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Restaurants & Bars

From Bad to Good -- Bistro 21 to SONA

jcwla | Jun 8, 200304:59 PM

My friend and I went to Bistro 21 last Friday night.
It's a small place with room for maybe fifteen patrons. When we were there, from about 7:30 to 8:30, there were up to eight people in the
room. It's hard to imagine how the place stays in business. There's also nothing charming about the decor, the tables are cramped together, and there's no view anyone would want to see -- just a strip mall.

We weren't served even bread or water for some time after arriving which, given the sparse population, is hard to accept. Finally, out came bread that looked so boring and airplane-y we didn't bother to eat it.

Finally, the waitress (who told us she was the chef's wife) took our order and my friend started with a corn and barley soup that had no flavor whatsoever.

I started with a green salad with goat cheese that had plenty of goat cheese but not high quality cheese, and not enough greens to go with it. Uninteresting.

After a long delay out came our entrees, miso-glazed black cod for my friend, which was one of the least tasty in a town with lots of tasty black cod, and boring, weird-tasting Japanese mackerel for me. We
each took two bites of our entrees and my friend told me to call Sona and ask if we could pop in for dessert -- we had to get the taste of Bistro 21 out of our mouths.

Fortunately, upon hearing our story, the folks at Sona told us to come on over. We get there and -- this is spur-of-the-moment, at 9 on a Friday night with the restaurant packed to the gills -- they ask
us to wait for just a moment, then seat us at a lovely banquette.

They bring out -- besides the wonderful rolls and butter topped with sea salt and pepper allspice -- a delicious amuse bouche of vivid red and yellow beets with onions.

We decided we couldn't just have dessert, so we each ordered an appetizer as well. I started with the tuna tartare, and it puts most tuna tartare in this town to shame. Delicious and flavorfully fishy
in little curlicues with a sauce redolent of wasabi.

My friend had a celery root ravioli that grazed the line of bitterness but ended up on the right side, and with each chew became more and more amazing -- a thing of beauty, capturing the essence of celery root in a pasta so thin it did nothing to mask the flavor of the filling.

They then surprised us with another free course -- a risotto of ramps with a poached egg on top. My friend liked it; I didn't. To me, it crossed over the line that the celery root ravioli navigated so well -- bitter and weird-looking, though the texture of the poached egg played nicely off the well-done rice. This was the first course I've ever had at Sona that I didn't really like, but the point is, they just did something special for us like this because we had told them our Bistro 21 horror story.
(It seemed like they weren't surprised by it.)

Finally, dessert: my friend ordered the "cookies and milk," which was actually a chocolate tart the size of a huge cookie, oozing chocolate inside, served with an adorable, tall, narrow glass of milk -- thrice as high as it was wide -- that was best poured over the "cookie" to create a delicious sort of impromptu souffle.

For me, the chocolate beignets with gobs of delicious glazed bananas and wonderful chocolate sauce for dipping. A taste treat.

We had come in for desserts, added appetizers, and they brought us two extra courses, so we ended up with a bill for $64 -- the same amount as at Bistro 21, but for ten times better an experience.
Wonderful service, truly accommodating, and they even gave us those delightful petit fours at the end.

The generosity of spirit of everyone involved with SONA will win you over if you are willing to let it. It's perfect for those with good taste and a little bit of adventurousness.

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