I just checked out Sunda (110 W. Illinois St., 312-644-0500), the new New Asian restaurant/concept/lounge/sushi bar/hopeful River North hotspot. To translate, it is the latest place that serves food, which you can also eat, that was created by Billy Dec, Brad Young and Arturo Gomez. They’re the trio behind The Underground and Rockit Bar & Grill — or as I like to call these joints, with their vaguely go-getter fist-bumping vibes, Dude I and Dude II. Sunda is somewhat more refined, for sure tastier – yet another stylish contemporary Asian restaurant decked out in black teak furniture and statues, but obviously placing an emphasis on thoughtful tweaks of Chinese and Japanese classics.
”So were the people really pretty? Or just kind of pretty?”
That’s my editor, and since she was partly serious: The people at Sunda (named for the Sunda Shelf, the Southeast Asian landmass that rose with the melting of the glaciers) were good looking, but not intimidatingly so. Kind of like the food, which is overseen by executive chef Rodelio Aglibot, the roly-poly Hawaiian who formerly ruled the kitchen at KOI, the Los Angeles uber-hotspot. They call him ”The Food Buddha,” and while I find it hard to use that name in public without rolling my eyes, the Food Buddha’s crispy rice, pan-fried sushi rice coated in soy and topped with your choice of spicy tuna, Kobe beef, or shrimp tempura is simple and toasty and hard to complain about. Same goes for the crispy pata ($22), a tower of confit pork shank that arrives at the table (literally) with its skin still crackling; it’s served with two sauces, a garlic sauce reminiscent of a Cuban mojgo, and a dense foie gravy with the consistency of very cozy marinara. The meat, however, was the treat – rich and silky, and tender throughout the sizable chunk.
Like many New Asian restaurants, though, the menu feels a tad scattered – a sushi bar, an emphasis on small plates, a promising grill. On the other hand, there’s a lot here that’s tempting: garlic noodles with toasted garlic and blue crab ($14), indo corn fritters ($8) served with an onion-ginger sauce. I’ll leave you with my favorite dish, so far: ”Toast and Jam” ($14), those quote marks on the menu as well, triangular perfectly-crispy wedges coated in a warm layer of shrimp paste, served with a cup of ”jam,” a.k.a. tuna tartar to be spread across the top (pictured above). The dude abides, happily.
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"Best New Restaurant"
General Information110 W. Illinois
Chicago, IL 60654
Valet Parking Available