Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sūna

Sūna, a "fine-dining without the fuss" restaurant that's "inspired by nature," is the newest concept from Chef Johnny Spero of Komi and Toki Underground and Chef Ari Gejdenson of Acqua al 2.  The name is Latvian for "moss," a nice nod to Spero’s Latvian grandmother. The food, however, strikes modern American and eclectic flavors, rather than anything reminiscent of the Baltic region by serving inventive, seasonal cuisine combining modern and classic techniques.  Closest Metro is Eastern Market.

Two seasonally changing tasting menus are available: four courses for $48 or eight for $78. Beverage pairings are an additional $32 or $52, respectively. As mentioned before, we are huge fans of downstairs' Acqua al 2 as we had our wedding rehearsal dinner there as well as other celebratory meals. So I was very eager to try this new restaurant and thought a special occasion with my husband was the perfect opportunity.  We made reservations for Valentine's Day about a month in advance in order to guarantee us seats in the small 36-seat space.

The decor is sparse and raw with reclaimed wood walls and beams, exposed brick, and three skylights. There are four additional counter seats overlooking the open kitchen, which sits in the back. "It's very natural, not a lot to distract," Spero says. Small bowls of moss and rocks adorn each table.  The lights are dim creating a relaxing mood and Indie pop music pumps in the background.

The menu starts with an amuse bouche of a caraway cracker with egg emulsion and pastrami spices.  Already the Jedi mind tricks have begun, as the pastrami flavors are strong and the contrast of flavors intrigues the tongue.  To further aide our epic tasting experience, we ordered a bottle of 2011 Grüner Veltliner, a dry white wine from Austria.

For the first course, we are served a large plate of root vegetables made of candied beets, roasted celery root, pickled shaved kohlrabi, raw shaved carrots, a brown butter emulsion, and an arugula granita.  The beets were very sweet and countered well with the dry wine.  The cluster of colors on the plate is both interesting to the eye and the mix of temperatures is playful in the mouth.  Already, I know we are in for a multi-dimensional modern gastronomical journey and I am ready to proceed full steam ahead.

The emphasis on the hand-made plates as an art vessel is clear in the next presentation of pickled mackerel with charred eggplant, husk cherries, and elderflower.  The smokey eggplant is brushed on one side of the plate with an accentuated flavor of tart and sweet cherries, giving a nice deep flavor to the dish.  The pickled fish is a bit odd, but overall the dish is tasty.

The next course was the most alien dish of the night, as well as my most favorite.  A dashi custard served with raw scallops, mushrooms, and pickled radish.  The presentation in the bowl is very pretty, but we are instructed to thoroughly mix all the ingredients before taking a bite.  The strange textures are like a playground in my mouth, hitting different parts of my taste buds at the same time.  As I continue to eat this dish, I am drawn in, almost obsessed as I scrape the last bits of custard from the bowl.  The layers of salty sea with the dashi and scallops are married so well with the earthy mushrooms.  The pickled radish provides just enough acid to tie it all together.  This dashi custard stands out as one of my top dishes of all time. 

For the shellfish dish we are served a warm plate of Juneau crab salad made with yogurt and shaved fennel, topped with nori (Japanese seaweed) dust.  The crab is fresh and sweet, but not as impressive as the previous custard dish.  Keith, on the other hand, is very pleased with this dish and finishes his plate clean.

Next, we moved on to the more hearty dishes of the night and start with the fowl, which tonight is a roasted breast of squab with a mixture of grains and oats, crispy skin, sunchokes, and shaved broccoli florets and stems.  The squab meat is a bit too chewy and gamey for me, so Keith is happy to take the rest of mine while I continue to enjoy the juxtaposition of the soft oatmeal with crunchy skin and sunchoke pieces. This combination reminds me of the oatmeal with maitake mushrooms dish I enjoyed at VOLT.

The last main course is a braised pork shoulder on a bed of tahini with a garlic daikon concoction topped with crispy kale.  This is the most "normal" dishes of the night, yet surprisingly our least favorite.  Overall, the tahini was bland and the pork was too fatty with bits of gristle that really turned me off.

As we transition to the close of our journey, we begin with a savory dessert of charred apple ice cream with cilantro oil and malted milk crumbles.  The herbaceous notes from the cilantro are strong and cleanse my palate, while the salty crumble is reminiscent of cheese - a classic pairing with the tart apple.  Keith finds this dessert to be intriguing and truly enjoyable.

Lastly, we are presented with a light and fluffy aerated hazelnut parfait served with a cocoa coffee crumble and hazelnut butter.  The parfait looks like a natural sea sponge, so I expected a soft cake-like consistency, yet it is ice cold and disintegrates immediately on my tongue.  My mind is tricked again and I love how the salt overpowers the sweet in this dish.  Keith remarks how the cocoa crumbles remind him of the cookie "crunchies" in ice cream cakes and I agree. 

Overall, the eight course tasting menu at Sūna is a thoughtful and modern gastronomical experience with high quality ingredients that are presented in a creative way.  The price is fair for the generous tasting portions, as compared to other restaurants offering similar menus.  We were able to enjoy a long leisurely night out without any pretentiousness.  I docked half a point for accessibility, since reservations are required at least a month in advance and can be made by phone only.  Chef Spero masters the modern techniques in a way that showcases the bounty of beautiful ingredients available and in season.  I agree with the majority who feel "the attempt to provide a laid-back space where one can dine and have a good time is successful."  I am very happy to have Sūna in my neighborhood and look forward to returning many more times.

Total Rating: 4.65
Food: 5, Price: 4.5, Service: 4, Ambience: 3.5, Accessibility: 4.5
What Micky Eats...

What I ate:

Root Vegetable
Raw Pickled Candied – Arugula Granita – Brown butter

Mackerel
Charred Eggplant – Husk Cherries – Elderflower

Dashi Custard
Scallop – Mushroom – Radish

Shellfish
Crab – Fennel – Nori

Fowl
Squab – Grains – Sunchoke – Broccoli

Pork
Tahini – Kale – Daikon

Apple
Cilantro – Sorghum – Malted Milk

Hazelnut
Condensed Milk – Cocoa – Hazelnut Butter

Suna on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

  1. Nice review! The shellfish dish I had at Suna was different and I really disliked it, so glad to see it has been changed. I'm just waiting for the spring menu for a return visit.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Lori! Yes, truly memorable and practically in my backyard - I will return often, I am sure.

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