Solana Cuatro – Tolosa – País Vasco, Spain


Solana Cuatro Pintxos Bar

Owned by Chef Roberto Ruiz (what doesn’t that man own here?) and run by Sonia Tapia Iglesias, Solana Cuatro focuses on serving traditional pintxos centered around extremely fresh local produce, top shelf quality ingredients, and various Spanish wines. Sonia used to be the head chef at Restaurante Fronton for many years   and was second in command next to Roberto, her passion is using the best ingredients while simply cooking them in the traditional Basque way. It should be also mentioned, like Roberto, that she is pretty much a celebrity amongst the people of Tolosa. Everywhere Sonia goes she knows someone, be it the store owner, purveyor, artist, television news anchor, farmers, and patrons who frequent Solana. The 2nd part of my Basque Stage is working here cooking and cranking out pintxos and small plates (Solana serves both pintxos and a pre fixe menu).


Upon entering Solana 4 you are greeted with a warm “Kaixo!” by everyone working behind the bar. The decorations include various wines from around Spain (Rioja), warm technicolor, a display case of fresh produce and canned goods, and a wall of… jamon iberico!


Alazne sending me off to Sonia

Oh and check out the Sammic portable broiler! As you can see here this is the entire prep and cooking space; yes that’s right you got a Sammic broiler, induction burner, and microwave, that’s it. By far the most claustrophobic and tight space that I’ve had to cook in.. ever. If it’s one person working this station it would be nice, but with Sonia and I we were bumping and squeezing past each other very frequently.


The decor above the our little station is custom hand made by a crazy old Basque man who also does the makes the same art found in Solana’s teaching kitchen studio and Restaurante Fronton.


One of the best jamon ibérico in all of Spain, each one of these legs costs around 500 euros, making this a highly expensive product. For those of you not in the know of what Iberico is, it’s a breed of black pigs that are finished on acorns (and often wild flowers and whatever else the pig finds), thus giving the pig’s fat a luscious and velvety texture that just instantly melts in your mouth when you eat it. The fat tastes of what the pig was fed on; nutty, floral, and sweet. Here at Solana almost everything is garnished with a slice of Iberico, muey bien! Also the added bonus of working with this beautiful ham is eating it everyday (yes, everyday).


Ibérico Porn

Sonia Slicing Jamon Iberico

The jamon ibérico is sliced fresh to order with a extremely flexible and thin 12″ Shun slicer. Watching Sonia slice the ibérico by hand makes it seem pretty easy, but it’s a lot harder than it looks… a LOT harder. Keeping the perfect angle with the perfect slicing motion is extremely difficult and can only be mastered after a lot of practice. I could just see the euros being thrown in the trash after fucking up my first few times doing it, but by the end of my stage here I got a lot better (there was no waste… I ate all my botched slices).



Neighboring Solana 4’s main bar area is the cooking studio where they have cooking demos for people and the demos usually feature a guest chef. This is also the place where Sonia keeps her mobile garden which she wheels out everyday to catch some sun. She grows peas, parsley, cabbage, thyme, rosemary, lettuce, and some decorative flowers.


While I was working at Solana 4, a huge week long festival called Carnival was going on, so that meant an insane amount of people drunk and dressed up in crazy outfits. In my opinion, Carnival is the equivalent of Halloween but it’s about a week long and you can get plastered drunk in the streets. Pintxo pote aka pintxo happy hour consists of a free pintxo with every drink you purchase (in Solana 4’s case, a cider braised piece of chorizo). Working pintxo pote during Carnival was the gnarliest ever, I made that little cider braised chorizo pintxo non stop for 4 hours straight.


I’ve learned how to make tortillas at Solana (I’m dubbed the “tortilla maestro” by Sonia), it’s the quintessential Spanish breakfast and snack. Eat it solo with tomato and olive oil or stuff it in a bocadillo for a satisfying pintxo. After making 50+ tortillas during Carnival, I think I’ve got a pretty good handling of churning out a really good tortilla, even better than some of the locals ;).


The quintessential pintxo called “Gilda” found in every single pintxos bar in Pais Vasco.  Take a anchoas filet, thread it around some guindilla peppers, stab an olive at the end, and drench the whole thing in olive oil. Gilda’s are really aggressively flavored, at first I thought it was too strong for me but after awhile these things become quite addicting. Extremely briny from the olive and anchovy and paired with the tangy acidic bite of pickled guindilla peppers makes this small and humble pintxo quite flavorful.


The simple yet tasty jamon iberico bocadillo. If you don’t know which pintxos to choose, this one always hits it home for me.


Boquerones, Anchoas, and Piperrada 


Piquillo Pepper Confit, Anchoas, and Salmorejo

Slowly confit in olive oil, the piquillo peppers were really sweet and meaty. The salmorejo is a new favorite sauce of mine; it’s an smooth savory emulsion consisting of heirloom tomatoes, olive oil, bread, balsamic vinegar, and garlic.


Confit Tuna Belly, Boquerones, Pimenton Verde, and Red Onion


In addition to serving pintxos, Sonia also offers a pre fixe menu that utilizes whatever she finds at the famous Tolosa Farmers Market held every Saturday and whatever special ingredient she gets in seasonally from her purveyors. Sourcing these specialized and sometimes ridiculously expensive Basque ingredients and learning how to handle, prepare, and cook them was definitely the best highlight working at Solana.


Sonia plating the Soft Scrambled Eggs with Black Truffles dish (part of the pre fixe)


Verduras – Artichokes, Leeks, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Iberico Crisps, Egg Yolk

I love how everyone in Pais Vasco garnishes with a raw egg yolk. #EggSlut


Sardines – Mache, Salmorejo, EVOAnchoas

Nosebleed expensive anchoas that cost about 70 euros for 1 personal sized tin.


Spanish Black Truffles



Meltingly soft and gelatinous kokotxas (something found only in Basque country, guess where this cut is located on the fish!)


Iberico Pluma

Aka “secreto” as we know it in the states. Grilled medium rare, you can eat this like a steak. Incredibly fatty, juicy, and tender. The closest thing to this in the states would be to acquire a heritage breed mulefoot secreto.


Angulas de Aguinaga – 530€/kg

The highly prized baby eels only in season from November to Late February and is ridiculously expensive, approximately $350 USD/lb. One bite of these is like eating a 20 dollar bill, albeit it’s much tastier. The texture is exactly like perfectly al dente pasta, but has a savory briny flavor that is both fatty, faintly fishy, and very meaty. Quite tasty… but not something I could afford. They are gently warmed in olive oil, dried guindilla pepper flakes, and thinly shaved pieces of garlic.


Sonia’s Uncle’s Pickled Guindilla Peppers

This isn’t expensive and quite commonplace, but these guindillas peppers which were grown and pickled by Sonia’s uncle are in my opinion, the best guindilla peppers that I’ve ever tasted. The brine is a perfect balance of salty and sour while the peppers themselves have an excellent crispy texture and are a lot more spicier than your commercial brand guindillas.


Working with Sonia was a great pleasure despite our occasional miscommunications (one of the problems of only having a rudimentary grasp of Spanish) but we did work. Sonia’s a beast in the kitchen; incredibly fast, concentrated, precise, and yet she still puts on a friendly smile & conversation with the customers whilst cooking. She was incredibly nice to me, anything I wanted to know more about she got me the necessary information, anything I wanted to try and eat she gave me, taught me every single recipe and technique she knew, and introduced me to the many specialized purveyors of Solana 4 (who were also the suppliers for Restaurante Fronton). Plus she has her signature bad ass hair bun.


The staff at Solana 4 was incredibly friendly and accommodating to me, they treated me like family. Thank you Sonia, Leire 1, Leire 2, Yvonne, and Anna for making my stay at Solana very enjoyable!

Solana Cuatro

Tolosa, Guipúzcoa

943 017 636


~ by Clifton Su on March 25, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: