Who Knew, Cagematch Edition: Solé vs. Spiga


A culinary cagematch in which the real winner is acid reflux.

‘Who Knew?’ is sponsored by Walter Stewart’s Market.

If the Shrimp Index is any indicator, we’re experiencing a boom time on the New Canaan restaurant scene. 

Let me explain this metric, because I invented it 30 seconds ago: the Shrimp Index is the number of ways in which you can have shrimp prepared and brought to your table on any given day. My data acquisition methods may be lazy, but it seems at first AI-assisted count that you can get at least 49 different shrimp dishes in town, unless it’s

1 of 49 ways shrimp can be consumed in our fair ‘burgh: as a special appetizer at Spiga

Monday, in which case, you’re eating popcorn over the sink, my friend. But Tuesday through Sunday, this index is a handy quality-of-life metric, and if Zillow chooses to include the Shrimp Index on their future real estate listings alongside Walk Scores and School Grades, my earnest hope is to buy a boat with the residuals. When it comes to fine dining, we’re doing mighty fine. 

The answer is in the shrimp. 

But this isn’t an article about shrimp (note to self: write article about shrimp). It’s about, when going out to eat, what factors make us decide what spot to choose when the spots are all pretty good. Each of our town’s dining options serves a need; we all have our favorite servers, cocktails, entrees, and booths at each. But how can one eke an opinion piece out of that absolute lack of an opinion? One must manufacture a conflict. And this is how we came to create a contest where before, there was none: an Ital-Med standoff between Solé and Spiga. Both serve pasta and pizza, have great service and a solid outdoor seating game. Both have somewhat evocative Italian names (‘Spiga’ means ear, as in an ear of corn, Solé is obviously the sun) that point to dawdly days spent poolside, or at least cornside, in Tuscany. 

Is this where the comparisons end? Let’s jump in and see who wins at what. 


For Renovation Inspo: Solé

It’s a universal, uncontested truth that your car drives better after you have it washed, and I’ll posit that food at Solé has tasted better since their extensive interior renovation was unveiled this spring. Bright, blond wood, geometric floor tiles, and orangey velvet banquettes make the space feel fresh and energized whereas before, there was a mixed-media mosaic vibe and an interior that hinted more at The Rachel Haircut than at a relevant dinner out in 2023. Whoever helmed this transformation is a genius; the soul of Solé feels intact, but the outward appearance is more gracious and of the moment. Even tried-and-true menu items shone under revamped lighting on one recent visit, and I’m keen to see what Solé can make happen with their outdoor space once the sidewalk bump-outs are completed.


For Trading in, or Being, Hot Gossip: Spiga

Spiga’s interior is deep, with a bar along one wall and high-walled, upholstered booths lining the other. Longstanding rumors give the space a hint of mystery: was there once a house of ill repute in the basement? Did long-gone restaurant tenants ever sell drugs from the premises? Is there an unofficial midweek Cougar Night where Pilates-toned divorcées outnumber men 20-to-1? None of this was in evidence to me one recent evening, and I get the feeling the staff is too professional to give me the real chismé, but there IS something loose and good-timey about Spiga. The atmosphere was bright with wine-soaked lady voices when we walked in, but they all seemed to be well-behaved mom crews. If anyone was on the prowl, I missed it, although a very handsy middle-aged couple at the bar lent the night some real Neapolitan Teenager credibility.

I can’t quit you, carbohydrates I don’t pay for

For the Complimentary Bread with White Bean Hummus: Solé

I mean, come on. 

For the Complimentary Little Plate of Warm Baguette with Burrata Goo: Spiga

Maybe I just like free bread?


Winner, Fried App Category: Spiga 

I’ll be frank: my first two impressions of Spiga’s food were decidedly okay. It seemed like the perfect place to take a youth soccer team: pizzas and pastas for the little folks, salumi and a Chicken Scarp for the big ones. And that’s fine–I decided that I’m not the target demographic and shunted it to the bottom of my list. But one recent evening,

L-R: arancini, Brussels sprouts

leaving an event at the Library, we stopped in, and I realized that a reappraisal was in order. Those arancini are borderline NSFW. Made with prosciutto-infused arborio rice, served atop a ladling of parmesan cream sauce, they’re melty, salty, golden, and so unctuous, you can hardly stop yourself from making Shampoo Commercial Face when you take a bite. It’s heaven. Other apps adhere to the standard upscale Med-Ital classics: there are fried Brussels Sprouts, various preparations of bivalves, and meatballs.

The Solé appetizer menu hits veggie-er notes, with salads owning the lion’s share of its real estate. A calamari appetizer came to our table with a pair of well-executed sauces; the Thai chile one got a funky umami upgrade from either fish sauce or sesame oil; I couldn’t tell which. But the breading on the squid didn’t have quite the shatter I hoped for. I loved my roasted beet salad with fresh strawberries and dollops of goat cheese, but if I summon some emotional honesty, I can tell you that I’ll never dream of them like I do of arancini. 

Burrata with figs and arugula. Per one diner, better balance was found here than the “nothing special” calamari.


Winner, Entree Category: Solé

I am a moth, and Solé’s parmesan-crusted halibut is the world’s most alluring light bulb. I am powerless against both it and the tender, garlicky sauteed spinach it comes nestled into. It’s just not the kind of thing you’d make at home, and certainly not in July when turning on the broiler is a hate crime. But, this experiment is meant to be a cage match, and a toe-to-toe examination of pastas was in the cards. Our table ordered three different pastas, and each was a strong contender. A penne with pancetta and

Penne rigate with pancetta and cream sauce

cream sauce looked promisingly Carbonara-ish (and the only reason I didn’t demand a bite was a fleeting attempt at being the kind of adult who doesn’t eat other peoples’ food), and my husband’s shrimp special came folded into house-made tagliatelle as fine and smooth as an Hermès shawl. But I set my sights lobsterwards, and I was rewarded with the exquisite experience that makes Solé’s signature pasta dish stand out to so many people who can’t spell very well on Yelp. It’s balanced, tomatoey, and the lobster is tender and buttery, with nary a chewy moment. A handful of arugula makes you feel momentarily healthy, while the probable tablespoons of butter hiding beneath it make you feel like you’re getting away with something. You can

Winner, winner, lobster dinner

tell that spaghetti is housemade when it has square edges; pasta has been made alla chittara (over a wire-lined box not unlike a guitar) by hand for millennia. That evening, as our dinner companions regaled us with stories about New Canaan restaurants long gone, my spaghetti was square, and my heart was full. 

At Spiga, where pastas are also housemade, my husband enjoyed a short rib bucatini that was hearty and luxurious. We bookmarked it mentally to return to come January. My spaghetti cacio e pepe, for a dish famously easy to execute after a night out at the bars, lacked a bit of depth, but I blamed myself for ordering a $20.95 dish I could have gone home and tipsy-made for $4.

The single greatest test of a pasta dish is how excited you are to eat your leftovers the following morning. I polished off the Solé lobster spaghetti for breakfast the next day, and I’m sharing that fact without shame or fear of judgement. Let he who is without a personal history of Morning Pasta cast the first noodle. 

See you during sweatpants season, bucatini


Winner, Special They Had One Time, but Then It Went Away Category: Spiga

It couldn’t be simpler or more beautiful: lemon pasta topped with a sausage-stuffed Jimmy Nardello pepper. Sometimes, my husband will bring it up in conversation with a

Half of this dish disappeared before I had the wherewithal to get my phone out and snap it

wistful tone, like it was an old friend who died in a tragic accident. We knew it once, we went back, and it was gone. Such is the ephemeral nature of specials, of course; they’re whims, seasonal nods, and sometimes, just a good idea a staff member had about what to do with all those Jimmy Nardellos. I would sooner perish than ask any kitchen to recreate something off-menu. But if it ever returns, please send up a bat signal. I’ll be there, in my most forgiving cape. 


Winner: Us

The spirit of this column has never been to rank restaurants; we’ll let the crazies on Yelp (none of whom seem to actually live here) do that for you. I like Solé for ladylike lunches and dinners with fun neighbors, and Spiga for an ad hoc arancini or an outdoor dinner watching the light fade over New Canaan. I love that you can bring your dogs to either and sit outside; the Spiga staff was particularly kind to our excitable chocolate Lab. Both have excellent teams helming them and a friendly, helpful front-of-house.  You likely have your own favorites filed away in order of preference, but my advice to you is to reappraise them from time to time, ask your friends what they’ve liked lately, and summon the necessary bravery to try something besides your go-to dish in your go-to chair at your go-to spot. In this town, what with its outstanding Shrimp Index numbers, I have no doubt that a pleasant surprise is in store for you come dinnertime.

11 thoughts on “Who Knew, Cagematch Edition: Solé vs. Spiga

  1. I’m eating up every word in your review and wish I had the lobster pasta leftover on my fridge for breakfast.

  2. I heartily second your love for the Sole reno and the Spiga arancini and would also add the crispy-fried artichokes at Cava as a serious contender. (I know, only two in the ring at a time…)

  3. What a fun way to catch up on these 2 restaurants! Yes where is that leftover (anything?) lobster pasta? When I was a child in New Canaan there were NO restaurants! How lucky we are!
    Your fun, balanced writing reminded me of Pat Brooks’ wonderful Sunday NYT reviews, Thank you!

  4. Another great article. And -not that this was the salient point – popcorn over the sink? Genius. Just genius.
    Bon appetit!
    – Steph Stiles

  5. Your writing is so entertaining and engaging that I couldn’t help but finish reading! I’d like to give a shout out to the Cacio e Pepe at South End. Homemade pasta and the best one I’ve had since visiting Rome last year! Thanks for sharing and entertaining us this morning.

  6. Laura,
    You are a talent with the ole scribe. So happy we have great choices in New Canaan! But popcorn over sink sounds fun too.

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