2.49 for a cup, $3.99 for a bowl; good, but nothing unusual.

The parmesan crusted ocean catfish ($18.99), tender and moist under its crisp crumb topping, was accompanied by a fresh pineapple salsa. It was served with purple sticky rice and glazed baby bok choy. When I called Executive Chef Stefano Zimei to ask about the unusual rice, he enthusiastically described it as “farmed in the marshes of the Himalayas, easy to cook (just as you prepare regular rice except use a little less water) and versatile.”

The herb-grilled Alaskan halibut ($23.99) was served over a caramelized onion-celery root puree. Its flavor was enhanced by a tomato-basil relish and a portobello mushroom vinaigrette.

The fish portions are large enough to take some home for lunch the next day.

The Sole Proprietor has an extensive wine list with several offerings by the glass or half bottle. The Duckhorn sauvignon blanc was herby and tangy at $29 for a half-bottle. It was a very nice accompaniment to the fish specials we ordered.

I wasn’t sure I had room for dessert, but a glance at the menu enticed me. I thought I would take a few bites of the flan ($5.99), a light custard with a thin pool of delicious caramel sauce, and then share it with my dining companion. I’m afraid she didn’t get much of it; it was so good that I just kept eating. The terrine at $6.99 was a slice of rum-flavored chocolate ganache, served with a white chocolate sauce streaked with dark chocolate threads. It was a rich and sweet ending to a fabulous meal.

The bill for two appetizers, one soup, one salad, two entrées, two desserts with coffee, and a half bottle of wine came to $120.46.

This dining experience was enjoyable in part because the people working there seemed to be having fun. The menu shows the chef’s passion for inventive food presented with style. Most important, he’s got a very good palate – all the food was well-seasoned and he is an expert at combining ingredients that complement each other.

The Sole Proprietor has been open for 27 years. The owners, Robb and Madeleine Ahlquist, have clearly have found a formula for success: an innovative menu, the freshest seafood and detailed attention to customer service.

Christine E. Thompson, a former chef and caterer, is the associate dean of the School of Arts & Sciences at Johnson & Wales University in Providence.