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PETE TITTL: Wander back to Sonder

It’s a tricky thing when a restaurant closes, even for just a week. When my dad owned the Park Cafe in Manitowoc, Wis., he closed for a week every summer so all employees could have a week off. When he got back, we’d hear about it from the regulars for a good two weeks, how good the food was at Warren’s, a competitor, and so on.

The price you pay.

Of course, many places have shuttered at least temporarily due to the pandemic, finding out that takeout alone wasn’t cutting it. Sonder closed last March, reopened in June for two weeks, closed, opened again in September.

First impression: They didn’t miss a beat. Second impression: That patio is still popular, but the crowd was so strong on the night we visited that the indoor dining room had some customers appropriately spaced. And I didn’t hear one person griping about the place being closed. Let’s face it: Most of us are just deliriously happy to be back at our favorite haunts. We’ve faced our limitations in the kitchen and prefer a professional preparation.

On our most recent visit, my companion chose what is always among the best this kitchen offers, the Sonder fried chicken ($22), choosing to “make it angry” for $2 more. I recommend it if you like spicy — they put the sauce on the side, and you can dip it in there.

We all know I’ve loved the fried chicken at J’s Place and previously at The Pantry on Brundage Lane but what makes this version special is the 12 hours of brining before preparation. The four pieces are so crispy outside, so moist and tender inside you can just appreciate it so easily. There was a drumstick and what seemed like two pieces of boneless breast meat and a boneless thigh filet. I was discombobulated by the lack of bones.

There was a respectable, lean slaw, cornbread and whipped honey butter that was soft, perfect and so charming I had to take the leftover home for toast the next morning. Don’t judge. It would be a crime to leave butter this good behind.

I went for a simpler choice, the shrimp tacos ($12), but they were no less impressive, made with fresh-tasting medium grilled shrimp, cilantro, a broccoli-carrot slaw that included cabbage, the restaurant’s “Bako sauce” which I took on the side and this pineapple pico de gallo that was just a perfect companion for the shrimp. Holy cow, were these impressive, though I’d never tried them before. The key was the pineapple salsa, which clearly sidelined the Bako sauce.

For dessert, we selected the Mason jar cheesecake ($7), even though we tend to prefer baked cheesecakes. This fits that trendy sweets presentation that we’ve also seen at Two Goats & The Goose. The graham cracker crumbs are packed in the bottom, then a lemony cream cheese mixture topped by a few blackberries and a mint leaf.

Service from Brittany did not miss a beat, and the other customers looked happy too. The beer and wine list has a lot of reasonably priced and interesting options, and there’s a long list of specialty drinks.

The menu itself looks pretty familiar from when we last wrote about the restaurant in 2019 but condensed. A lot of menu holdovers we’ve enjoyed in the past are still there such as the smoked chicken wings, the poutine, the burgers, the short rib entrée, the cheese boards and the bruschettas.

Recent weekly specials include a slow-roasted pork tenderloin, macadamia nut-crusted wild halibut and 8-ounce Angus filet stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese.

It’s great to have the place and the people back.

Sonder can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter at @pftittl.

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