While some know Sonata Cafe Bar & Art (31 E. Main St., Carmel, 317-844-5551) for its grab-and-go pastries and frappes made with Lavazza, others head to the upper level of this recent addition to the Carmel Arts District for small-plate fare. Designed by Brazilian architect Daniela Kohl, the lofted upstairs is a jewel of a space, with mustard-colored seats and dark wood tables, Chihuly-like two-story chandelier made by local artist Lisa Pelo, and walls adorned with paintings by local artists (hence the awkward addendum to the cafe’s name).
The restaurant is a first-time venture for Veracruz-born Magdalena Segovia (of Magdalena Gallery of Art) and Indiana native Michelle Miller, neighborhood friends who discovered the vacant building within earshot of Magdalena’s gallery. The duo hired Segovia’s 24-year old niece, Karla Hoyos, to man the kitchen. Hoyos traveled to Europe for a four-and-a-half–year crash course that included a two-month stint at the prestigious El Bulli.
The food here is American, French, Spanish, and Italian all at once, without the fancy flourishes. Don’t expect traditional Spanish fare. You won’t find jamon iberico or albondiga—or even chorizo. Expect more filling fare, such as house-made gnocchi, risotto, and oversized tostas (toasted breads topped with ingredients like roast beef, brie, and parsley). Be sure you order the Pescada del Dia—tilapia coated in a made-to-order creamy sauce with Chardonnay, parmesan, cheddar, and Gouda cheese finished with fresh parsley. Another standout is the Dedo de Pollo, bacon-wrapped chicken bites with goat-cheese filling, drizzled with an apricot and apple sauce. To quench your thirst, skip the fruit-barren sangria and instead have bartender Trent mix up a San Miguel prepared with orange bitters, freshly squeezed OJ, champagne, and grenadine. Sip it while contemplating what to make of Sonata Cafe—fine dining international mecca or a European coffee shop?
Either way, in a land of burger and pizza joints, it’s a promising—and original—addition to the neighborhood.