Wed 13 Mar 2013
Last week, we stopped by Suna, Chef Johnny Spero’s technique-driven restaurant above Acqua al Due in Eastern Market. We were there to see if they could provide us with a list of the dishes we enjoyed at a birthday dinner back in December. As it turns out, our timing couldn’t have been worse.
On Friday, Tom Sietsema broke the news that Suna would close after Saturday’s dinner service. Just today, he released his much-less-than-positive review that had already gone to print before the restaurant announced its closure. While it doesn’t look like Tom will be shedding any tears over the closure, we’re sorry to see Suna go.
Considering the fact that Sietsema’s dinners and ours seemed to include many of the same dishes, how did we come away with such a different opinion? Some thoughts after the jump.
Suna’s menu was fluid – the dishes served during a given visit were not guaranteed to be there when you returned – and the focus was on showcasing ingredients in new and inventive ways. Each night, you had the option of a four-course menu (with two choices for each course), or a chef’s tasting with eight courses. In both cases, the dishes were described in brief, somewhat cryptic phrases.
We opted for the chef’s tasting, a bargain relative to many of the others around town at $78. Frankly, we wanted to see what Chef Spero was highlighting from his repertoire. We had been told to expect minibar-style techniques integrated into more cohesive dishes.
And that’s exactly how we started things off, with the root vegetable dish that Sietsema sent “back to the kitchen largely untouched.” Unlike him, we found the sweetness of the candied celery root, the tart snap of the pickled beets and the richness of the frozen dots of brown butter to be an excellent combination. I cleaned my plate, and Elizabeth found herself pleasantly surprised by a dish that she wouldn’t have normally sought out.
The mackerel dish was similarly composed, though a bit underwhelming given the strong note on which we started. But that was followed in quick succession by the dish we found ourselves talking about even after we left: the dashi custard. The salty cream of the custard, studded with mushrooms and scallops, had both of us scraping our bowls to get every bite. I sincerely hope that recipe doesn’t disappear with Suna.
At this point, we were starting to worry that the meal at Suna would leave us less than satisfied. Although the dishes were impressive and tasty, they hadn’t exactly been filling. Thankfully, we were about to head into the “main course” plates.
Like Sietsema, we had the guinea fowl dish with the broccoli and mixed grains. But again, our experience of the dish differed wildly from his. In fact, it was this very dish that set us on our recent farro kick at home, so if those grains were “something the fowl should have eaten” then that was one lucky bird.
Our dinner diverged from Sietsema’s with an experimental pork dish that the kitchen served up for the first time the night we dined. It was the low point of the meal for us, a one-note plate that didn’t do anything particularly creative or memorable. But we rebounded nicely with the desserts, including the apple dish that Sietsema panned.
Throughout the evening, we found our server to be well-informed and attentive – exactly the kind of guide we were hoping to find in uncharted territory like this. Her explanations of the dishes frequently triggered additional questions from us, and when she didn’t know an answer she made it a point to find out before presenting the next course. At the end of the meal, she rewarded our curiosity with a trip back to the open kitchen. There we saw Chef Spero and his time working to compose the dishes we had just enjoyed, and we marveled at the various spices, powders and preserves that lined the wall behind us.
We have recommended Suna to several friends since then, and we’re truly sad to see it go. DC may be doing really well when it comes to high-end dining and cheap eats, but there’s a middle ground that is still underserved. Suna sought to fill that need in an inventive and tasty way. Here’s hoping their successor takes up the challenge.