A couple of weeks back, my work-dinner-club (endearingly named “P^2”) went to the newer Sunda Restaurant in River North. Despite being 30 minutes late, running from a meeting with an entrepreneur, I dropped my car off at the valet and ran inside to meet the other three. Drinks were already served and I quickly ordered a Pinot Noir to settle in. The ever-helpful waiter and his minion in training came over with menus and recommendations.
The restaurant has a very contemporary feeling with dark-brown lacquered wooden tables and chairs. The wooden floor and ceiling lined with track lighting contrasted with the dark walls and I-Beams. There is a hint of Asian décor, particularly with the floral arrangements and light fixtures. Soft orange-red hues covered the comfortable couches that divided the dining tables from the sushi bars. Our table was by an exposed brick wall near long tables suitable for larger parties.
We put in for some appetizers of the Lemongrass Beef Lollipops ($15) and Indo Corn Fritters ($8). The waiter was helpful in saying that neither were fully gluten-free since the beef lollipops had a spicy chili glaze made from soy sauce which you know has flour in it. The corn fritters were of course made with wheat flour. Since I’m not extremely sensitive to gluten and will willingly eat soy sauce (I am Chinese after all), I tasted the beef lollipops. They were quite good and a very hearty way to start the meal. New York Strip beef was sliced and wrapped tightly around a stick of fresh lemongrass and covered in a spicy chili glaze then grilled to a tender finish. Five pieces were served on a long white platter.
For dinner, I only had a few choices that were gluten-free. One was to go for sushi, but I had sushi the previous night. So, I opted for the Crispy Pata ($23). I don’t even know what Pata means but the waiter said it was more like “comfort food” and a heartier portion. I hadn’t eaten much protein that day so I figured, why not. Out comes a full on leg of pork that is crispy on the outside. On the side was wilted greens covered in a lemon-garlic sauce so strong that I could still taste it the next morning. The confit pork shank was also served with the foie scented gravy which I had to pass on since gravies are made with flour. The portion was enormous and much more meat than I was willing to consume. I dug past the crispy outside to the soft and tender meat near the bone. The pork was extremely flavorful and the garlic fragrance enhanced the sensory experience. If I return to Sunda, I’m not sure I would order this again for the sheer portion size. This is much more suited for a healthy sized man who really loves his pork.
The rest of the P^2 ordered Charsiu BBQ Pork ($14) which looked incredibly tasty and a much more reasonable portion size paired with a bowl of rice; Hand Cut Spicy Tuna and Jalepeno ($12) and Spicy “Tale of Two Tunas” ($14) which confirmed that the Tale of Two Tunas was better than the signature Spicy tuna over the classic crispy pan-fried rice; and lastly, a white fish in a modest portion that the waiter suggested pairing this with a noodle dish for a more filling option. It turns out that the fish filet was a nice portion and a side order of rice was sufficient for a full meal.
Our highlight to the meal was dessert! Three of us split the assorted mochi that is served with a variety of chocolate, raspberry and caramel syrups. The mochi ice cream was so delicious that we even convinced the lactose-intolerant member of our group to try a bite. We had a variety of flavors from raspberry to peach to green tea. There were five flavors in total, each sliced in half for easy sharing.
As we were leaving at 9pm, the crowd was still thick and many young-professionals waiting to dine. The bar area was filled with the hungry who were anticipating their turn at a contemporary Asian meal. Overall, I was surprised by the lack of gluten-free foods since Asian cuisines tend to suit my allergy quite nicely. I’d definitely go back for the assorted mochi platter and maybe to try the sushi.
110 W. Illinois Street
Chicago, IL 60654