From dishwasher to restaurant owner, Carlos Hernandez’ journey from his native Guatemala to the U.S. is the classic American dream of hard work and opportunity. Along the way he learned how to cook delicious food with a nouvelle presentation. His latest restaurant incarnation is Solun Tapas Bar and Restaurant, just a few hundred yards over the New Haven line in Woodbridge.
Born on a farm, Hernandez spent his childhood tending dairy cattle. At age 17 his father sent him off to the U.S. for a vacation. Hernandez visited a friend who had a dishwashing job waiting for him at a diner in Peekskill, NY. That started a four-year rise through diners, delis and pizza joints around the New York and Connecticut, learning all the jobs in the kitchen and out front, and culminating in running the whole business.
Hernandez started his first business in 2000, the Penfield Beach Cafe in Fairfield, which is still a popular destination. During the next decade he opened two concession stands and five more restaurants. One was Meigas (meaning “magic” in Spanish), a high-end establishment in Norwalk. Recently he remodeled it and renamed it Tinto.
In 2009 Hernandez went to Spain for some culinary training, primarily in tapas. Having established himself in Fairfield County, Hernandez turned his eyes toward New Haven and found a former bakery space in Woodbridge. It was perfect spot to try out his tapas dishes and in March of last year he opened Solun, combining the Spanish words “sol” and “luna” for sun and moon. The restaurant, with its contemporary bar area and more formal dining room, has been popular since the day he opened. Serving traditional Spanish dishes such as paella as well as more trendy tapas, Solun is a good destination for a breezy drink with light fare, or a more stately full-course meal.
Restaurant Website: http://www.soluntapasbar.com/
• The Detes: 245 Amity Road, Woodbridge. 203-298-9741. Lunch: Thursday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Sunday through Thursday 4:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4:30 – 10 p.m. Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
• Price Range: Tapas $6 -9, main dishes $16 – 24, paella $24.
• Style of Food: Northern Spain.
• Favorite dishes: Gambas al ajillo (garlic tiger shrimp), paella, garbanzos con espinacas (chickpeas and spinach casserole), risotto de setas (mushroom risotto), filete al chimichurri (hangar steak).
• Vegetarian/gluten-free: Yes, as well as gluten-free beer from Barcelona.
• Drinks: Full bar.