I am a big supporter of anything that the folks behind Acqua Al 2 bring to us. I lived in Florence, Italy one block over from the original Acqua Al 2 in 2004 and spent a lot of time frequenting the restaurant and enjoying the classic Italian dishes. It has now become a favorite of mine in Washington, and childhood friends Ralph Lee and Chef Ari Gejdenson have decided to expand their footprint in the area with Sūna Restaurant which is located right above Acqua Al 2 in Eastern Market. The restaurant is in the talented hands of Chef Johnny Spero, who came to us from Town House restaurant in Virginia which closed in February 2012 to the area’s disappointment. Sūna is Latvian for moss, and the restaurant describes itself as “fine dining, inspired by nature”.
Walking up the stairs and entering Sūna is a calming experience. The restaurant is simple, located on one floor with only a few tables, and an open kitchen with a rustic yet contemporary vibe. There’s a zen-like spa quality to the ambiance, filled with natural colors and textures such as stone, wood, and ceramic. It’s just a really beautiful space, and I was pleased to see that it was followed by a beautiful meal. Sūna provides two tasting menu options to diners– a four course for $48 and an eight course for $78. Should the diner select the four course menu there are a few options involved in which dishes you will be served. Should the diner select the eight course menu, you allow the Chef to make the decisions and cook for you at will. Additionally, Sūna offers wine pairings, wines by the glass, and a generous selection of domestic and international bottles.
My friend Julie and I each ordered a glass of Stangeland Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley and were immediately ready to relax and enjoy a great meal. We decided to move forward with the four course tasting menu and the root vegetables were up first. Of all of the courses I’ll admit that this was the one that sounded the least exciting, but this is the course that I find myself still thinking about a few days later. The vegetables arrived on a beautiful round ceramic plate and consisted of beets, candied celery root, and picked radishes. In the center of the plate was a brown butter emulsion with arugula. We were instructed to take a bit of the emulsion with each bite of the vegetables, so we followed orders. It was one of the most interesting dishes I can remember, and the brown butter emulsion was creamy with a hint of sweetness pairing really nicely with the textured vegetables. It was after this first course when I realized Sūna was going to be a very special spot.
For the second course the choice was between pumpkin or dashi custard. I selected the pumpkin which was served almost as if it was a sliver of pie, but the consistency matched that of spaghetti squash. The pumpkin was drizzled with a black pudding, pinenuts, and a brushstroke of yogurt on the plate.
The choice for the main course at Sūna was between pork and fowl, and the preparations for both sounded so delicious we could not decide. I asked the waitress for her recommendation and she spoke so highly of the fowl that I decided I had to try it. This dish was quite surprising in all the best ways– the fowl was so juicy and moist and had pieces of crisped skin on the plate as well as warm grains, sunchokes, and broccoli bits. It was just delightful and I scraped the plate dry.
The meal concluded with a dessert of cracker-like pieces on the plate atop a pudding substance made of hibiscus, black sesame, basil, and white chocolate. I took a spoon and just scooped bits of all of the elements into each bite. The hibiscus added a flowery flavor which was a perfect match for the chocolate. The basil added a refreshing element which was a great way to end the meal.
Sūna Restaurant isn’t going to be for everyone, but I think it has so much to offer for sophisticated and adventurous diners who are looking for a great culinary experience. The staff and chef were lovely, and the atmosphere is quiet and natural. Add it to D.C. bucket list, and take a trip to the new Harold Black speakeasy next door afterwards to enjoy a cocktail or after-dinner drink.