THE FIRST TIME I SAW THE NEWLY WHITEWASHED WALLS OF SONA, I took it for a postproduction house, perhaps one having to do with sound. Sonar, I thought, sonance, sonal, sonata. As it turns out, I wasn't all that far off. Husband-wife team David and Michelle Myers, founders of the ambitious new Sona, so often talk about food in terms of music — "the crescendo of the meal," for example — that, when it came time to name their new venture, Michelle took the Latin verb sonare, "to sing," and snipped off the last two letters.
David Myers, the executive chef, is a veteran of Danielle's in New York, Charlie Trotter's in Chicago and Patina in Los Angeles, where, five years ago, he met his Cordon Bleu-trained wife-to-be, Michelle. (She also worked at Spago with Sherry Yard.) The rest, as they say, followed swiftly: love, marriage, restaurant. And not just any restaurant. Sona is perhaps the most ambitious venture by young chefs in Los Angeles since Alex.
In its own hushed corner of civilization, Sona is a slightly futuristic vision in calming sparrow-gray and dusky taupe. Glass textured like a waterfall allows light to enter and ensures privacy from the outside world. A low techno beat throbs on the sound system, a kind of hip, mechanistic heartbeat. Waiters and waitresses in taupe tunics seem chosen, in part, for their perfect posture; they serve dinner with deliberate, choreographed movements. The staff seems happy enough — our waitress smiles constantly, in a pretty but secretive way — hiding, we suspected correctly, a pierced tongue.
David Myers' cooking is classical Cal-French with a fusion twist. He is fond of complexity, symphonic in his approach. Every theme is embroidered, varied, doubled back on itself. When this approach works, it's revelatory. His beet salad, for example, starts with salt-roasted beets (the salt brings out their deep sweetness) that are tossed in good olive oil and served with a beet syrup whose own intense sweetness is cut by the citric sharpness and interest of kaffir lime, a taste I usually associate with Thai and Indian cooking. A dual entrée of Nebraska prime beef fillet (cooked rare) and long-stewed, meaty short ribs is a brilliant dialogue about beef itself, the profound tastiness of tougher cuts, the delicacy of the tenderest ones. When the careful calibrations are off and the diverse elements aren't so successfully handled — always a risk with such complex concoctions — the diner surveys her plate-of-many-flavors (such as an almost raw Scottish salmon served with crispy oxtail and potato gnocchi) and wonders, what the heck?
On one visit, we tell our smiling waitress that we want the six-course Découverte (discovery) menu, and she says, "Oh good! You'll like it. It's almost like a surprise!"
We begin with a small amusé bouche, a single skewered sweet shrimp served raw with a few dribs of passion fruit; chewing releases its nutty flavor and thick, pleasantly gluey texture, which the sharp tropical fruit counters. The actual first course is a pretty arrangement of white-tuna sashimi "in the style of Nozawa-san," a nod to the famously correct and ill-tempered Studio City sushi master: tender but dense white folds of fish flesh in ponzu, each with an incisive lashing of wasabi.
The second course is a small cup of velvety Moroccan squash soup with foamed chai-scented milk and mined with small bursts of flavor in the guise of tiny herbed spaetzle, a hazelnut crouton and the stray mussel.
If the appetizers are bright and enlivening, the entrées, however perfectly executed, seem, well, like regular ol' entrées: tracts of protein with accompaniments that need to be traversed en route to dessert. Not all of Myers' entrées are less interesting than his appetizers (notably, the steak and short ribs), but the two on this tasting menu seem chosen for stolidness. Oh, there is nothing wrong with a lovely hook-and-line-caught cod, white and moist, served with curly cabbage and little potatoes cooked in chives, except that it is, from conception, your standard square meal in miniature. And the perfectly rare, crispy-skinned slice of duck breast, a small flag of pleasure, comes with its requisite starch, which, despite its mysteriously alluring name — "forbidden rice "— is really rather bland.
The first dessert course — blood-orange sorbet on shalelike Prosecco granita and a cloud of tangerine foam — wakes us up from a starch-'n'-protein lull with its multiple jolts of sugar, alcohol, citrus and icy chill. What follows, a smallish bit of chocolate brioche pudding with caramelized bananas, malted ice cream and English toffee, is, taste by taste, delicious, but there is so much going on that the overall effect is more fractured than multifaceted. The meal closes with good lavender-infused tea and adorable tiny meringues and macaroons. Overall, an impressive effort.
If the amount of talent and effort expended on each plate sometimes defeats itself, this is a minor complaint one is almost loath to make — it's essentially complaining about youthful exuberance. A standard caution to the budding novelist goes: You don't have to put everything into your first book. Similarly, one wants to tell the prodigiously talented and capable Myerses: You don't have to put it all on every plate. Because it's clear that Sona is here to stay; the commitment and abilities are inarguably present. So we diners don't need nonstop symphonies. Sometimes a little chamber music, or a sonata, or — heaven forbid — a bit of a cappella can deliver ample pleasure.
Sona, 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 659-7708. Open for dinner Mon.-Thurs. 6-10:30 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m. Entrées $25-$35. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
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