Tuesday, January 5, 2010


My high anticipation and expectations for Sunda were unfortunately not met, though there is a caveat. I went for an early dinner/post work light eat. Therefore, we focused more on the small plate and sushi items of the menu and did not order a main entre. However, that should not exempt a restaurant for serving relatively uninspiring dishes without a distinct flavor. The decor was impressive, especially in the large space. There were two bars, communal tables, interesting lighting and lots of things to distract your eyes. The service was equally pleasant, fast and knowledgeable about the food they were serving. The front room also gets very high marks.

But it always comes back to the food, that is what we pay far (quite dearly in this case) and why we let someone else do the cooking. As I said, we ordered four small plates to share and call a meal. Two of them were sushi rolls (more sushi and sashimi on the menu then I expected), the duck bao and finally the highly touted Devils basket (soft shell crab in a whole host of chili peppers and other hot spices).The Number Nine ($16) and Golden Child ($12) specialty rolls were anything but special in my opinion, especially for the price. Number nine is a shrimp, unagi, tobiko, asparagus, tempura flake, kaiware and unagi sauce while golden child consists of super white tuna, mango, avocado, tempura crumbs with mango crème. I am normally a huge fan of large and complicated maki rolls as I love the different flavors you can create in one bite. Unfortunately I did not get any of that with either roll, with the main culprit being I couldn't quite taste anything from the fish which is supposed to be the star of the show. I think the golden child roll was a bit more satisfying with the mango flavor, but neither one was good enough to order more of (a fair standard for which I judge maki rolls). Maybe I'm being harsh, but there are plenty of good local sushi places I can go for complicated rolls at much less cost. The Duck Bao buns (4 for $10) were also confusing and disappointing in that the main flavor should be the duck, which did not have a lot of flavor. The second part is that the bao bun is more like a bao sandwich, which turns into a lot of bao dough served with some only ok duck. Finally there was the Devils basket, wok tossed crispy soft shell crabs in dried chilies, shallots, scallions and toasted garlic ($16). Hailed by Chicago Magazine as the best new dish of 2009, I was very curious what would come out of the kitchen. I don't know if I would crown it the best dish of the year, but it was by far the best dish of the night. Lots of good flavors with an overall message of spicy crispy goodness. Unfortunately it was the only such dish that seemed to have everything figured out to present a unified flavor.

My main message is not that I had a horrible time, or that the food was terrible and inedible. Quite the contrary. And maybe my expectations were a little high walking in the door so that anything but perfection would be a let down. But what I keep thinking about is that most of the food presented did not pass the sniff test, simply is the food tasty with good flavors. Combine that with questionable value and you leave scratching your head.

Maybe I had a bad night, or they had a bad night because everywhere I look is nothing but praise. I would love to come back, try the main course dishes (they do look very interesting and tasty) and change my opinion (I always love good food); when I do, I know I won't be paying the bill.

The Number Nine

 Golden Child

Four Duck Baos

The Devil's Basket

Sunda on Urbanspoon

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