A small handful of innovative restaurants in the city actually combine all these qualities into a single menu. It's very difficult to pull off, and most don't do so successfully. The restaurant with the best reputation in this class is Sona, on La Cienega. I have been excited to try it for some time, and Saturday night my husband and I finally did so.
Before arriving, my expectations for Sona were both high and low. They were high, because Sona is an extraordinarily well regarded restaurant. According to the Sona Web site:
Sona and [Chef] David Myers have received numerous accolades including a Michelin star and a James Beard nomination for Best Chef - Pacific Region. Previously, Angeleno named Sona “Restaurant of the Year”. The October 2005 Gourmet magazine featured David and his team. Chef Myers was a James Beard Rising Star Chef nominee and was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine. Sona is a Wine Spectator “Grand Award” winner.
But at the same time, my expectations were low. Those who sing the praises of Sona emphasize the restaurant's brilliance at wine selection and pairing. But I don't drink. The restaurant is famous for its unconventional preparations of both conventional fish and meats, and also for wild game, such as venison. But I don't eat meat. And I have been disappointed again and again by restaurants that emphasize preparation over the quality, freshness and healthfulness of ingredients.
So there I was, a teetotaler vegetarian ingredient purist entering a restaurant famous for (among other things) its wines, meats and innovation.
The exterior of Sona is nondescript, and the interior is a sophisticated LA Zen. All colors are light and muted, except for three things in the room that explode with color: The giant flower arrangement atop a center wine station; the colors of La Cienega Blvd. traffic, which are transformed into moving art by textured opaque glass windows; and the food.
Oh, the food! Sona’s brilliant and talented young chef and owner, David Myers (along with his excellent staff) don’t compromise quality, flavor or service -- they do it all, and from scratch! Their commitment to serving food that’s seasonal, local, organic and free-range made the entire culinary experience an unforgettable event that far exceeded my expectations.
Never before have I seen contradictory qualities merged into incredible dishes so masterfully. The sweet and the savory. The herbs and the produce. The French and the Japanese. The smooth and the substantive.
From their freshly and daily home-made breads to the divine and succulent entrees followed by an array of very unique desserts, the food was made with the finest and freshest ingredients. Every dish was extraordinary, and looked as beautiful as it tasted.
Knowing that our preference was vegan food, they surprised us with many vegan delights that truly burst with flavors. And since we don’t drink alcohol, we were surprised again with a wonderful non-alcoholic, freshly made raspberry spritzer.
We lost count of the courses after a while, but each brought the experience to a new level of awesomeness. Two of the many courses that stand out for me are the fresh sweet pea vegan soup and the couscous risotto with nori and mushrooms. The fresh split pea soup was delicate, smooth and full of flavor. The couscous risotto was exquisite. Made with a hint of ginger, this fusion dish was bursting with flavors from Asia and Europe.
As fast as we were devouring each course served to us, for almost three hours, we didn’t have enough time or room in the stomach to complete all the courses that had been planned for us.
This feast was made of a very large number of very small dishes, including two palate cleansers (which were more like courses in their own right) and several desert courses, the last two of which we took to go and enjoyed later.
Note that Sona is not a restaurant you go to on your way to the theater. The restaurant is the theater, and the evening. Expect to enjoy 3 to 4 hours of culinary shock-and-awe.
One of the evening's highlights was meeting Chef Myers, and going back to the kitchen for a tour to meet the rest of the gifted crew.
You should know that Sona is a very expensive restaurant, more along the lines of what you might pay for a wonderful meal in Tokyo, rather than LA (a few hundred dollars per person if you drink wine).
While the cost may seem high, in my experience you get what you pay for. Besides, the cost is roughly equivalent to what you might pay for an evening that included a lesser restaurant and a good play or good seats at a concert or basketball game. The difference is that the food is the main event, not a precursor.
Sona’s dedication to the quality of food and outstanding service is in the end a great value. Sona represents a perfect harmony between the best of what an excellent farm can produce, the best of culinary innovation and the best service and atmosphere. Sona is a one-of-a-kind experience. As a bonus, Sona will surprise your palate and delight your other senses as well.
If you live in, or ever travel to, LA, do yourself an big favor: Experience Sona.