Saturday, September 16, 2006

soaring and sighing at SONA in LA

Back in May Chef David Myers came to DC for a private dinner benefit that I attended (and reviewed here) which impressed me greatly, so I decided to make his restaurant SONA ( a definite stop during my next visit to LA. I did this last night with clients of mine that had performed that afternoon in the LA Opera's Don Carlo. We make amazing time, and arrived at Sona almost 45 minutes early; the warm and gracious staff said it was no problem as they set our table and seated us. The decor is basic putty walls with a muted feeling. At 645pm the small square dining room was reasonable quiet, but sadly by the time we left three hours later, the noise level was so high we found ourselves a bit strained on the vocal chords (a big no-no for singers!).

We quickly decided on the 6-course tasting (there was also a 9-course option and ala carte) with several instructions as these tasting menus are "blind," meaning each dish is announced as it is served. I was surprised to find Chef Myers was in NY this weekend (he cooked at James Beard House the other night) and began to fret a bit, but all seemed in order and we commenced. A glass of AUDOIN DE DAMPIERRE "Ambassadeurs" 1er Cru Champagne quenched our palates as we toasted and the amuse arrived: PICKLED PAPAYA SALAD with SMOKED EEL on one side and CUCUMBER GELEE with CREVETTES and Herb Creme Fraiche on the other. They were both quite tasty and got us excited about what would come next. I had a glass of 2002 CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET from SAUZET that the excellent sommelier proffered from his special selections (wines he opens to pair with the tastings, I assume, but we opted not to choose those). It was a wonderful chardonnay that went very well with my first couple of courses:

HAMACHI with PICKLED YUZU KOZO (a spicy citrusy cabbage like item) on Sushi Sweet Rice which was not to my liking at all. I tasted the Yuzu Kozo alone at first to get a feel for it and it was way too spicy and bitter as well. It almost wrecked my palate as the white wine was poured and I tried to taste it! The rice under the superb hamachi was falling apart; I think the sushi chef in the kitchen needs to rethink this dish's elements and construction as it was quite messy and needed a spoon or fork to even try to get the rice up.

GRILLED HAMACHI with SPICE MANGO Espuma, Grilled Corn & Bok Choy came next which was a big improvement on the ingredients and assemblage, but I stillwas not wildly impressed.

My hosts ordered a bottle of CHATEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE 1998 COMTESSE de LALANDE as one of them was from Bordeaux and they generally prefer big reds. Upon tasting it, they realized it was a bit young, but it eventually did open up about an hour later (just when I started drinking red!) and was extremely full bodied, but still not a revelation.

It went quite nicely with the very simply prepared SEARED FOIE GRAS on ASIAN PEAR PUREE with a slash of Muscavato (?) and an ASIAN PEAR HONEY CAKE with a dollop of Rice Dream Ice Cream. This dish was superb, although nobody seemed able to explain Moscavato which seemed to be a spicy version of a molasses like balsamic (I assume made from muscat grapes or moscato wine?). Needless to say, the perfectly seared foie gras with the mild pear puree was just perfect and the little cake made me think of how nice it would be if I could re-create this for Rosh Hashana next week, as honey cake is a traditional dish for the New Year!

The meat courses were easily the highlight of the meal, and the Bordeaux was becoming more elegant as we ate these. LIBERTY FARMS DUCK BREAST with Creamy Grits, Spinach & Bacon Sherry Vinaigrette was just past rare and wonderfully tender. Now I was reveling in the excellent preparations and superb meats. Sometimes, we did not all get the exact same dishes, so we had the opportunity to taste each others. While I had a magnificent HANGAR STEAK with JICAMA-CILANTRO Salad, MOLE & CAPELETTI Pasta, the other got a truly gorgeous VENISON with Fried OKRA & CHANTERELLES. I really wanted full portions of both....

Desserts were of varied success with my MACARON (French cookie), PINEAPPLE PASTILLA, Lime Sorbet and Braised Cherries easily outdoing the concoction served to the others with the oddest tasting JAPANESE MUSTARD SORBET. This reminded me, indeed, of the Chinese mustard one uses on a spring roll; spicy, yet in sorbet form.

Next the others got CHOCOLATE NAPOLEON with Ganache, STRAWBERRY FIGS and Orange Blossom Ice Cream, while my CHOCOLATE GUIMAUVE(marshmallow) came with WILD MACERATED STRAWBERRIES and Tarragon Sorbet. They were both heavenly.

The mignardises were fun and consisted of FLEUR de SEL CARAMEL, super buttery COCONUT MACAROONS, MARCONA ALMOND BUTTERSCOTCH Brownie (about 1/4 inch square--and more cookie like), GRAPEFRUIT pate de fruit (which I could not have because of my cholesterol medicine) and KOROVA Sable cookies.

For the most part, SONA was enjoyable, although I think I would steer away from the Japanese inspired dishes and sushis and aim for the meats.