Sunda
Chicago
337

Before trade routes, men were trapped in isolated purgatories of inbreeding, chafing local underwear fabrics, and dinner options so limited, people'd whine "I'd rather starve than eat this again" shortly before starving. Celebrating the end of those dark days, Sunda.

From the Underground/Rockit guys and the original Koi (LA) chef, Sunda's a sleek "New Asian" food temple reverently appointed with polished black bamboo, red travertine marble, and an overwhelming ceiling hanging of 1200 somewhat Jesus-like bamboo fish, all inspired by the "Sunda Shelf" -- the Asian landmass that hosted some of the world's first trade routes after its glaciers melted 10,000 years ago. For starters, there's flown-in-fresh-daily sashimi, nigiri, specialty rolls, and signature sushi (spicy tuna over The Food Buddha's Classic Crispy Rice), plus apps like steamed pork soup dumplings, braised oxtail potstickers, lemongrass beef lollipops, and a wok-tossed crispy soft shell crab dish dubbed "Devil's Basket" (if he's in hell, you know he's got crabs). Main highlights include adobo-braised black pork belly, red rubbed lamb sirloin, pan roasted duck breast with blistered shishito peppers, and coconut'd Thai Fried Chicken (from Bang-cock?).

Booze-wise, there's a heavily-Asian beer list (Hitachino, Phuket, Hite, etc), 11 specialty cocktails (e.g., a Mai Tai w/ muddled pomegranate seeds), three sakes by the glass, and another 25 by the bottle, including "Heaven's Door" and "Happy Bride" -- a condition made much more likely when the groom didn't spring from the same course-wool-swathed loins.

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1. Sunda 110 W Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

Toeing the line between swanky hotspot and sophisticated dining destination, this Asian fusion concept from Rockit Ranch Productions is a worthy choice for an undeniably hip meal out in River North. The menu offers some seriously interesting eats (duck breast kimchi, oxtail pot stickers) and includes sushi, sashimi, and plenty of wok dishes. The beer list is heavy on the Asian pours, and there are sake and speciality cocktails as well. Sunda's decor feels just as sleek as the menu with polished black bamboo and high wooden tables.

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