Cocktails, brunch, and perfect spring patio weather. What a civilized way to start the week. My wife and I have been indulging our food fetish alfresco as of late, since last winters freeze has retreated, and the all-too-brief-in-Texas good weather of bluebonnets and Blue Bell ice cream gives way to the oppressive torridness of summer. Since we are now counting down the pleasant weekends, my wife and I have been plotting places to enjoy our outdoor fantasy. Also, I was craving good Latin-influenced cuisine, something upscale on this day rather than Tex-Mex, and remembering that La Duni Latin Kitchen & Baking Studio in Oak Lawn (there are two other locations as well) features good food and a patio of sorts, we made our way down the Tollway last Sunday morning.
Housed in an upscale strip center across the street from Al Biernat's, La Duni seems smallish from the street, but the interior actually is rather large, undulating with the kind of curves and angles that would fascinate any architect. The place was quite packed when we arrived, and we were all set for a wait, when our hostess asked if we would mind sitting at the table for two by the window which just happened to be open. We agreed and soon found ourselves seated in a unique indoor-outdoor cranny, tailor-made for our requirements. Perfect for watching both the street traffic and the dynamic indoor scene as well.
La Duni's cocktails are legendary, so we started with a traditional Cuban mojito for my spouse and a Caipirinha for myself. Ten dollars per drink is a tad steep, but these are not exactly your typical, watery Happy Hour affairs either, and these were prepared by knowledgeable bartenders. The mojito featured Bacardi Silver Rum, hand-muddled limes (lots of slices), sugar, soda, crushed ice, and fresh sprigs of mint. The flavor was bracing like a proper sipping cocktail and only slightly sweet. Similarly constructed was the Caipirinha, which sported Cachaca (Brazilian sugarcane brandy), and again a tiny dose of sugar, crushed ice, and more hand-muddled limes. La Duni's drinks deserve their numerous accolades but savor slowly if you're smart, and cash-strapped.
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Scanning the menu, my wife was a little puzzled by the listing for Breakfast Toast, but ordered it anyway and in time discovered that the dish was much more than two plain slices of Mrs. Baird's. Eggs and gruyere cheese were scrambled with crispy bacon and placed on a long Pan de Yema toasted bun and topped with salsa rojo. The resulting sandwich was savory and substantial but a little unwieldy to eat, so she had to do some deconstruction. Roasted breakfast potatoes were served alongside, nice and crunchy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, and quite spicy. I selected the Rajas Con Queso and Carne Asada torta, which was prime skirt steak nestled snugly between two slices of the slightly sweet Pan de Yema, along with grilled onions, poblano and pimento peppers, and melted Manchego cheese sauce.
This sandwich was full of roasted pepper flavor and again, more outstanding crispy potatoes road sidesaddle. After brunch, we considered taking home a generous slice of the Cuatro Leches or Venezuelan Triple Chocolate Truffle Cake, but settled instead for more drinks. As usual.
Service was paced leisurely for brunch and quite attentive, and their multilingual skills came in handy when tending to the needs of the large Spanish-speaking party at the next table. In sum, quite an elegant yet simple brunch at La Duni, combining perfect cocktails, food, and weather-- almost too good to be true. And civilized.
La Duni Latin Kitchen & Baking Studio
4264 Oak Lawn