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Sono aims to serve Asian alternatives

 Enoki beef, served by Sono.Enoki beef, served by Sono.

IN JAPANESE, one meaning of the word "sono" is garden, but the new Arlington restaurant of that name veers away from the traditional.

At Sono, the new Asian restaurant/sushi bar at 471 Summer St., across from the baseball field near Burns Arena, co-owner Terry Chen seeks a different ambience.

Using his hands to shape a circle, the 28-year-old said in an interview, "It's like a park where people meet and come together."

But not the miniature, idealized landscapes known in Japan.

The decor is sleek. Lighting in the ceiling recesses cycles through blue, purple and green. A decided purple highlights the bar. For more photos, click here >>

Above tables, lights shimmer from slim cylinders in which water appears to bubble.

The Asian cuisine is primarily Japanese, as you can see on the menu >>

Hotate yuzu, scallops appetizer at SonoHotate yuzu, a scallops appetizer.

"I don't want to cook the old-fashioned way," said Chen, of Quincy. "I want to create something different," while retaining some familiar elements on the menu.

He provided three examples, the first two of which his staff brought out to taste, as they set up on Friday, Jan. 17, just a day after opening.

    * Enoki beef -- a lunch maki combo wrapped with Japanese baby golden mushrooms in a sauce;

    * Hotate yuzu -- delightfully presented scallops and microgreens, decorated with gold leaf (Chen said it costs $50 a bottle); and

    * Seafood Dynamite -- Scallop or squid with golden mushroom and crab sticks baked in spicy mayo on a half shell.

Focus on service

"I like to go slow" at the beginning, he said of restaurant he owns with partners Wu Chen and Huanhuan Lin, both 28.

His aims? He ticked off the reasons immediately, without being asked: "Good service to all people, good food, a place that looks nice."

Note that he puts service first. Opening night, he told customers that he welcomed any opinion, one way or another.

He said he saw two customers leave before ordering, and he felt bad about it.

If customers let him know of any issue, "I can fix," he said.

As we talk, his cellphone tinkles, Chen speaks to some callers in Chinese, some English.

Seats, liquor, parking

Potential customers will appreciate knowing that Sono seats 50 and has a full liquor license.

In the back is parking for 15 vehicles. On the evening of Jan. 17, all but one was taken at 7:45 p.m.

Chen said he and his partners have worked together for a number of years.

For six years, Chen, who is from China, worked at Sake in Portsmouth, N.H., offering Japanese/Taiwanese cuisine. He called it his "first school," where he learned to cook and to communicate.

He said that the two others, who worked at more restaurants than he, have 10 years' experience each.

As many owners have done, Chen said he worked his way up in the restaurant hierarchy -- from cleaning to dishwashing to cooking to service.

"Don't think anything is beneath you," he said. Everything you do in life is "just a step along the way."

Sono is not just a new Asian establishment added to a glittering Arlington restaurant scene; it is also a neighborhood improvement.

Business locations beside the Arlington Cafe were empty for years.

And so the cafe is no longer alone, as it has been for about three years under the current owners. Soon a kitchen-supply store is expected to complete the once-dilapidated block.
Chen declined to say the amount of money invested in Sono. Town records list the values of all three properties, owned by Summer Street Services LLC, at $301,000 for the land and $211,000 for the buildings.



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This story was published Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014.

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