Last night I returned to Sona. The circumstances were unusual as I will explain. Overall, I would place the experience somewhere in between the ecstatic report I posted here in April and russcar's distinctively less favorable impression. The wrinkle was after we were seated we learned that both chefs were away at some food event and the cooking would be done by the sous-chefs. This angered me, as I had offered to treat my husband to whom I had raved and had invited another guest, and when I called for a reservation I was very specific that I wanted a night when they were ABSOLUTELY SURE the chefs would be cooking. In fact I was told that the restaurant would be closed on Saturday, but they would without doubt be there Friday. No update was offered when the reservations were confirmed the previous day. That I was now told they had left earlier than planned in order to receive an "America's best chef" award did not make me feel better.
I was I think quite unpleasant about the situation and it is possible that my disappointment set the tone. That said, the staff couldn't have been nicer. Five or six people came to our table to assure us we would have a wonderful meal, while at the same time offering to find us another reservation. I was outvoted on leaving. (The restaurant, by the way, was almost empty at 6:45 when we arrived; it did fill by 8:30 or 9.) Throughout the meal everyone was most gracious. They brought us each a glass of Dom Perignon; they added two courses to our six-course tasting menu. They had our car brought around front when we were ready to go. Basically, they could not have been nicer or more attentive.
Now the food. Here are the dishes as best I can remember. The amuse was a bit of smoked salmon on a ?yukon gold? potato chip, with a dab of creme fraiche; first course, raw ahi tuna, wrapped around something spicy of a softish texture, perhaps tuna also, I?m not sure, sitting in a sauce of wasabi and fresh green peas; this was really superb. Then, marinated or smoked eel, with a light sesame coating, a mild thickish-cream sauce and a little mound of delicate greens to the side-maybe lemongrass/cilantro/endive. Next a crusty/charred square of black cod-I don?t remember more of that; fourth, halibut on a bed of curly little chinese beans and a kind of curdled mango sauce to the side. No sooner had I inquired whether all the dishes were to be fish when the fifth dish arrived and turned out to be slices of duck breast, with wild rice topped by something called a ?Minnesota oyster, which was, I think, a long slice of some sort of mushroom; this was followed by a slice of beef tenderloin on a bed of spinach, topped by shaved parmesan. Finally, two desserts. The first was mulberries and strawberries in a strawberry "bath"?, accompanied by creme-fraiche sorbet, the second a little warm chocolate confection with a very rich runny center, some chocolate and vanilla- marbled ice-cream, and little banana dice,in a vanilla bean sauce. Finally miniature petite-four. We had an inexpensive wine (La lande-de-pomerol) and with tip the bill came to something under $300. My husband, who always complains about wine lists, thought this one was decent, quite fairly priced.
Everything was of decidedly high-quality. The flavors were not at all inharmonious. All in all it was quite an array. Now, the but. I don't think the cooking was quite as alive (if that is the word) as was the cooking the last time, not as brilliant, the flavors not as sparkling and satisfying. In fact it was, for me at least, even a bit monotonous. I think in part this was the fault of our having ordered the tasting menu (and we had a couple of extra courses.) It is entirely possible that just ordering a single appetizer or salad, entree, and dessert actually provides a greater variety of elements and different side foods in each course, and shows the kitchen better rather than having only the centerpiece of a number of potential entrees, and in an succession that takes on a slightly assembly-line feel. This may be part of the problem, though problem fells too strong a word. I don't think so entirely though. The duck and the tenderloin, perfectly cooked as they were, seemed to me too salty. I also found the olive bread too salty and pretty tired this time, the bread sticks less airy and light and therefore less interesting for their being so full of flavor.(I had really remembered those breads.)
In conclusion, maybe it was the chefs' absence, maybe it was my mood upon learning this, maybe four fish courses in a row were just too much for me. But maybe also the cooking has become a little less full of excitement in the doing. Not sure. I would still recommend it and be interested in what others had to say, though I would reserve the raves at this point. P.S. Neither of the others in our party agrees. They thought it a great eating event. (They would definitely go back if I paid.)
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