Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sona - 01/30/2009

401 N La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 659-7708

Sona was one of my early forays into fine dining and at the time it was the best tasting menu I had in LA. Since then I have meant to go back but never really found the time. It eventually took a friend having heart surgery to bring us back. As one of his favorite restaurants, he wanted to share a good meal with friends and family in case something happened. Happily he is recovering well and hopefully will be eager to treat us to more meals in the future.

The bread selection was surprisingly strong. We started off with black tea and red wine both warm and inviting. The red wine had a slight sweetness reminiscent of preserved fruit while the black tea had a delicate woody aroma. These were followed by a chestnut bread that was nutty and sweet as one would expect. Lastly we were given a wheat bread with a nice rustic flavor.

Amuse: Dashi Broth - Watermelon Radish, Chiffonade of Shiso
Using ingredients from Japanese cuisine, the interplay between the fragrance of the shiso and the smoky broth teased the palate and made us hungrier for the meal to come.

01: Poached Salmon - Roasted Beets, Kumquat
The fish came to the table almost quivering, it was literally hard to tell the salmon was even cooked. The meat had a clean fresh taste and while I enjoyed the sweetness of the beets, I felt the kumquat was far too sour, almost to the point of being bitter.

02: Chestnut Agnolotti - Fennel Confit, Roasted Chestnut
The use of the dense chestnut paste upset the balance of this dish. Overly sweet and blunt, not even the other elements of the dish could save it. Never a big fan of chestnuts, I could have been biased, although the general consensus of the table seemed to echo my sentiments.

03: Parmentier Soup - Pomme Soufflé, Leek Soubise
One of the most surprising and best tasting courses of the night was this complex study of the humble potato. The course entered around very creamy rich soup and the drastically different crunchy Tater Tot-esque pomme soufflé, each highlighting different facets of the main ingredient.

04: Maine Lobster Risotto - Shellfish Emulsion, Kaffir Lime
There was nothing wrong per se, but after trying so many different presentations of lobster risotto, each seems to have its own subtle differences that cater to different tastes. For example, Sona's lobster had a nice crunch but also an intense butteriness that verged on cloying. The rice was maybe a touch overcooked for my tastes but others seemed to prefer the texture.

05: Seared Scallop - Lamb Bacon, Quail Egg
Bacon wrapped scallops used to be one of my favorite appetizers when I first started dining out. They have fallen by the wayside since so it was nice to see Sona's take on this classic app. Overall a fairly unpopular dish as most people found it overly salty. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed the combination and the distinct flavor of the lamb bacon.

06: Roasted Quail - Cauliflower Purée, Chorizo, Date
We were served two parts of roasted quail the smaller was rich and oily and tasted strongly of quail while the larger part was spongy and dull. The sauce was far too intense for the bird although the various greens gave a nice crisp bitterness that contrasted with the richness of the bird.

07: Veal Cheek - Lentil, Artichoke Barigoule
As one would expect the braised veal was extremely soft and tender and had a nice balance between lean meat and fat. The overall flavor was a bit sour though this flavor was tempered by the slight sweetness of the lentils and artichoke.

08: Wagyu - Pomme Purée, Celery Root, Shiso Salad
Another supplemental, the beef was sourced from Gunma Prefecture home to Chef Yagi. The meat itself was fairly lean for A5 Wagyu. Although too much marbling can quickly become overly heavy, given the small portion, I would have liked a bit more unctuousness. The use of shiso and celery root provided a refreshing lightness to the beef.

09: Selection of Cheeses
The cheese selection was fairly mild and very approachable, perhaps reflecting our host's preferences. Overall a bit of a letdown as Sona was the first time I remember having a cheese plate I truly enjoyed. Perhaps I was expecting something a bit more exotic to live up to my perception-altering first visit.

10: Ginger Sorbet - Hijiki Gelée, Coconut Pearl Tapioca
With a distinct Thai flavor, I expected the ginger to dominate but instead the dish had a flat sweetness that I found a bit cloying.

11: Clafoutis - Currants, Salted Hazelnut, Saffron Ice Cream
The saffron ice cream was easily the standout flavor of the dish exotic and slightly sweet it contrasted nicely with the sharp tang of the currant and the smooth buttery flavor of the cake.

12: Guanaja Mousse - Confit Japanese Pear, Roquefort Ice Cream
Chocolate mousse and Roquefort cheese sounds like a daring combination but it actually worked much better than I expected. The dark opulent chocolate is the dominant flavor. The ice cram had some of the characteristic Roquefort character but mainly added a general savoriness to the mousse.

This was one of the most varied and distinctive presentations of mignardises I have had in a while. From left to right: lemon meringues, mini Oreos, powdered sugar-covered almond sandies, chocolate cherry macarons, apple "lasagnas," puff pastries, and caramel/cocoa "pat de jeis"

Supplement: Duo of Beef - Nebraska Tenderloin, Braised Short Rib, Fingerling Potatoes
At the end of the meal our server came and asked if we were full. Somehow the group decided we weren't quite full so the kitchen decided to whip up one last course for us. This was particularly generous as the entire kitchen staff had gone home except for Executive Pastry Chef Ramon Perez. This was probably the largest course of the night, maybe the kitchen wanted to make sure we didn't ask for anything else. Chef Perez showed his skills with the savories, whipping up a very pure simple tenderloin and rich braised short rib.

The staff seemed to pay particular attention to our table, understandable as my friend reserved the restaurant's private dining room. Overall the service was outstanding except for a minor gaffe when one of the diners asked for an Americano and got a Café Americano instead of the cocktail.

I recall during our first visit Chef Meyers came out to talk with us a number of times and even posed for photos with us at the end of the meal. Since that first visit years ago, Chef Meyers has expanded his portfolio of restaurants quite rapidly, opening Comme Ca and recently Pizzeria Ortica in Orange County. Day to day, the kitchen is lead by Chef Kuniko Yagi whose meteoric rise to Chef de Cuisine is all the more impressive given her lack of formal training. Sadly neither one was in the kitchen when we went, having returned from a business trip that very evening.

While the meal at Sona was quite solid it didn't reach that unforgettable level of our first visit.


Pepsi Monster said...

Awww man, not Sona! That is sucks to hear. Then again, it's too hard to expect them to keep the consistency. I just hope when I go to Sona, it would be much better than your last visit. Sorry to hear about the lack of top performance that night.

BTW, when are your "March" Reviews going to be up? You know which one! LOL

Tangbro1 said...

Yeah consistency is an issue. I wonder how much the presence of Meyers or Yagi would have helped. My standards have definitely gone up since my first visit and so has the breadth of my experience. I look forward to reading about your visit.

I let myself get horribly behind. I haven't even done my February reviews although most of those are short so I'll be able to knock them out quickly.

Anonymous said...

be still my little heart. WOW

u take food pornography to another level. ur pictures are absolutely gorgeous. lamb bacon looks and sounds like a beautiful thing. I never knew such a delicious thing even existed.

sorry to hear the flavors didn't match up to the pictures. I've been wanting to try sona forever but may wait a little longer now. til then i'll just look at ur pictures. haha thank u

mattatouille said...

nice photos, what kind of camera are you using?

Tangbro1 said...

Glad you like the pictures. I thought the lamb bacon was wonderful although that wasn't really a sentiment shared by many at the table. I still think Sona is worth a try if you haven't been before but try to find a day when Yagi if not Meyers is in the kitchen.

Thanks. I use a point and shoot Canon SD600. Kind of wish I had Kevineats' camera that does great low light shots.