Dine

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.

The Coombsville chicken looks good but comes 
up short.

The Coombsville chicken looks good but comes up short.

KATY SEYMOUR

 

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. 
 

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Comments, page 1 of 2 1 2 Next »
Aug 21, 2012 03:13 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Hayes hit it the nail on the head. My wife and I went to SoNaPa the 2nd night it opened and had terrible service and worse food. We decided to give the restaurant a few weeks to work out the crinks, and we went back and low and behold...same bad service and food. So why is it so crowded?

Close neighbors of SoNapa

Aug 22, 2012 11:27 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Don't believe everything that you read. Saying things like "the chicken tasted processed" is a joke. I have had grilled chicken from Sonapa several times and it is always delicious. I used to go to the old Steak And Ale and I must say, Sonapa has made that place look a thousand times better. For those of you thinking about trying Sonapa, don't listen to the words of a talentless hack, and stop by for a bite and a glass of wine instead.

Aug 22, 2012 08:12 pm
 Posted by  Alexandria VA foodie

I read your review and decided to take my beautiful wife back for dinner tonight for our fourth meal. Yes the bar had a good crowd. The dining room not so, but filled nicely after our arrival at 6:30. We were greeted by a young woman in a brilliant blue dress who was as friendly, prompt and efficient as you could be. Seated immediately, we met Rebecca. Her service was impeccable, friendly, poised and smart. The food was good, and I believe still emerging. They opened in winter 2011 and need to be given a little time to excel.

Rebecca had the manager come talk to me. He came from the New Smyrna Beach location ( the first) and is there to make it happen along with the new chef. Try it and provide them your feedback.

We must learn to grow our new restaurants, even with critical reviews.Drive them up not out.

I'll go back. And I too will let you know how it goes.

Alexandria Foodie

Aug 23, 2012 05:26 pm
 Posted by  Foodie4sure

Re:the review of SoNapa, your restaurant reviewer should be ashamed of himself! This is not what Orlando needs right now with privately owned businesses always struggling to survive the competition of chain restaurants!!! My experience at this restaurant was over the top in every way, having recently hosted a birthday celebration in their private room. All the guests raved about the setting, the incredible service (every detail was addressed in a meticulous manner) and the food was exceptional. Note: this was a party of women guests who had not experienced this restaurant previously. The hostess for the event was certainly as good as event planners I had worked with in the past. She deserved kudos for the extra effort and attention to all details! Shame on you for degrading a fine, comfortable, warm "newbie" on the scene here in Orlando...there surely is a way of giving the restaurant a "passing grade" without destroying it completely!!!

Aug 24, 2012 09:27 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

What a shocking review! We have eaten at SoNapa five times and nothing can surpass their marvelous bacon-wrapped scallops and tuna. All of our meals have been top rate and the wait staff have been attentive and knowledgeable about the menu.

Aug 28, 2012 10:50 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I was so pleasantly surprised when I hosted a baby shower at SoNapa. The hostess that I spoke to offered a private room, separate tables for gifts and desserts. The server was very attentive and patient as we were there all evening. The food was excellent and impressed everyone in our party.

Aug 31, 2012 01:24 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

It sounds like the restaurant is very inconsistent, because my one and only experience with this place was almost identical to the reviewer's. Poor service, bland food. I left wondering why the parking lot is always so full, honestly. The night my husband and I went was a Wednesday evening, and they were woefully understaffed for the "unexpected" crowd. From inattentive host/hostess attention as we walked in (we and two other couples who all arrived separately waited for an inordinate amount of time for even an acknowledgement of our existence, even though at least 3 servers walked into the area to grab menus; one was on a personal phone call) to very long wait times for each course to very mediocre food, the experience wasn't a good one at all. The server apologized almost every time she came to our table, and acknowledged there were "problems in the kitchen". Things happen, it's how you handle them that is important; a proactive courtesy discount, an offer of free dessert, a manager coming up to personally apologize instead of leaving it to his staff - any of those gestures would have been appreciated.

I'll likely give the restaurant another chance at some point, but it seems poor service and average food is an all-too-frequent occurrence for So Napa.

And we never got our bread either.

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Sep 2, 2012 03:23 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Whoever thinks So Napa has good food must uaually dine at restaurants with drive up windows.... Maitland must be restaurant starved, because if this place can make it with their marginal food and very uneven service I think I'll open a hot dog stand on 17-92. The food tastes like Sysco designed the menu, and the bar decor feels like a fern bar without the ferns.....

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Sep 5, 2012 12:32 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

SoNapa is a outstanding place to dine!!!! The staff is amazing and so is the service. The place is very beautiful and has an outstanding wine list. I was greeted immediatily with a hostess, she sent me to the bar while I waited for our party to arrive. The bartender Tara was very knoweleged about the menu but most of all the wine. Her selection of the bottle she suggested was "GOAST BLOCK". One of the best wines I have ever had! I will contuine to go back and will refuse to read any bad reviews about SoNapa. GREAT EXPERIENCE

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Sep 5, 2012 08:14 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

My husband and I tried SoNapa for lunch a couple of weeks ago. We were greeted and seated immediately. Our outstanding waiter, Rebecca was well skilled and did a fantastic job making sure we had everything we needed. Our food was delicious and our wine selections were picked with Rebecca's help. The owner Adam, came to our table and introduced himself, giving more attention and gratitude to us for our dining experience. The atmosphere was very enjoyable. I am extremely picky when it comes to dining out. I expect the food to be worth the money but more importantly THE CALORIES or I won't eat it or go back and this place gave me everything I was looking for in a dining experience. Let's give it some time. They are new and not on Park Ave. Park Ave. restaurants SUCK and yet they remain open year after year after year. SoNapa deserves some love from all the locals!!!!

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