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.
Ambience: 6 (a lovely room, but 3 points off for excessive noise)
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.