Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Yet another of the promotion dinners for Mrs. Hackknife came and went a few Saturday nights ago, this one taking place at Sunda in the River North neighborhood just a stone's throw away from the Bayless empire (Xoco, Topolobampo, and Frontera Grill) at Clark and Illinois. I had vague knowledge of this restaurant, which bills itself as a specialist of "New Asian" cuisine (a combination of Southeast Asian and Eastern Asian, according to the website). Sunda is a recent addition to the Rockit Ranch group of trendy eateries/nightclubs established by local entertainment impresario Billy Dec (who's claim to fame is that he's famous) and boasts celebrity chef Rodelio Aglibot at the helm. Messr. Aglibot has acquired the nickname "the Food Buddha" due to his resemblance to a certain deity (although he's not actually Buddhist) and had a short-lived cooking show on TLC that my dad raved about, but it disappeared before I could watch it.

Anyway, Mrs. Hackknife and I arrived at 7pm to a dining room packed with attractive, nattily-dressed 20- and 30-somethings. There was a long sushi bar on the ground floor; however, we were escorted upstairs to a private party room for our function. Given the trendy decor and vibe of the place, my fear was that the food would exhibit more style than substance - these concerns were quickly laid to rest upon sampling one of several very good sushi pieces and an amazing seared Kobe beef tartare bite atop pan-fried crispy rice, which were circulated during the cocktail hour. Once seated, we proceeded with the main menu served family style. First up was an appetizer course consisting of warm spinach and mushroom (sigh) salad, grilled salmon salad (excellent), a tasty dish called loompya (crispy pork and shrimp egg rolls), and one of the house specialties, rock shrimp tempura (served with glazed walnuts and creamy honey aioli). A collection of main course dishes followed: what they call "shaking" beef (wok-seared beef filet, greens, and lime-pepper dipping sauce), steamed ginger salmon filet, and veggie lo mein, all of which were good, except I only managed to secure one small chunk of the beef (these are the hazards of family style dining). Two sides were presented with the main courses, white jasmine rice and grilled asparagus. Last up, for dessert, we were given some different flavors of Japanese mochi ice cream, which we had coincidentally just discovered at home (courtesy of Trader Joe's). Mochi consists of a small dome of ice cream (green tea, for example) encased in a thin layer of sticky rice dough covered in powdered sugar. Sunda serves their version with chocolate, caramel, and fruit dipping sauces.

I left the table feeling pretty satisfied, if not overstuffed (not a bad thing), and was generally pleased with our evening's food offerings. Mrs. Hackknife and I agreed that we'd be willing to make a return visit, although maybe not as much if we had to pick up the tab next time. We'll see...

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