Thursday, June 05, 2008

Restaurant Review: Sonoma

Now that I’m gainfully employed, I’m getting to experience all the restaurants I’d been dying to try during my year of temping (when the typical meal out involved a Dollar Menu).

The DC dining scene has four distinct categories: Comfort Food, Dinner with Girlfriends, Date Night, and Wow the Yokels. Sometimes, like last night, I goof and miscategorize.

Tim and I chose Sonoma for a special occasion, with the idea it was a Date Night sort of place. It’s really more Wow the Yokels. As in, the sort of restaurant you take out-of-town visitors to show off how hip DC can be (either to blow away your country cousin, or take New Yorkers if you’re insecure about DC’s legendary/overblown lack of cool). Wow the Yokels restaurants are cool, trendy, specialize in obscure cheeses, and are usually very loud.

Sonoma is loud enough to Wow the Yokels. Like, deafeningly so. Clatter, clamor, rattles and chatter. It’s like dining inside a cement mixer. A cement mixer inside a nightclub. And that nightclub is inside a Victorian-era insane asylum with lots of screaming people. Tim and I could not converse for most of our meal, as I lost my voice a few weeks ago and have yet to recover. (Most days, I sound like either a phone-sex worker or a middle-aged chain smoker.) So we were reduced to eavesdropping on the two rowdy women next to us. Aside: Sweetie, he’s not going to propose until you move out. Cow/milk/free, sometimes Mom is right.

No surprise that the wine list is the big draw – two pages of wines available by the 3 oz pour, the glass, or the bottle. I love the idea of a 3 oz pour - it's like a tapa for boozehounds. The categories are very helpful to those of us who generally just order the second-cheapest red and call it a day: medium finish reds, light and crisp whites, etc. I ordered a 3 oz pour for the cheese course, and a full glass for following courses (the wine tab was about $15 each).

We started with a two-cheese course ($10) – I chose a blue cheese, Tim chose a sheep’s milk cheese. I liked mine better, as I love the sort of cheeses that curl your nose hairs, smack your mama, and teach you what’s what. The red wine jelly was a clever touch. I also loved the little bowl of olives, as I pretty much got them to myself (there are definite perks to dating a non-olive person).

Next up was a starter of chilled scallops over greens ($12ish?). Fabulous. Incredible. Well-balanced, not overpowering, and just about perfect. I could eat that every day for the rest of my natural existence, then be Sonoma’s scallop-loving poltergeist ho in the afterlife.

For our main courses, Tim had the pollock over asparagus ($23), with a side of roast potatoes ($5ish) and I had the hanger steak with twice-baked cheddar potato and seasonal greens ($26). The steak was the first disappointment of the evening: a bit tough even by hanger steak standards. I wish I’d disobeyed the chef’s recommendation and ordered it medium-rare, instead of medium. There was a lovely grilled crispiness to the outside, but, overall, it was a miss. Tim’s pollock was well-prepared and tasty, but nothing spectacular.

At this point, we’d downed enough food to sate a Uruguayan soccer team, so we skipped dessert.

As for the service, it’s definitely attentive. At one point, we had three waiters. There were no order mixups, and servers seemed very tuned in to timing issues – courses arrived at reasonable intervals, and our glasses didn’t go empty. However, I think the tone was a bit casual. Lots of "you guys" and popping of heads into our conversation. If you’re dropping over $100 for dinner for two, then I expect Sir and Madam and not a Jalapeno Poppers/Pieces of Flair service vibe.

I think Sonoma is definitely worth the trip, and it’s a good value for the quality of the food. But I’d go with a group of girlfriends, perhaps for a milestone birthday, rather than as a romantic dinner for two. It’s just too loud for mushiness. Or I'd take some out-of-towners who love wine. And I’d stick to cheese and charcuterie plates, starters, and small courses, and share them amongst the group.

Food: 8
Ambience: 6 (a lovely room, but 3 points off for excessive noise)
Service: 7
Wine List: 10
Categories: Wow the Yokels, Dinner with Girlfriends

PS - I added some e-friends and members of the commentariat to my blogroll. One day, my blogroll will be bigger than Arjewtino's formidable list. One day.


Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Sonoma and I've never really noticed how loud it is. That probably has something to do with all of the drinks I have in the bar upstairs before being seated.

Arjewtino said...


Shannon said...

Thoughts, I'd only ever been for drinks, so I had no idea the main dining room was so loud. I'm very picky about noise, so it was a big drawback for me.

Arjewtino, how many of the blogs on your roll do you read on a regular basis? If the answer is "all of them" I am in awe of you. Well, more awe than usual.

Jamie said...

If your blogroll is bigger than your facebook friends list, it's time to pare. Really, who has 452 friends?

"If every man is your brother then nobody is your brother"... some philosopher, perhaps Aristotle, and believe it or not I couldn't find it with a 5 minute google search.

Gilahi said...

The photo on the link to Sonoma changes every time you go to it. When I linked from your site, I had the creature from the black lagoon after a nuclear attack staring back out at me. It looked like it might've been prepared on a sharp stick over a fire at the campsite. How much does a plate of Nuclear Nemo set you back there?

Arjewtino said...

I actually don't read many of them anymore for various reasons. There are still a lot, though, that I read in my Google Reader...I just no longer click on any from my page.

Capitol Hill 20210 said...

Thanks love for adding me :-)
I shall have a drink in your honor tonight

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that service is far too casual at Sonoma - I have even found it disaffected at points.

I am glad that you had a good experience, however, I have been there about a dozen times since the opening and have found it to be far too inconsistent to be a more regular part of the rotation. At that price point, I expect a much more reliably good time. The truly bad part of that is that I have problems with the service despite the fact that I know and have worked with more than a few members of the staff.

by the by, thanks for the add.

lacochran said...

Thanks for the review/warning. Noise really puts me off.

We loved La Tasca in DC so when my family was in town we took them to La Tasca in Arlington on Saturday night. Never again. Three floors of non-stop noise (think 11, a la Spinal Tap) which made it impossible to talk, even shout.

Maybe I'll check out Sonoma at an odd time. 3:00 on a Tuesday. When the crowds are down.

Thanks for the link, too! :)

Marissa said...


It makes me happy that my retardulous vernacular is catching on in the blogosphere.

Any takers for "retardulous," yes?

Shannon said...

Jamie, I have a rule that I have to know all my Facebook friends offline - except Arjewtino, he slipped through the cracks. Sneaky guy.

Gilahi, let's start a band called Nuclear Nemo.

Arjew, I check in with my blogroll gang at least once a week. I'm either a fussy mother hen or I need a life.

Zipcode, you're welcome!

Refugee, you're welcome and I agree. The service is far too familiar - if the entrees are over $20, it's time to be a little obsequious.

Lacochran, you're welcome! I'm not a fan of noise in restaurants - I know they're trying to create "atmosphere" but some places are just ridiculous. I've been to that La Tasca - a screaming toddler was seated next to us, and we couldn't even hear it over the general din.

Marissa, I think if I upgraded to "retardulous" you'd start charging me royalties.