I write to you all today a shattered wreck. Last night’s hangover has nearly worn off. A thin film of sour sweat clings to me. I crave salad and a hot bath. Such self-induced suffering on a school night is not typically my M.O. However, Jeff convinced me that we should meet downtown at Sunda New Asian after work. Life is short after all.

Of course I got lost – it’s downtown Chicago. I muttered and cursed the city, Wacker Drive and CTA up and down Clark; texting Jeff the entire time. His directions were sound and I eventually arrived – cold, pissed and windswept. (Ed. note: I am currently convinced that I will never have a good hair day again for as long as I reside in Chicago). The maitre d’ eyed me warily as I checked in for the reservation.

“Ah! You’re the first one here.” he said.

“Fantastic. Could you check my coat please?” I replied. All the while, a little bird peeped in the back of my brain. Jeff said he was already at the restaurant.

Seated at the bar, I fumbled with some kind of origami they called a menu. My phone was blowing up. Where are you? I’m at the bar. Where are you? I’m in the lounge. I don’t see you. Stand up or wave. The sushi bar? No, the bar bar with the booze. I’m wearing black, right next to two suits.

The bartender visited me twice during the exchange. I managed a drink order – “Hell, eh…sake please. Whatever you have by the glass. Oh and is there more to the restaurant? My boyfriend swears he’s here, but I can’t find him.”

“Does he have the right place?” he asked.


Surely enough, Jeff was down the road. While I waited, the suits chatted me up and offered to buy me a drink. I declined unless, of course, they wanted to buy one for my boyfriend as well. Oddly enough, they did. One of them is apparently involved in a raffle to send a private citizen into space. But enough of that – let’s get on to the food.

Years of waiting tables in fine dining establishments trained Jeff as a budding sommelier. Grape wine is his formal training, but he’s expanded into rice wine out of sheer enthusiasm for the stuff. After perusing the menu, he picked a medium sake the name of which I totally forget. Something about choking Asians….meh. This is not the point. It was phenomenal. It tasted like honeydew melons with a hint of chili peppers and it was clean like a river. It went very well with our gratis amuse bouche of watermelon, chili oil and basil. We even got to pick out our own sake cups from a collection proffered to us by the cutest glasses’n’bangs waitress. She was knowledgeable, adorable, as well as the perfect blend of attentive and aloof. She too thinks that sake carafes (the ones with the separate ice well) could be put to good use for whiskey. What’s not to like.

Edamame on the table, our waitress let us know that she staggered our orders so they would come out two at a time. The edamame were delish – buttery, salty, warm, crunchy – and we enthusiastically noshed through them while cooing over sake.

First up: seared american kobe beef sushi and lobster and wagyu roll. The former, for Jeff as he’s allergic to seafood, featured perfectly rare kobe beef on small beds of pan fried sushi rice. Topped with a small ring of habanero and some kind of non-wasabi green paste, these immediately sent Jeff’s eyes rolling into the back of his head. I didn’t entirely notice because I dove into the latter and was having a moment of my own. Inside: creamy lobster, foie gras and truffles. Outside: sushi rice (so fresh, so delicate) and kobe sashimi. Since becoming a truffle whore over the past 6 months, this roll gave me exactly what I needed in that deep special place. It was a play on surf’n’turf that I was willing to overlook for its fusion because it was just.that.fucking.good. My eyes teared. I laughed. Jeff actually had a moment of jealousy knowing he risked anaphylactic shock if he sampled mine. Ever gracious, I wouldn’t take any of his lest I deprive him of food.

The plates were cleared. We cleansed our palates with more sake and the second round arrived. This time: american kobe beef sashimi and the sunda rainbow roll. The former is like the the first one, except butt naked. It’s nothing but perfectly seared kobe beef with a hint of soy and some lemony sprouts that looked a lot like clovers. The sunda rainbow roll featured king crab, tuna, salmon and super white wrapped around hamachi, asparagus, avocado. Again – the flavors were divinely fresh, the texture of the beef and the fish like heavy clouds dispersing on the tongue. I did try Jeff’s food this time around. Kobe beef comes from cow gods. Hindus hold cows in a similar regard. However, we’re degenerate iconoclasts enough to eat them.

Thank you, kobe cows.

In the lull after, we stared at each other, heavily sedated with sake and food. I couldn’t fathom eating any more, but my tongue was still going. It was then that Jeff got a libertine look in his eye and asked “Would you like more sushi, my love?”

How could I say no. We went in for a final order of kobe sushi since I didn’t try it the first time. We aren’t entirely sure how we’re going to make due with regular beef after that, but we’ll survive.

Our lovely waitress arrived again, cleared our plates and placed the dessert menu in front of us – as is their custom. I protested – as is my custom. Jeff picked it up and started looking – as is his custom. In the dim light of Sunda, I followed his finger down the list of impossible desserts and dessert wines. He convinced me to share a wine with him – an intensely grapey white – and, in my sudden excitement about dessert, we shared an avocado mousse. At this point, you may be thinking, “Avocado mousse? This fusion thing has gone too far! Outrageous!” It was outrageous. Outrageously good – grapefruit granita and some kind of red syrup topped with an ethereally light green mousse. If you dipped your spoon in through each strata, it was a perfect blend of texture and flavor. The dessert wine paired incredibly well with it between bites.

And that’s the thing about Sunda. We went in knowing what we know about food (amateur enthusiasts and smokers to boot), but the menu itself was an x-factor. Every savory dish complemented each other and complemented the sake. Dessert was a match similarly made in heaven. Concept, flavor, texture and quality were all perfectly aligned to create a dining experience that tickled the geek and the hedonist in both of us. We grokked just as much as we groaned. A cynic might state that our experience was due to an “easy” menu – that everything at Sunda tastes the same, so you can’t go wrong. I kick that cynic. The menu is articulate and diverse. I think we just got very lucky.

If you live in Chicago and if you have some scratch (I’m talkin’ scratch scratch, more than $50) or you don’t give a fuck about your bills that month, get thee to Sunda as soon as possible. Hell, save up for a few months and get thee to Sunda. It’s worth the sacrifice.