Sonabona (formerly named Benkay) has been around for a long time, and is one of the last "old school" sushi bars and Japanese restaurants in Nashville. I was told that Sonabona was renamed some years ago because the owner's thought the name Benkay was too harsh, and wanted to soften the name. Sonabona is both a Japanese restaurant and Japanese grocery store. Every chef I have ever asked about a Japanese grocery store, they send me to Sonabona. The best thing I like about Sonabona is that Sonabona is a Japanese restaurant with a Japanese aesthetic and they try to make the Japanese food simply to allow the natural flavors to come through. Some other "Asian"-esque restaurants in Nashville is a hodge-podge of styles, and none of the styles are made well, and makes me frown. Sonabona makes me smile.
I want to start by saying the sushi rice is made correctly here. Nigiri sushi and chirashi are nothing if the rice is not correct. And so far so good, all the fish in sushi I have ever gotten here in the past decade has been trimmed well so there isn't any bones or sinew to deal with. And the menu has a lot of photos of food, and when the dishes come to the table, the dishes actually look like the photos. The squid salad that came to my table looks exactly like the squid salad in the menu photo. The squid salad was just divine. The squid salad was squid and not pig anus. When you go and get those cheap frozen breaded calamari rings made with imitation calamari, it is pig anus, pig poop hole, pig crapper. The squid at Sonabona is REAL SQUID. I love this squid salad because it is lightly dressed with vinegar, seaweed, pickled veggies and sesame seeds. The natural flavor of squid is allowed to come through.
The interior of this restaurant is just how it has been for years. It is not flashy or modern, it is just a simple Japanese restaurant. The interior is really what I want. I don't need the all the flashy decor, lights, and funkiness, I just want a straight forward representation of Japanese food.
There are not too many of these old school Japanese restaurants left in Nashville. I am going to keep going to Sonabona and enjoy this place as long as I can.