Christina Sunae ended up in Buenos Aires after her love affair with the city – and one of its locals – led to permanent relocation. Time spent with family in Asia as a child combined with solid restaurant experience in New York led her to continue her passion and talent for cooking in Argentina. Three nights a week, she and her husband open the doors to their out-of-a-magazine beautiful Chacarita home to serve some of the most authentic and mouth-watering Southeast Asian food in town. Ojo, you won’t want to leave after the meal is done: there’s something about the low lighting and vintage details that make you feel as though you’re already at home.
Before we dig in to the food, it’s worth noting that unlike other closed door spots, the majority of the clientele is porteño. It’s kind of refreshing, and it also explains why there isn’t just one communal table where we all sit together. Christina notes that she found most Argentines didn’t want to be seated with strangers and prefer to converse more privately. While I was a little surprised at first (I felt horrible when we arrived 25 minutes late for our reservation, thinking we were holding other diners up), I actually loved the set up. The space feels more like a very intimate petit bistro; you hear other guests chatting away over candlelight and the wait staff move fluidly among the tables. Though it was still a little cold the night we visited, the outdoor tables were incredibly inviting – perfect for a sultry summer evening.
We knew what dishes were being served as we’d seen the menu posted earlier in the week, but the anticipation was definitely high. The first course started off on a high note: Tod Mun Pla, fried fish cakes, made with corvina, kaffir lime and lemongrass, served with a kickass sweet-spicy sauce. They were remarkable – lightly fried, not at all greasy or mushy. The fish was fresh and flaky, the garnish providing a nice crunch. I was basically licking the little bowl of sauce, and probably should have just asked for an IV of it. Our second course was Yum Gung, a hot and sour shrimp salad served over a bed of lettuce (in case we wanted to make little impromptu lettuce wraps). Eureka! My lips were tingling thanks to the light but potent dressing that provided a serious kick in an unsuspecting way. The shrimp were delicious, but let’s be honest: I’ll eat anything when there’s abundant cilantro involved.
Next up were the mains. Diners are given a choice of two in order to maximize sharing and palate expansion (new term? OK) at the table. I ordered the pad thai as a throwback to the days where I spent an entire summer ordering the dish, along with sticky rice & mango, about 3 times a week from a place in my hometown. (The good old days …) My dinner date ordered Rendang- the national dish of Indonesia made with beef and a dark sauce served with steamed rice. The sauce was utterly incredible – full of complex flavors that didn’t compete with one another and that complemented the dish as a whole. It was at once sweet and savory, nuanced and spicy. The pad thai was excellent – I could have eaten myself into a food coma. It wasn’t too oily and the peanuts added that welcome crunch to offset the soft rice noodles.
Dessert was a total gem. It was like an ice cream sandwich/alfajor made of taro root ice cream layered with homemade coconut cookies. Fresh fruit salad was served on the side. After eating my face off it was a good way to end the meal – substantial but not a total bomba that was going to leave me wishing I’d worn stretchy pants to dinner. We loved the tropical fruit salad, and I wish I could buy that ice cream by the kilo.
I couldn’t recommend Cocina Sunae enough. The set menu costs AR$110 without alcohol, and the wine list is varied and reasonable. Corkage is only AR$25 and they offer a couple of fun house cocktails as well. With the ever changing menu, it’s enough incentive to go back and see what other culinary delights will be leaving the kitchen on any given weekend evening.
Bottom line: If you need to mix it up from the usual steak / pasta / pizza / “modern Argentine” offerings, Cocina Sunae might just become your new favorite spot.
For more information visit: http://www.cocinasunae.com/
All photo credits – Cocina Sunae website