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Restaurants & Bars 7

(another) Sona report

John Gonzales | Feb 3, 200408:54 PM

Seems like there have been some excellent reports and some pretty negative reports here on Sona. Of course we had to give it a go. Four of us called Sat. for a table that night, and were lucky enough to get one. (one of the great things about L.A. dining is that with so many choices it isn't that hard to get in at even the top spots)
Anyhow, we arrived for our 6:30 a few minutes late and found our friends already at the bar. Our table was ready, yet the hostesses gave us the opportunity to have a drink in the bar. A nice start, and clear indication that they aren't into rushing anyone along. The bar is very small, with perhaps six stools but well-stocked and manned by a very agreeable guy that made me a good cocktail featuring a bit of some blackberry puree he was concocting with. They gave us plenty of time to finish our drink and promptly seated us at our waiting table.
The restaurant is actually larger than I imagined with perhaps 25 tables split between a larger main room and a smaller side area. We sat in the side area which I think I preferred as it was a bit more private. I can't recall even hearing the people seated around us. The decor is simple, though not stark or minimalist. The tableware was all nice, somewhat interesting.
We were immediately attended to and give our choice of sparkling, flat, or filtered water. I loved this and think it is the appropriate way to have the option of selling bottled water, yet offer the easy selection of good filtered water, which we all opted for.
We brought a bottle of good cabernet with us which they offered to decant for us immediately, giving it the needed air-time. Some tasty little breadsticks were given, followed shortly and throughout the meal by a nice fresh small roll and an olive-topped bread. All good.
I did not really scrutinize the menu as I had kind of predetermined that I would have the tasting menu. The regular entrees etc. looked good, but at $69 (slightly more than 3 ala carte courses) the tasting menu seemed the way to go. The T.M. has to be ordered by the table which was fine with all of us, and service-wise really makes sense. I asked what the courses would be so that I could decide upon more wine. The waiter said it was really variable, and in could change within the same night. He then progressed to asking the four of us if we had any requests, allergies, or serious dislikes for the chef to consider. Nothing major for any of us. He then outlined a basic idea of the courses so that we could consider wine and had the sommelier come over.

The somm. (Josh) further outlined their typical food type progression, giving us the assist on deciding wines. The ladies were leaning toward a glass of champagne, but went along with my choice of an Alban Viognier to start the lighter courses. As a nice gesture the waiter brought all for of us a little sip of the bubbly, not wanting the ladies to miss out.

I cannot exactly recall all of the dishes, as there was quite a bit of pleasant conversation and vino as well. The tasting menu was comprised of different menus for the ladies vs. the gentlemen. Another point scored in my book. They started us with an amuse bouche comprised of four mini tastes, two of whic escaped me. The others were a tiny spring roll of duck confit which was very tasty and only lacked a little crispiness; and a tiny cylinder of potato stuffed with some tasty smoked salmon.
Next came raw seafood dishes of ahi and of hamachi each with subtle accompanying sauces. Both, fresh and good. Next came soup courses. One was a miso with Manila clams and multiple types of Nori. I like but don't love miso and nori, so while it was well done (subtle) with tasty clams; this was just ok to me. The other soup was a cream of cauliflower topped by a couple of tiny sweetbreads. Again, I like but don't love sweetbreads. I was converted. Both they and the underlying soup were fantastic. Never has cauliflower been so tasty. We all loved it.
We had ordered a bottle of Chateaneuf which was poured prior to the next courses. Prior to drinking it however the somm. came by and gave us a lagniappe taste of some riesling they were pouring. Next up was a cooked fish course, one being char and the other escapes me (john dory?) They were both good, accompanied by subtle sauces, including a very deep green veggie paste/puree. I preferred the char as the fish itself is more flavorful. The final savory course were slices of delicious venison with a very subtle sauce (?). The flavor of the meat itself was excellent. Each of ours came cooked as we had stated our preferneces at the meal's start. Just a great taste along with both the CdP and the Cab we brought.
Up next dessert for two courses. The first of which was what looked like an olive bowl lined with about six tiny assort petit fours. Can't remember the details, they were good, not world beaters. Finally came afruit tarted in some sort of sauce. The wine had kicked in by then but I think it was banana and we all really liked it.
Quantity-wise the portions were small, but at meal's end there had been plenty of food even for a big eater like me. Quality-wise I'd say the food was very, very good. Perhaps just a notch below the Spago, Josie, Patina level for me. I'd qualify that by saying the cuisine is not very heavy and seemed intent on remaining somewhat lighter and simpler. My preference for the others lies much in that I like bigger, bolder flavors which everyone doesn't. Dishes like the Cauli soup, venison, char, and tart were truly top notch.

What really struck me and garners big props were the staff. I truly can't remember having better service in an L.A. restaurant, and I've lived here 18 years. We came away feeling extremely well-treated.
There were a bunch of busboys constantly with bread, water, clearing, new silverware. The waiter passed along the small requests that we had, and gave us a nice description of each dish. Although there was ae a slew of staff, acting on the quick, it came of as very unobtrusive. There was the tiniest of delays in our order being taken, though we're only talking 5 minutes and I think it was probably because I was sitting perusing the open winelist for that period. Otherwise the timing of the entire meal was flawless. Each of the staff (actually fairly young) was professional yet still personable and not staunchy.
Another big plus for them is wine service. We are all heavily into wine, and my wife is in the wine business. Perhaps a small part of the great wine service was due to that, though I believe they have an excellent wine program. There actually seemed to be two people handling wine, Josh, and Michelle who I believe concentrates on the white varieties. They took pride in actually developing a wine program for Sona as well as helping the clientele. I have met more experienced wine people, but these to are adequately knowledgeable very personable, attentive and ready to help. I think for most clients these are the most important qualities in wine service. The list is not Valentino-like, but fully deep enough and with enough areas covered. Moreso than I expected, and better than a lot of new top places. The prices are fair. Typically some of the name, older stuff is very pricey. However, there are plenty of very solid wines at good prices. We had a Alban Viognier for $35, and 01 Pegua CdP for $69. The Pegau is actually a restaurant "deal".
The experience surely is not for the value-oriented at $130 pp with tax, tip, and wine. We felt, including a few small perks, that we got more than our money's-worth. Again the food at Spago, Patina, or Josie may get a slight nod, but this food is excellent and one can't eat at the same place all the time. Considering the room, service, and wine; the experience was excellent; and we'll surely be going back. In fact, I have the feeling that Sona will actually find a way to continue perfecting the art and even improve.

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