On July 19, The Nashville Food Project will hold its annual fundraising event, NOURISH, at the dining hall at Montgomery Bell Academy, bringing together Nashville’s
The opening of Sunda, an expansive, high-ceilinged, pan-Asian restaurant in the Gulch, marks yet another transplanted concept—this one hailing from Chicago, where the original has been open since 2009.
But the restaurant is not the only new arrival. After visiting Nashville on several occasions, Chicago restaurateur Billy Dec has decided he needs to live here, too. The actor, producer, and founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, the hospitality group that owns Sunda, says he was drawn here because he was looking to slow down, take time away from a big city—even mow the lawn for enjoyment.
“When we first thought about opening here, it was three years ago, and it was clear that this town was blowing up,” he says.
But, to bring a concept like Sunda, which offers a broad range of dishes from North, East, and South Asia and relies heavily on imported seafood, to Nashville, Dec first had to ensure that he could get distribution for certain ingredients.
“So many chefs here had already put in the work, kicking down doors and paving the way to get higher quality product here faster,” he says.
Finally, a year-and-a-half ago, he realized that Nashville was ready for the big show.
There are similarities to this Sunda, which is snazzy and upscale, and the original: Black lacquered woods and polished bamboo offset one another, and Tibetan-temple ceiling tiles showing lotus flowers hang on the walls. But, in Nashville, Dec improved upon a few things, like increasing the size of the bar and adding more communal tables.
The bar is a good place to start. Sit beneath a swirling sea of hanging fish, and choose from the lengthy selection of sakes, which include premium and aged options. For a sampling, you can order a flight, which is three 2-ounce pours, for a side-by-side comparison. A list of beer and wine is tailored to complement the vast array of cuisines.
Once you settle in to a seat, the dining room offers views out to the Gulch, while seats at the sushi bar bring you closer to the kitchen action—take some time exploring the massive menu. It’s only about 50 percent of what the Chicago restaurant offers, Dec says, which is mind boggling, considering there are 11 different sections to choose from and a staggering number of cuisines represented. Japanese sushi and cooked dishes abut Filipino comfort fare, Chinese dumplings, and Korean fried chicken bao. Dec says it’s meant to showcase the vast influences that converge throughout these various cuisines—but it definitely takes a minute to get your bearings.
Rely on the servers, who are happy to guide and instruct, especially on timing, since each dish comes out as soon as it’s prepared. But beware the major price points. (Many of Dec’s coveted imports result in small dishes that stretch far past the $20 mark.)
Escolar The Great White, $12
Signature crispy rice with spicy tuna, $14
Crispy pata, $20
Devil’s Basket, $22
Lobster and wagyu, $25
A solid start is the hyper-fresh fish, done as sashimi or nigiri—try king crab, hamachi, uni, or maybe fatty toro, if it’s available. There are big, flavor-blasted rolls, like the Red Dragon, with its jalapeño, unagi sauce, tempura crunchies, and tempura shrimp. Two notable bites are the Great White, a sliver of escolar wrapped around rice and topped with a truffle slice, and chili albacore sashimi, which offers thick, hearty slices of tuna coated in spice and served next to a haystack of crispy-thin leek slivers for rolling.
Veering in to cooked options, the crispy rice arrives as bite-sized snacks, with a choice of either spicy tuna or a wagyu set atop rectangles of soy-glazed grains. If you like softshell and heat, aim for the Devil’s Basket, with tempura-fried crustaceans over a pile of crunchy glass noodles and charred scallions.
Our server directed us to the crispy pata, a Filipino preparation of a confit pork shank cooked low and slow for six hours and, then, quickly flash-fried, before arriving at the table on the bone. A garlicky vinaigrette and a gravy made from foie gras came on the side, along with a bright-green salad to cut through to the richness. She also suggested oxtail pot stickers or the lobster and wagyu sushi roll. Choose a dish from each menu section (oh, my) for a hungry group, she said; for two people, five to six dishes ought to do it.
If there’s room for dessert, partake in the aptly named Ridiculous, which is a decadent vanilla sundae, with bits of ginger-carrot cake and lava streams of caramel sauce. Like the rest of the dining experience, it’s an over-the-top finish, but one that rightly proves Dec’s theory, which is that Nashville is indeed ready to offer a new kind of dining experience.
592 12th Ave S; 615-610-7566; sundanewasian.com