Some of my earliest memories include hearing my maternal great-grandmother’s thick Russian accent (her name was Fanny) and my paternal grandmother (Bertha) singing lullabies to me in German. My Russian and German heritage helps to explain why I am genetically predisposed to enjoy the food at Sonata’s Restaurant in Scottsdale, a modern take on Eastern European delights.
To me, Eastern European food is earthy. It utilizes root vegetables and flavorful herbs and is “comfortable,” with soft, marvelous textures. In many ways, it is peasant food – and that’s a good thing. Though peasants didn’t have material wealth, they took the best the earth had to offer and warmed their bellies with hearty meals.
I love restaurants with aroma – and there is plenty of that to take in as servers scurry by with other diners’ dishes. Sonata’s is family operated and the family vibe runs throughout the place. Much of the seating is on couches set up to accommodate groups of people celebrating. It has a very modern, sleek look but also classic touches, like chandeliers. My favorite feature is the wall made of small logs set at different depths that you could stare at all day. They also have a large outdoor patio with a full bar, a little coffee shop with pastries and a large dining room with a VIP area and small stage for live music. A large portrait of Sonata, the very attractive owner, watches over the fun. One particular evening, it kind of turned into a disco, with people singing Russian songs and dancing throughout the night.
Here’s a list of some of my choices over the course of a few visits:
Beef Stew $18
(Peewee potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, Brussels sprouts, turnips, celery root, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, English peas, fennel, white beans)
Just the description alone – all of those ingredients slow-cooked together – was enough for me to choose this item. It came served in a little cast-iron pot with a huge spoon. Loved the spoon! I like utensils with heft. (It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine to dine using cheaply made forks and knives – hate that.)
You could taste every single ingredient in the stew and I really enjoyed it. The meat was tender and the soft texture of it all was half the fun. It was filled with the goodness of the earth, yet I felt it could have used a little salt and pepper. I think under-seasoning probably let all of the individual ingredients stand out – and I always defer to the chef. It was served with smetana, which I asked to be held to avoid mixing milk with meat.
Norwegian Crêpes $12
(Smoked salmon, shaved Brussels sprouts, tzatziki, tomato, cucumber, red onion, sumac)
I ordered from the savory crêpes section of their Sunday brunch menu and this took me straight to heaven. Savory is almost an understatement. Inside the nicely browned, sweet wrapping lay generous slices of fresh, delicate salmon in a bed of highly complementary vegetables. If you closed your eyes, you would have no idea there were veggies, though they added texture, earthy flavor and sweetness. It was accompanied by a dipping sauce. (I admit, I still have no idea what it was, but I used it all.) This is a must-try.
Pickled Herring $12
(Boiled Yukon gold potatoes, smetana, pickled onions, local heirloom cherry tomatoes)
This is about as Eastern European as you can get but with a little Arizona thrown in. This was some of the best herring I have ever tasted. It was tender and lightly pickled, with more of a sweet taste than vinegar and very, very fresh. The potatoes were nicely done. The pickled onions were also on the sweet side, with a hint of vinegar. The smetana, a Russian sour cream, was fresh and light. It came with some fresh dill not mentioned in the description. No heavy flavors. Instead, it was stunningly colorful and a delightful blend of the fermented and the fresh, cool with warm.
Ruskie Perogies $16
(Potatoes, farmer cheese, caramelized onions glazed with sherry wine, celery-root puree, melted leeks)
Perogies (also spelled pierogies) originated in Poland and have been adopted by many different cultures. Basically, they are dumplings made of unleavened dough. In this Russian version, they were stuffed with potatoes and cheese. These perogies were really a highlight: rich and a little filling, but I couldn’t put down my huge spoon because they were so good. There wasn’t much to the presentation, because they were kind of slapped on the plate. (I know this because before our order came, we were inadvertently and briefly served someone else’s Ruskie Perogies, which looked beautiful. Looks aside, I would recommend ordering this.)
Grand Marnier and Lavender Crème Brûlée $9
I think we left Eastern Europe and went straight to France for this dessert. It was one of the most scrumptious, velvety, melt-in-your-mouth versions of crème brûlée I have ever had. From its crisp cinnamon and sugary top to its hint of orange liqueur and wisp of lavender, this after-dinner treat really hit the mark. If you’re a fan of crème brûlée, don’t miss it.
Other than a few glitches in service (like receiving other people’s meals, our server knocking over a bottle of water and some sloppy plating), the people are very nice and accommodating. The crowd was an eclectic mix of ages and ethnicities and the interior design was functional and fun. It’s refreshingly different from corporate establishments – and a place I will visit again and again.
Where else can you find borscht or pickled herring at an upscale Scottsdale restaurant? In some way, we are all from the “old country” – and Sonata’s helps to nourish that connection. See you there!
10050 N. Scottsdale Road #127, Scottsdale
Contact A. Noshman at firstname.lastname@example.org