- From Golgappa Shots to Gruyere Cheese Dosa and from Crab Puri and Caviar to Chenna Cheesecake, the menu is a far cry from the typical Indian staples.
Tired of the same old Indian food? Craving something desi with a firangi touch? Fret not. There’s a new gem in the Indian dining scene in New York City – Sona- Priyanka Chopra’s restaurant in the Gramercy neighborhood in Manhattan, which opened it’s doors to patrons on March 26. The actress, producer and entrepreneur is the creative collaborator of Sona and has partnered with Maneesh Goyal and David Rabin. Hari Nayak is the head chef, who brings his expertise from operating several restaurants in the U.S., the Middle East, and India, as well as being the culinary director of Indian ready-to-eat packaged meals brand Cafe Spice.
Sona’s menu is a far cry from the typical Indian staples, covering the subcontinent and beyond.
How about some Golgappa Shots — spiked — if that’s your thing, or the Spinach, Goat Cheese Samosa? Then dig into an Octopus Ghee Roast, or a Green Pepper Halibut or a Gruyere Cheese Dosa and end the meal with a Sona Chocolate Gateau or a Chenna Cheesecake.
The menu as well as the decor is a nod to Chopra Jonas’elegance, who has successfully straddled her career in both India and the U.S. “Sona is the very embodiment of timeless India and the flavours I grew up with,” Chopra Jonas wrote on her Instagram announcing the project.
She also took to the social networking service to announce the restaurant’s opening: “What started as a simple craving for great Indian food has become this labour of love, and I can’t wait to welcome you all in, and for you to experience timeless India in the heart of NYC!
On his Instagram handle, Goyal gives a tour of the restaurant prior to its opening. As the glass and wooden double doors with the brass handles cobras from India open, we see a spacious dining room with neatly arranged tables with miniature table lamps upholstered with Indian fabric, and bistro chairs, or couches.
But it’s the lilac marble-topped bar, which sits between the front and back dining rooms, which grabs the attention. “The bar itself was this tower that came from my first experiences in New York, at the Four Seasons bar, where liquor comes from the center,” interior designer and stylist Melissa Bowers tells Vogue. “It’s not like a typical bar, where it’s all shelves against the wall.”
Downstairs there’s a private dining room called Mimi’s (the nickname Chopra is referred to by close friends).
Goyal told Vogue that he and Rabin started discussing the project back in 2015, and they soon brought on Nayak, “a Daniel Boulud protégé at the helm of Dubai’s Bombay Bungalow and Masti, Bangkok’s Jhol, India’s Alchemy Bangalore, and the chef behind the ubiquitous Café Spice meals in grocery store, for his first executive chef role at a U.S. restaurant.”
Chopra Jonas worked with Bowers on Sona’s interiors. Bowers describes it as “Indo Deco,” as per Vogue, referencing “the Art Deco period in India, of which Mumbai is a primary example.” She told the magazine that she did “a virtual shopping tour with Ashni Desai,” a designer in India and a friend of Goyal’s. “We were able to pull from textiles, and the door handles on the entry are cobras from India,” she told Vogue. Whether it’s the wall dotted with small medallion mirrors from India in the front dining area or the miniature table lamps upholstered with Indian fabric, there’s an essence of India in Sona. “Priyanka didn’t want [the design] to be on-the-nose Indian, but she also knew how to make it uniquely Indian in certain ways, and Melissa was interpreting and hearing all of it,” Goyal told Vogue.
Enhancing the decor is artwork “displayed throughout the space, which will rotate a few times a year,” curated by Priyanka Mathew of Sunderlande Art Agency, which specializes in modern South Asian art. And the music is by DJ Rekha, who is credited with pioneering Bhangra music in North America.
On her March 26 Instagram post, Chopra Jonas thanks her team – Goyal, Rabin, Nayak and Bowers, and also her husband, singer Nick Jonas, for “landing on the perfect name.” She continues: “Hubby came up with the name at an early tasting with the team, as Sona means ‘gold,’ and he had heard that word in India, well…A LOT, throughout our wedding.”
Recalling the incident, Goyal tells Vogue: “We were grappling with a list of names, none of which were speaking to us,” recalls Goyal. “And then from the corner of the table, from a small kind of voice, Nick Jonas said, ‘What about Sona?’”
Like the design, the food at Sona aims to be unexpected. There’s the Indian masala and cooking techniques with non-Indian ingredient, with a ‘je ne sai quoi’ factor. There’s Tandoor Roasted Beets with Cumin, Stracciatella (Italian egg drop soup) and Chat Masala Hazelnuts; Crab Puri and Caviar with Maryland Crab and Sterling Caviar; Tamarind Barbecue Lamb Chops; Kofta Korma; or the Crispy Garlic Crab Rice, to name just a few ingredients from the menu.
There’s also — Floyd’s Goan Fish Curry — honoring ground-breaking Indian chef Floyd Cardoz who died from COVID-19 last year. Chef Nayak has a long association to Cardoz. In a Facebook post he wrote: “When Tabla opened in 1998, I was just getting started on my culinary journey in the USA after graduating from @theculinaryinstituteofamerica @floydcardoz , it was you who allowed me to dream that one day I too can have a restaurant in this city and break stereotypes to present Indian cuisine as a forerunner in global cuisine. Today as we stand on the helm of opening doors to our beloved @sonanewyork , I pay my humble tribute to the culinary inspiration you have forever been to me with a nod to our shared coastal origin with ‘Floyd’s Goan Fish Curry’ on SONA’s menu. I hope I do you proud. We miss you. My deepest gratitude to @bcardoz for her support and blessings.”
And if this wasn’t enough, there’s an extensive cocktail menu to whet one’s appetite by “mixologist Johnny Swet. And there’s a desk flavor there as well. The West Bengal Buck is made with Tito’s Vodka, coconut purée, holy basil, lime and ginger beer; while the Spicy Chili Margarita has Milagro Silver Tequila, chili liquor, lime, spiced honey, cilantro, bird’s eye chili, and tajin; and the Avocado and Khus Mojito has Brugal Extra Dry Rum, avocado, muddled Mint, khus Syrup, lime, and seltzer. If dest-inspired cocktails are not your thing, there’s a full bar menu to chose from.
Sona seems to have all the right ingredients to shine in the Big Apple. As Goyal tells Vogue: “People are ready now. I can feel yet another golden age of dining.”
The restaurant, located in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, opened its doors on March 26.