The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 41.0°F | Overcast

RESTAURANT REVIEW

The Hot Spot for People-Watching

Though Trendy, Newbury’s Sonsie Has Only So-So Selection of Food

By Caroline Tien

Sonsie

327 Newbury St.

(617) 351-2500

Supposedly frequented by J. Lo, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon, Sonsie is a hard restaurant to miss if you’ve ever been down Newbury St. With all of that acclaim, I had to try it out.

I’ve often walked by Sonsie and, on warm days, admired its open windowless exterior. Small cafÉ-style tables come right up to the sidewalk, muddling the line between inside and outside. The dinner and cocktails crowd is usually composed of well-dressed people sipping martinis and happily being a part of the scene.

A friend and I decided to test out Sonsie’s for lunch last Tuesday. Wanting one of the four sidewalk view front tables, we made reservations for 11:30, right before the lunch time crowd came, and it proved to be a good decision. By 12:30 the cafÉ had filled up -- not with the young hipsters that I was expecting, but with little clusters of stay-at-home wives, elderly well-dressed women, and a few young couples.

As we sipped our drinks, we soaked up the atmosphere, from both the sunlit street and the interior of the restaurant. The dÉcor was warm and contemporary, with rich wood paneling and elegant glass paneled doors that open out onto Newbury Street. Lively paintings that are rotated every season add to the ebullient atmosphere. Near the front of the restaurant, marble tables all face the sidewalk to allow for excellent people watching.

Towards the back of the restaurant we found more of a cushy lounge section, with linen covered tables for formal dining. The mahogany bar, while empty for lunch, is probably the center of attention after dinner.

The restaurant’s Web site, http://www.sonsieboston.com, classifies its menu as international cuisine. After looking through its lunch menu, we were disappointed to find that it wasn’t all that varied, comprised of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, light lunches, pasta, and pizza. Despite a few seemingly thrown-in dishes, such as the Vietnamese spring rolls and the Cubano, the menu was mostly modern Italian with attempts at eclecticism.

Our waiter was extremely attentive and knew the menu well. He was never intrusive, and helpful whenever we needed him. To start, we shared the Fried Calamari and White Beans ($9.25). It came out very crisp and light, rather than many heavier fried calamari platters that I have sampled in the past. The pepperoncini relish and smooth, tangy cream sauce that accompanied the appetizer added just the right amount of zest to the plate. For kicks, I also ordered one oyster. For $2.95 an oyster, it came out surrounded by three dipping sauces. While very nicely presented on a plate of arranged seaweed, the oyster wasn’t as meaty as I would have liked it to be.

For our main course, the waiter recommended their brick-oven pizzas. There are about 8 to choose from varying from the expected mozzarella, basil, tomato combination to rarities such as the shrimp pizza.

Not in the mood for pizza pies, I chose to try the crab burger ($10.00) and my friend tried the Hot Cubano ($8.75). My crab burger came out on a toasted bun with the usual side lettuce, tomatoes and onion. A sweet red pepper mayonnaise was presented on the side along with thick-cut spicy fries. My burger lacked the strong fishy flavor that is pervasive in lower quality crab cakes, but it also lacked a delicately crisp exterior that I had expected, giving it a rather uniform, thick consistency.

I tried a bite of my friend’s Cubano and was hit with a surprising blow of cayenne pepper. He was disappointed because to him it was merely a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with scatterings of pepper. It wasn’t authentic -- true cubanos leave out the pepper, and are accompanied by slices of pickle and a thin layer of yellow mustard. His sandwich was served on a burger bun, complete with sesame seeds, while true cubanos use Cuban bread/French baguette. The sandwich was, at best, decent.

Judging from the salad-eating, wine-sipping crowd around us, Sonsie, for lunch, seemed to be about the view -- to see out and have people see in. The throngs of trendy people do not come for the unique food but, instead, for the experience. They come to impress their dates and rub elbows with celebrities. Most of all, they come to see and be seen.