REALLY REALLY IMPRESSED BY SONA w/ pics
Full review with pics:
Except for M Cafe de Chaya, Sona is my favorite restaurant in L.A. right now. It's genius.
A few weeks ago I went to Sona twice in one week. (!) First I went there with my wife to celebrate the 9 year anniversary of the day we met. And though I married a beautiful and brilliant woman, I did not marry a woman who, like me, thinks it's perfectly normal to spend a four hour meal conversing ENTIRELY about the food and the wine.
So I had to return to Sona 4 days later, by myself, to eat again. Another full tasting menu, with wine pairings. Another long meal. But alone. Which is kind of becoming my favorite way to eat out: me sitting alone at the bar with a really cool, knowledgeable, funny bartender serving me. That's often where I get the best experience of a restaurant, and of a chef's food.
So I arrive early (5:45, they open at 6:00) and I sit at the bar. The sous chef, Kuni, chats with me at the bar for a few minutes before service. I had asked to have a moment with her, because I actually wanted to ask her what SHE thinks of the food at Sona, what insights she could give me so that I could better enjoy my meal (which is always my goal -- to better enjoy my meal). She tells me Sona is all about touch, finesse, feeling. I tell her I'm passionate about M Cafe de Chaya right now, and their stunningly delicious macrobiotic food. Kumi tells me she was macrobiotic for several years, she went to a macrobiotic cooking school in Japan, she still thinks that way but she also thinks it's important to "eat everything". I heartily agree.
Let the games begin.
Amuse: White asparagus with bearnaise sauce. The sweetness of the asparagus kept on going and going, long after the deliciously light bearnaise had stopped. It's one of the things I kept noticing in my meals here, how it was not just a combination of flavors, but a way the flavors had different intensities and lengths.
Next: a charantais melon soup with crab, frozen watermelon and Pop Rocks(!). My wife and I had a similar soup the other night, and it was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Melon and crab. Genius. Add some shaved ice, some frozen nibs of watermelon, some heirloom tomatos, and some pop rocks (literally, I think, or at least something with the exact action of pop rocks in the mouth) and you have the complete dish. Sublime and ridiculous. And amazingly delicious, hello!
David Myers, executive chef, comes by to say hi. David: Hi. Me: WOW. David: Yeah, well, it's all about the ingredients. Me: I guess, but it's also about how they're combined. David: Yeah, there's that, too.
Mark Mendoza, Sona's "wine director" is pouring wines at the bar tonight. Mark's wine pairing is spot on all night, sheer perfection and grace. First a Dampiere champagne with the amuse. Then a stunning 2005 Tokay with the crab soup. This wine was so good, the finish not unlike an aged white burgundy, that honeyed loveliness, but the acidity still very strong. Yum.
Next: sweetbreads with maitake mushrooms, bitter greens, corn, pine nuts and corn emulsion (!). The chewiness of the sweetbreads and the chewiness of the mushrooms were almost identical chewinesses. Sometimes it's contrast that's wonderful, sometimes it's sameness. The yin and yang of yin and yang. Served with a semi sweet Alsatian pinot gris that started out the tiniest bit too cold and sweet but soon became perfect as it warmed up and its complexity emerged.
Then came a black cod in dashi broth with hijiki and fiddle head ferns. Oh my God, the hijiki tasted like the ocean, and the fiddlehead ferns like the land. Amazing contasts, textures, genius dish. Served with a Chablis.
Note: A chef friend pointed out that one of the best things about eating at Sona is that you're not eating food like you find at every other restaurant in LA. The lineage here is not Chez Panisse - Campanile - Lucques (all great places, mind you) but Sona is something different. Sona is New York, Chicago, Japan, Thailand, Viet Nam. Interesting.
Also: apparently the chefs at Sona are allowed to plate the food any way they wish. As long as the ingredients are there. Hello! Tell me this isn't the coolest restaurant!?!
Next: Lamb with an artichoke parmesan puree with lamb shank and burrata ravioli. With a beautiful Washington State syrah. I'm getting a little drunk. I tell Mark how much I'm loving this syrah, and I'm not even really a syrah fan. "Yeah", he says, "it's just really good. There's only one way to describe this wine, which is that it's really good." I agree whole-heartedly.
Then came venison, four beautiful slices, with taro root puree, roast plum, Japanese vegetables, and porcini mushrooms. I've lost my words. "Mmmm" is the only word I know now. Mark pours me the "baby sister of Vega Sicilia", which had been opened since the day before because it's a massive wine. It's a little tough to penetrate at first, but by the end of this course, the vension breaking it down, it's opening up.
First dessert course was a "peanut butter gelee". With some brioche ice cream. The peanut butter and jelly, whatever it was made out of, was delicious, but as soon as my fork or spoon or whatever the heck utensil I was using at this point found the brioche, the whole thing came together ingeniously.
Now Mark comes out of the kitchen to tell me that Ramon, the pastry chef, has had a bit of an inspiration this evening and will be preparing something a little bizarre. What is it? It's corn ice cream with corn and morels. And it's unbelievable. First let me say, the mushrooms make no conscious impact – which is a good thing – and whatever their reason for being part of the dish, they do their job humbly, behind the scenes. As for the overall dish, it's one of the best things foodwise I’ve ever put into my mouth. The ice cream was full of plump, sweet kernels of corn, which popped with sweet sweet flavor. Corn ice cream!
I'm done. Whatever else I eat -- which is one more dessert -- doesn't register. I'm done. I'm done with wine, too. I want a cigarette. The absolutely stunning woman, some actress, sitting at the other end of the bar with some dude, has cigarettes. I bum one. She's cool. So is he.
Outside I smoke. It's good.
Sona has never appealed to me for some reason, but I can certainly appreciate it for what it does.
Sort of like I would never buy a Harley, even though I can understand the appeal that it carries for some people. I just prefer my bikes be Japanese - rocket fast, light and agile.
It was actually really chill at the bar. I find it hard to "buy" fine dining in LA in general, so if that's what you're getting at, I'm with you. And that's another reason I like to sit at the bar. Give me great food without the (fake-feeling) precious service. And again, Mark Mendoza pouring wines at the bar made a real difference. He was fun to talk to. It also helped that I'd drunk the syrah he "makes" (La Fenetre) not long before eating there, didn't realize he was involved with that winery, and figured it out over dinner. That was cool.
La Tache Burger! I LOVED your review. It made me excited about food, not that I really need that much encouragement. I've never really had Sona high on my list of places to try, but I think I do now. And I love the idea of eating at the bar and small talking it with the bartender. At the end of the review your writing even sounded tipsy, as I'm sure you were! Great job and thanks for giving me an inviting perspective on Sona.
re: la tache burger
The chowhound reports have been mixed between a few really devoted lovers, those that say, "eh" and those that have had bad experiences. I guess the "eh"s and bad experiences sort of outweigh the lovers.
I tend to find the LA Mag articles not totally in line with Chow opinion, or reality. But that's just my experience.
Hey, great review! I was told a long while back to check out Sona, by a foodie with impeccable taste..... and then I just sort of forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me because my GF owes me a nice dinner! And now I'm definitely making her take me to Sona!
Your description of the food reminds me a lot of Toque, in Montreal, which is a SUPERB resto, but with a California (rather than Quebecois) inflection. Have you been there? If not, you must check it out by any means necessary should you visit Montreal.
Please go to Sona and report. Toque, huh? I was in Montreal once and food was not on my radar. I was strip searched at the border, too, but that's another story. Anyway, my wife has been dying to go to Montreal for a long time, so I'll definitely remember that restaurant. In fact, I'm gonna go google it right now.
I hated Sona - found it pretentious (and a bit of a rip-off) - posted earlier so won't repeat here. BUT I was also at Toque less than a year ago and didn't like that either! And a few years back Toque was my favourite in Montreal.
So, indeed, I can add that if you don't like one, there's a good chance you won't like the other! Of course, the converse doesn't necessarily apply.