“The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure no slight pleasure.”
– Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, French essayist
A Grand Slam, that is. Over the net, through the hoop, home run, or, as they say here… Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooool! Let me just say, upfront, Sunae, you rock. Yes, our closed door adventure this week was to the much written about Cocina Sunae in the barrio of Villa Ortuzar. And I could probably just leave this at these couple of sentences, and finish with that Sunae served us up what is hands-down the best Southeast Asian food I’ve eaten in Buenos Aires… but that’s the rub, there’s not exactly any competition. So, let me prove the case. [Closed December 2015, as Sunae is now open as Sunae Asian Cantina.]
First off, a quiet side street in Villa Ortuzar, an unadorned concrete block of a house. And a guy with a clipboard and walkie talkie standing in front of the door. He checks our names off the list and hits a buzzer, letting whomever answers know that we are here (turns out that the security is less for the place and more to keep an eye on the guests’ cars, apparently there have been some problems in the past). Sunae (whom many call Christina, I’ll leave the story to her) comes to the garden door next over and lets us in with a warm welcome. We walk through a plant filled courtyard and enter the dimly lit dining room. A surprise – it’s much larger than I envisioned, easily holding 30 people, though for the evening it’s set for 22.
No shared tables unless you request, which given that her clientele is generally more locals than expats or tourists, isn’t common for her – when she first opened she tried the communal table idea but had so many complaints from her local customers about it (as we do too, one of the primary reasons most of our guests are from overseas, Argentines, in general, find the concept of a communal table at best mystifying and at worst, offensive) that she decided to go with separate seating – so the room is set for our trio, a group of eight students from the University of Michigan (my alma mater) on a study abroad program, a local family of seven, and four Armenian-Argentine women on a girl’s night out. I have to admit it was the one thing that for me was a “missing” – there was no inter-group interaction, no cocktail period, no moment to get to know new folk – but then, she isn’t offering that as a part of the evening. Even the meal is at a slightly different pace for different tables – the students were done and out of there around the time we were just getting our last course, and the other two tables were up and leaving before we were ready to depart, despite arriving after us.
So in the end, great, truly great meal. As to the food, really just superb. The ambiance – beautiful room, gorgeous setting (during nicer weather some of the tables are outside in the garden, which I’d opt for). Friendly and given that she was dealing with 22 people by herself, efficient waitress handling the whole room. I would have liked to see more of Sunae and her husband, who basically spent the evening sequestered in the kitchen, along with an assistant cook and a dishwasher, in fact, other than a passing hello, we didn’t meet her husband at all, and Sunae only came out to help serve the plates and explain what they were to each table. We could have gone for a softer, both in volume and style, music than the borderline pounding hip-hop/rap that was playing through the evening, it did make it difficult to carry on a conversation at times. Pricing is quite fair – AR$110 for a four course meal with bottled water and tea at the end. Cocktails run 20 pesos, not bad; wine list is slightly overpriced with bottles running 60-100 each, most of them near double retail price.
Overall, high marks and highly recommended.