April 17, 2004

dinner at Sona

The inside of my mouth tastes like caramel. I still have the remembered sensation of soft custard sliding down my throat. My belly feels warm and full.

We went out tonight. We had a babysitter for the first time in about two and a half years and we went out for an amazing meal.

It felt strange walking down the street without Damian. It felt strange walking into the restaurant, the one year old Sona, a sleek modern room, gray and stone with rippled frosted windows and a skylight, with a flower head floating in water at every table and square plates. An upscale place with waiters in black and busboys who serve your meals in synchronicity: one came from the right down the row of tables, the other from the left, they met at our table and placed the plates in front of us with a solemn flourish. Dan said they were the Matrix busboys.

Maybe it felt odd being adults in such an adult room. We were among the youngest there. This wasnít a beautiful people crowd, this was a rich, self-important crowd. For us, itís a special occasion restaurant. For them, I think, it was another high end restaurant to add to their collection of matchbooks. Well, not for everyone. I caught one couple in their seventies, sitting side by side on the banquette, holding hands and leaning in toward each other. For them, a memorable and romantic evening out.

For us too. The food, the service, the ambience: impeccable. One of the best meals I can remember. Usually when we go out to a nice restaurant, some dishes are good, maybe even great, but others fall flat or everythingís pleasant and good but not sublime. If I feel like I can make it at home, I feel cheated of that transcendent experience of being in the hands of an inspired chef. But at Sona tonight, there were no missteps. Not a one. Do you know how impossibly rare that is?

So. The food. First a busboy brought over a tin of breadsticks, each as long as my arm. I selected one, then the man brought them over to Dan for his choice. It felt like choosing a cigar, only considerably more delicate. Tasted good, too. Cheesy. Crunchy. Fresh. The breads came on a wide metal tray, the bread carrier put them on our table with tongs. Sourdough rolls but not too sour (my nearly ubiquitous complaint), with a hard thin crust and a deeply moist center. I bake. I can appreciate the skill it takes to achieve that combination. Also foccacia studded with bits of green olives. Good too. And to accompany them, a square of butter dusted with salt and pepper. Iíve never seen that. A classy touch. But it was that kind of place. All the details both original and just right.

Then the amuse boche, usually a tiny taste of something to whet your appetite but in this case a tray filled with five tiny tastes, a kind of miniature bento box. First the duck eggroll, meaty and crunchy and dense. Then smoked seafood Ė eel? sable? I didnít catch it Ė on a delicately marinated cucumber slice. A perfect bite. Then pickled cauliflower on a paper-thin slice of radish. Pungent and strong in your mouth, a wake-up sort of palate cleanser. Then the pepperiest smidge of hummus on a square of celery. Unusual if not amazing (but then Iím rather fond of my own version of hummus). And finally, beet puree on a tiny toast triangle with a dollop of the creamiest, gentlest dollop of goat cheese I can remember.

What I loved about the selection was the way it went from a meaty bite to strong flavors and then finished with a bite of something both savory and soft. A complete meal sensation in five bites.

But of course that was just the tease.

My appetizer was lobster risotto. I was a little worried: would there be too little lobster? Would it be fresh enough? Iím not a huge fan of risotto. No worries here. The lobster claw was generous (and yes, fresh), the risotto was perfectly cooked and drowning in buttery lobster sauce. So rich. The lobster so gently sweet and flavorful, the rice chewy and the sauce a rich blanket melding it all together in your mouth. I also had two bites of Danís fois gras with Asian pear slices. Intensely flavored, the dark with the lightly sweet.

For an entrťe, I thought about the king salmon confit but ended up going for the braised beef short ribs. Wow. The meat must have been slow cooked, so tender it fell off the bone and tumbled into your mouth the moment you looked longingly at it. So succulent. On a bed of braised red cabbage which in turn rested on a bed of creamy-soft pureed potato which in turn nestled among a drizzle of wine reduction. Haute cuisine brisket. Mmm yeah. I had one bite (he didnít want to share) of Danís lamb medallions with gnocci and some other meat (also lamb?) wrapped in grape leaves. Tasted good too. Very good. Sharper flavors, more distinct. Excellent.

Then dessert. I chose crŤme caramel tart. The custard sat on top of an almond cookie, basically, and had a crŤme brulee hard caramel shell. It rested in a pool of dark berry sauce ringed with slices of starfruit and blood orange and mango and came with a small oval scoop of freshly made fruit sorbet; Iím not sure what kind Ė pomegranate, maybe? Something you wouldnít expect but was sharp and sweet and tart and a perfect foil for the eggy softness of the custard. Dan had chocolate waffles with some French name (should have taken notes, I guess), accompanied by homemade peanut butter ice cream. I had just one taste of the combination of cold nut butteryness and warm waffle but it was good too.

Then the final treat. The waitress brought over two tiny boxes tied with ribbon. Inside each was a final amuse, though Iím sure thereís some other name for it. But just like the five treats to start our meal, these were five little treats to end it. An orange gel with crunch bits of sweetness coating the outside. A similar raspberry gel. A nougat, marshmallowy mortar for the nut bricks. A coconut macaroon. And finally a raspberry meringue cookie; it looked like a miniature pink hamburger bun (the ďburgerĒ was raspberry jam) and tasted like heaven. A suitable ending to an extraordinary meal.

This kind of meal out always makes me feel like Iíve stepped outside my normal life, like Iím living in a fairy tale for the evening. In the past, itís always made me long for the time when it could be part of the fabric of my life rather than a special occasion stretch-the-budget evening. This time I didnít feel that way. Maybe because itís been so long, but the special occasion out-of-time element became part of the ambience for me. Itís important to occasionally treat yourself to something decadent if you can. Itís also important to keep it feeling special.

This did.

Posted by Tamar at April 17, 2004 11:01 PM