If we enter the way-back machine and travel to August of last year we will find Taste of Temecula being written by one man and photographed by whomever he could bribe. Flash forward more six months and there are now 16 people on the roster so change is constant. It is constant everywhere but one place…Google search results!
How did Google search results land in a restaurant column?
Well, for the last 6 months one establishment has been in the top five of all searches related to Taste of Temecula, and for the last two months has been the number one search…by a long shot!
Google does not lie, people are searching diligently for Soro’s Mediterranean Grill, and our mission is to uncover why. We are especially curious as to what has changed in the last few months to make it the top-ranked search.
When I asked Dylan Soro about why his restaurant was scoring so high in the rankings his response was hardly self-effacing “ When you eat here, you will know why.”
Well this Canadian loves a good challenge, and you Mr. Soro, you have thrown down the gauntlet. I’ll leave my Chef whites at home, but I’ll be wearing my most serious food-eating attitude.
We can make this article short, and just say I was spanked.
Everything started quietly enough, I met Dylan Soro, and had a conversation with him about the growth of his business from a McDonalds to a BBQ shack, to a Mediterranean Restaurant. They started with Styrofoam plates, went to plastic, and to glass and finally, now they are concentrating on using whatever plate the food looks best on.
The culinary emphasis is based around the Mediterranean, although there is a brilliant play of spices going on there that had this Chef scratching his head on almost every other course. There is some love and some genius going on in the kitchen.
The terms ‘grind our own spices’, and ‘Dad, what’s in the secret spice blend’ come to mind. I can’t make this stuff up, my mind is reeling from the enormous spread they put out for us. There is so much of a story to tell here I feel like I have lived an entire year of my life in one night.
Let’s just say that Papa Soro, is larger than life. On this night, Papa was happy, having just pulled off the catering gig for La Pointe. We covered the event that very day due to serendipitous timing of a meeting we had with a charity group. Now is a great time for me to interrupt the time line of this article and mention that at Soros, with Turkish Coffee, you may get your fortune read. It has been the weird kind of interconnected madness of a day, that I am really regretting not doing that.
To interrupt myself further, apparently Papa Soro and his wife are ex-Michiganders and their restaurant was just around the corner (literally) from where I used to live in the early 1990’s. The odds of running into them in Temecula, well to hell with it, this night stopped making sense about the first five minutes.
To the food?
Nope, how about Greek Wine. Not even going to try to pronounce it. The taste was well hard to place, a first of many firsts for the evening. Definitely a blend, with a few familiar aromas, reminiscent of a Cabernet Sauvignon with a wine I have never tasted before, spicy, herbal notes that are hard to place. The wine was served a little warm, which did not help as the alcohol was starting to pop through. It was novel, but an acquired taste, so I switched to a Beaulieu Vineyard, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and hoped it would hold up to the evening. It too was served on the warm side, but at least I was on familiar ground here. Many salute’s later we were onto the evening with Mama or Papa Soro dropping by every few minutes to talk about another interesting topic, such as their outlook on humanity, plans for the future of the restaurant, their backgrounds and other business.
“You like that, that wine? Hey you bring them a bottle of that wine, I will drink with them.” said Soro.
Convivial, wild, bold, over the top, and now on to the food.
Papa was sitting at our table, and the conversation was quickly steering towards the realms of metaphysics fate, dreams and desires. While I normally love this type of conversation, I need a bottle of Single Malt Scotch on the table to be fluent in that particular dialect of humankind. Luckly Mrs. Soro appeared and steered the conversation back on track.
Papa asked “What do you want to eat tonight.” I said, “Soro, I want to leave that up to you.” No sooner were the words out of my mouth when I knew I had made a drastic miscalculation, and resulting in a challenge of my own which appeals to the primal nature of a Chef, “feed me”, and “I trust you”.
So here is what Papa Soro chose for us:
Crab Cakes, was the opening salvo. A little spicy, with crab, sautéed mushrooms, rice and an Arabic Spice influence that I cannot quite place but is very familiar. Served with a red pepper aiolli.
How good were the crab cakes?
As the food piled up on our table a waiter came by to ask if he could clear away some of the food, our photographer said: “If you touch the crab cakes I will stab you with my fork!” She did not appear to be kidding, more of a mama bear look…the waiter backed away slowly!
Light’s went out and a burning plate of Saganaki, a feta cheese ignited with Ozo and doused with lemon. This was a first of many learning situations, where Soro showed his staff just how he wanted it done. The cheese was wonderful a playful blend of herbs with oregano at the forefront, the first fork-full was crunchy and tangy, the next, more towards the center was lush and creamy, and that is when I shut off my objectivity, put away my note pad and hung on for the ride.
Humus Plate, by now our photographer is trying to move as fast as she can, the food is starting to pile up, the shots rushed, I am at the point of not caring. I slyly try the cilantro jalapeño humus and am told to get my fingers off the plate, as I am messing up the shot. We are presented with simply the best humus I have ever had, a mild, creamy taziki perfectly balanced, a roasted red pepper humus, tangy in it’s goodness, and the jalapeño, cilantro humus, which had perhaps papitas as a base, something nutty at any rate. While I was blown away by the subtly of the dips, it was the pita bread that floored me. Soft, fluffy thick, perfect.
Then the lights went off again and out came Soro with a cart for table side cooking. Armed with 2 racks of lamb, a bottle of brandy and another of sherry, I knew right then that Soro was my kind of Chef. I was lost in the momnent, watching in terror our photorapher trying to close in for a shot, only to have a flaming pan of Brandy and lamb flick towards her. All dinning in the dining room had long since stopped, with everyone questioning what was it that we were about to eat and where was it on the menu. Well it’s not on the menu, and when I asked Soro what the dish was called, he gave me that special look reserved for idiots and told me “It’s a rack of lamb”.
“All of you will learn to do this.” Soro said to his terrified staff, as he demonstrated the near lost art of table-side cooking.
At any rate the ‘rack of lamb’ was served with a rice pilaf and a classic Broccoli Florentine. Everything was wonderful and the lamb had a taste that I could just not place, but made me hungry for more.
When I asked Mrs, Soro about the various unexpected spice combinations, she confided in me that Soro used to work for a Indian, Certified Master Chef, and it shows. There is a playfulness to the seasoning and spices, with unexpected twists and turns. It is wonderful to be delighted in such a way.
Yes, there was more:
Classic chocolate mousse, German Chocolate Cake and a beautiful light and crisp baklava. Too much, excess meter was on overload.
As it happens, it was my friends first night working at Soro’s, so I jokingly said to Soro: “He’s a good guy, you should give him a raise.” Soro turned to me and said, “I will give him the key to the cash register, and when he is counting out the nights sales and looking at the profits, he can decide then, himself, if he deserves a raise or not.”
“I am going to host a Fedora night, soon (the hat), everyone can get dressed up nicely. If you don’t like to drink, you will have to eat on the patio...”
Soro’s is located in the old location of Lump’y BBQ, which itself has moved next to the new City Hall just down the road. While the location is the same, little of the former BBQ restaurant has remained, with Soro and Dylan exerting more influence every month transitioning this former fast-food meca to a fine dining establishment.
In the ultimate showdown Soro challenged me to cook a 5 course dinner with him in the next month…I am certainly game, and it sounds like a lot of fun.
Wine list was way beyond expectations, someone has spent a lot of time choosing here, and you will be pleasantly surprised.
When I go back, I know what I am going to order; “Soro cook for me”, and then everything will be right in the world.
28464 Old Town Front St Temecula