As we noted in the year-end Dining Guide, Sonder has continued to evolve in a positive direction since it first opened in 2017. We worried that despite its stylish interior and interesting menu its emphasis on games and casual seating in some places like couches might limit it to a millennial’s paradise. Not at all. It’s a crowded popular place on weekends, with couples of all ages, groups of friends, an active bar scene and a patio that is perfect for group mixers and other things.
Mike Stepanovich, former Bakersfield College employee and noted wine connoisseur/competition judge, recently messaged us to let us know that the place has become his go-to favorite in recent months. It could start with a wine list that offers so many interesting options by the glass or bottle from California and Europe, and not just the usual suspects. We enjoyed a chardonnay from a Lodi vintner named Old Soul, and we had never sampled that vintner before, and it was a great value at $8 a glass for a generous pour. The real steal is to visit at happy hour when most of the wines on the list are only $5 a glass. Drafts are $4 and cocktails are $6. There is no discounted food, but that is the perfect time to sample their bruschetta board: Choose four for $14 from a list of eight that has savory and sweet choices, including “s’mores” with Nutella, marshmallow and orange zest.
There is more to recommend, including what we sampled on a recent visit: the short ribs ($25) and airline chicken entrees ($20), an appetizer of smoked chicken wings ($7) and a brownie sundae dessert ($7). All were amazing and exceptional values considering the quality. The menu is quite eclectic, with appetizers like poutine, shrimp tacos and Buffalo cauliflower, on to sandwiches and burgers, big salads, steaks and entrees (available after 4 p.m.) that have a number of intriguing choices. What impressed me about this from executive chef Zachary Cates and manager Shannon Brown is how there’s a something for every taste design to what they’re offering; going big or eating light, conventional choices or trendy options, they work to please.
I will tell you that my companion’s fork could not leave the short ribs on my plate alone. Of course the meat had been stripped and compressed into what seemed like a large, thick steak, presented on mashed potatoes with “carrots two way” (meaning thinly sliced and roasted in short stalks with what must have been the beef, a way I have made them myself at home). Short rib, has gone through a renaissance in recent years after being a cheap cut like skirt steak before fajitas hit, but I’ve never had better, so tender and flavorful, a stunning gravy not laid on too thick. And at this price? This artistry? I was stunned.
Now her chicken was no loser entrée. The almost boneless chicken breast had been seared, presented on a mound of her favorite grain, farro, with roasted squash and a most subtle lemon beurre monte. I do get that people with less-than-fond memories of airline food are confused by the name, but it’s actually sometimes called a Frenched breast, with some skin and the bone for the wing drumette still in place, and dates back to 1927, well before airlines were serving up mediocre pasta and chicken. It was quite complete, our biggest complaint would be that the veggies on my companion’s plate were lukewarm.
I skipped past our appetizer, the chicken wings that are on point with a current trend of smoking the familiar bar food before grilling and dousing it with sauce (here an excellent Alabama white barbecue sauce, which is perfect for smoked chicken). If you are an aficionado of chicken wings, you must sample this version.
Dessert was also excellent, a brownie chunk sundae made with chocolate ice cream from Moo Creamery and something called “caramel milk jam.” That light brown sauce left little impression on us as it was scarce compared to the overwhelming chocolate presence, particularly of the brownies, which had the rich taste that suggests the presence of chocolate liqueur.
Service was fine from the pleasant host at the door who was trying to seat folks when seats were rare to a young, eager crew that, other than originally bringing my companion the wrong color of wine kept things moving at a perfect pace.
Sonder can be recommended for a fine dining experience.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.