SoNapa, So Not
While the name is supposed to evoke places—Sonoma and Napa—known for savory cuisine, the new Maitland restaurant doesn’t even come close to them.
By Joseph Hayes
The Coombsville chicken looks good but comes up short.
Two of the most inventive, daring and creative food and wine regions in the country are Sonoma and Napa counties in Northern California. The home of world-famous chefs such as Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello and Sondra Bernstein, and producer of some of the best wines in the world, the very names of their areas elicit visions of casual elegance, super-fresh produce and meticulous preparation.
Which is, I’m sure, the notion behind SoNapa Grille, which opened in the former Steak & Ale location in Maitland earlier this year. Too bad it feels more like a chain wannabe than a NoCal homage.
SoNapa started as a private wine club in New Smyrna Beach in 2007, and apparently has a loyal following there. The Maitland version certainly has a packed parking lot and full seats at the bar. The Steak & Ale spot had been vacant for three years before SoNapa moved in, and the building seems to have been dressed up rather than refurbished. New seating and marble panels line the rooms, and the bar looks pleasant enough, but the wooden handrail leading to the upstairs restrooms is worn and looks tacky, and the bathroom fixtures have the rusty look of S&A originals.
Positive points: There’s a well-selected California wine list with half-glass quantities available, and if 17-92, Antonio’s La Fiamma Ristorante and several banks of trees weren’t in the way, there’d be a view of Lake Lily. Negative: just about everything else.
The group of hostesses (hosti?) at the door were enthusiastic and cheerful, but I believe the word apathetic best describes the service at the table. Our waiter offered to bring us bread at the start of dinner. You’ll notice I didn’t use the word server, because I was assured weeks ago that it was “on the way,” and I still haven’t been served any bread.
I can’t even say that the food was bad; I’ll say apathetic again, offerings that look good but don’t deliver. The Yountville artichoke dip ($7.90) is named after a Napa fine dining destination but barely rises above bar food, a bland and thick cream base ribboned with spinach and tiny bits of ’choke. The trendy flatbread is highlighted in the menu; the North Coast ($9.10) features grilled salmon, chopped tomato, onion, mozzarella and capers on a thin and unimpressive cracker, all dressed in a dill sauce and sweet balsamic glaze that made the combination taste like it was topped with bad pickle relish.
Point Reyes scallops ($21.10), sea scallops poached in coconut milk, made me think of the other definition of “poach,” as in stealing. Any flavor the gummy scallops may have had originally was thieved by overboiling in coconut milk. I wanted to try the Coombsville chicken ($14.10, and what’s with the 10 cents, anyway?), grilled chicken stuffed with prosciutto, but I don’t like cooked Parma ham, so I ordered a similar special, sans ham, for a few dollars more. The chicken tasted processed, and chewing it was like having your seat pulled away just as you sit down: full of the promise of comfort, but ultimately a disappointing surprise. My side dish of pesto risotto was a pallid, overcooked, flavorless puck that had the soft mouth feel of canned rice pudding, colored with flecks of green which I’m assuming was basil.
Our meals were left half-eaten and picked up by SoNapa staff without comment. It’s like they already know.