The search for the next great meal often leads me to some outrageous stunts, but last year takes the cake: I took the summer to work at at Sona.
Yep, you heard right. A brand new college graduate who wanted to travel to France for a grand food tour, but alas with student loan payments looming over like a storm cloud, the trip will have to wait. Instead, I did the next best thing—I wrote to Sona. And as fate would have it, Pastry Chef Ramon was in need of a prep assistant.
You may think this is the sort of story where I dropped everything to become the next Daniel Boulud, but it was not the case. I realized I loved cooking as a hobby, not as a career, so I went back to design.
However, I’ll never forget my pastry-filled summer in Sona. They taught me much about fine dining, cooking under extreme conditions and most of all, help me gain a better understanding of the work it takes to create an extraordinary dining experience.
I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to dine at Sona on four different occasions within this past year after my brief culinary stint. Each visit there was an out-of-the-world experience, epic to say the very least.
One of the major contributors is the duration of the dinner itself. While most meals usually run for an hour to two, a meal at Sona easily will double the amount. It’s largely due to the pacing and the sheer number of dishes they present. I’ve tried the 3-course dessert tasting, 6 and 9-course dinner tasting menus, yet in the end, they all average upwards of three to four hours.
Next is the space. The dining room is housed in a muted palette of whites and concrete grays, with the main vocal point a seasonal flora arrangement in the center that sits atop a large slab of rough marble. It feels almost somber if not for the warm glow cast from tiny tea lights found on each table.
Admittedly, I thought the dining room was rather cold during my first visit. That is, until I was presented with the amuse bouche. I believe the reason for the immaculate interior space is to allow the food shine, rather than compete with it. The space is like the pristine walls found in art galleries—when the plates are laid out, the food itself becomes the decor, a progression of edible sculptures that effortlessly draw you in with their form.
Now, there are countless restaurants that serve beautiful, yet mediocre food, but Sona is not one of them. Not only is their food aesthetically arresting, their play of flavors and textures are both innovative and has the uncanny ability to transport you to a different place. It’s difficult to describe the experience, as it’s not of the comfort food variety that reminds you of your childhood. Rather, it’s more about exploring new territories in flavor profiles, yet a sense of familiarity remains.
I’ve thought about explaining every single dish I’ve had at Sona since they were all memorable. But in an attempt to avoid being long-winded (which I’m failing already), I’ll restrain myself to my absolute favorite dishes:
1. Hamachi with burrata, cantaloup gazpacho and basil oil. Normally, I dislike raw fish with a passion, but this changed my view. The buttery hamachi was a dream when paired with the creamy cheese. And the slightly sweet melon soup, like a complementary color, took it to the next level by providing contrast and freshness.
2. Torchon of foie gras with black pepper candy, blood orange and arugula. Black pepper brittle was torched on top of chilled foie gras medallions so the melted sugar becomes the sauce. The bitter arugula and blood orange slices kept the dish from being one noted.
3. Salmon with strawberry jam and candied clementine peel. A perfectly seared fillet of fatty salmon was tempered by stewed strawberries and slightly astringent citrus peel. Wonderful.
4. Red wine cranberry bread and Earl Grey tea roll. The names say it all. Notice how the butter have a sprinkling fleur de sel and freshly cracked pepper—it’s all in the details.
5. Shaved foie gras with buckwheat noodles and shiso. A masterpiece by Chef Kuni-san (Chef de Cuisine), the normally heavy foie is perfectly balanced by a fresh shiso salad and buckwheat noodles seasoned traditionally with sweet mirin and soy.
6. Lobster risotto with kaffir lime leaf. A decadent risotto made with mascarpone cheese and topped with lobster.
7. Deconstructed Cosmopolitan. An exercise in molecular gastronomy, an orb of tart cranberry juice floats in a pool of rhubarb juice with vodka jello, and cilantro oil. When you pierce the orb, the different components mix together to form a delicious “Cosmo.”
8. Carrots x 3 (I forgot the actual name). A dessert made entirely out of root vegetables—a moist carrot baked pudding with carrot sorbet and fried carrot chip with a beet and tapioca compote. If moms all over the world can make this, every kid would have a balanced diet.
9. Margarita, deconstructed. Another alcohol inspired palate cleanser—lime sorbet paired with orange pop rocks, candied lemon peel, tequila gel and micro mint.
10. Chocolate panna cotta with orange vanilla “yolk” and squid ink ice cream. An experience within itself—the squid ink ice cream tasted like a briny caramel.
11. Ivoire chocolate pudding with coffee gelee, bacon powder and foie gras ice cream. Everything I ever wanted in a dish together. What’s not to love?
12. Manjari chocolate creme with tobacco ice cream and Hoji cha gel. Another experience. For those who are curious, no, the ice cream did not taste like cigarettes. Instead, it had a subtle herbal taste and a stinging sensation when eaten. The tea gel was a good match for the milky mousse.
13. Stewed Bing cherries, shiso ice cream, Indonesian Pepper Espuma, raspberry tuile, buckwheat ice cream and shiso glass. Spicy, sweet, and fresh.
14. Penicillin. Ok, this is actually a cocktail, but a must-try for ginger lovers.
This month marks Sona’s 7th year anniversary, marked by magnificent cuisine and gracious service—a definite full package. Under the guidance of Chef David Myers, Kuni-san, and Ramon, I wish them many more years of excellence.