I must plead guilty of food-negligence for walking past this restaurant dozens of times without even looking at its menu. But finally, I have paid my dues and enjoyed a great dinner there, and I don’t want you to miss it too. So here it goes: in the busiest corner of NorthPark Mall, right next to H&M, Zara, and Microsoft Store, La Duni Latin Kitchen is serving lavish wedding cakes, altura coffee, and Argentinian style family feasts.
An Argentinian Steak House, Disguised as A Coffee Shop
The restaurant might be a bit confusing at first for a newcomer. As you walk into the store front from inside the mall, it may seem like you are entering a coffee shop. In fact, the restaurant is further inside through a corridor lined with huge wedding cakes. There’s a decent-size interior dining area and a spacey patio overlooking NorthPark’s central courtyard.
There’s a whiff of Argentina in the air, with the elaborate centerpiece boasting a collection of cupcakes shelves, orchids, and lit tree branches. Chef Espartaco Borga and his team are certainly not shy with displaying their pastry skills.
Asado: The Party about Meat
La Duni has an extensive menu of Tex-Mex and Argentinian cuisine. Many traditional dishes have received an uplift here – even the burgers are equipped with the eggy, sweet Pan de Yema bread of Oaxaca. What really puts Argentinian cuisine on my list of “cool stuff to try”, is their love for meat. Asado, the art of roasting assorted meats over coal fire, is equivalent to the Texas Barbeque with a twist of South American finesse.
At an Asado party, the chef, known as an Asador, builds a hot bed of coal until it burns down into red embers. Then, a variety of grill-able cheeses and meats line the grill top, sizzling and charring as the Asador brings the finished food to the guests one after another. Being the designated Asador is not an easy job – he must ensure each course is cooked perfectly, while the guests aren’t waiting too long without food.
Unlike the Texas Barbecue, Asado is all about timing and cooking to order, a luxury not typically available in public restaurants. So, La Duni makes do with clever menu design and still manages to pull off an Asado-style fare. On the third page of the menu, a “La Duni Family Dinner” waits patiently for those who seek a glimpse of the Argentine feast.
Introducing: La Duni Family Dinner
The family features four types of meats: half slab baby back, half roast chicken, four strips of sausages and four thick cuts of steak. The chicken and ribs aren’t Asado-style, but rather La Duni’s answer to the Cuban Pollo Aljibe, glazed with sour oranges, and the good old Memphis barbecue. Complementing the meats are four delicious sides: fluffy, oil-dressed long grain rice, black beans topped with cheese, fried plantains and fried yucca.
The steak comes with a choice of either Carne Asada (skirt steak), or Cuadril (top sirloin cap, a.k.a. picanha). Being big fans of the top sirloin, we ordered the Cuadril, which was perfectly grilled and paired with a generous drizzle of chimichurri.
The Argentinian sausages tasted slightly like Italian sausages, with specks of fennel seeds highlighting each bite, and the crunchy charred ends were my favorite. If it wasn’t for the saltiness I would have enjoyed it even more.
The pollo Aljibe reminded me of orange glazed cornish hen. Both white and dark meat were moist and tender, a quality often achieved with dry-brining. An extra cup of Aljibe glaze allowed us to dip the chicken for more flavor, and it also paired surprisingly well with the fried yucca.
The half slab was really the highlight of the dinner. La Duni took great care of the rich, succulent, falling-off-the-bone quality of baby back ribs, making sure every bite was free of tough connective tissues. The surface was mopped, but not with the traditional smoky barbecue sauce. It had an interesting keynote of sweet ginger and black pepper that contrasted with the richness of the pork.
Since all four meats are presented together in a gargantuan platter, I would say the sequence of enjoying each could make a difference. Personally, I recommend tasting the steak first before anything else, due to it being the most mild among the four.
Unfortunately, the award-winning Cuatro Leche cake felt like an afterthought compared to the thoughtful collection of savory dishes. Despite the beautiful presentation, the cake itself tasted grainy like a wet corn bread. The Cuatro Leche sauce was overly sweet and lacked depth and character, as if they just poured a can of condensed milk over the plate. Skip the sweets, meat lovers. That’s all I have to say about that.