I passed the valet booth, a small gift shop, and the concierge before opening a door into the foyer of a large antique home with a small bar and lounge tucked away in the corner - the Rouge Lounge, as I was later informed. I then passed some more doors into an open courtyard housing a bar and featuring live music before making my way into a rustic brick-floored, terraced dining room with a tropical motif and a wall of windowed garage doors that overlooks a small pond nestled within tropical bushes and fruit trees. During the cooler months, the garage doors are rolled up thus allowing South Florida's mild winter breeze to na
turally cool the dining room and providing diners with a fusion of indoor and al fresco dining. I was expecting just a restaurant but was informed that besides being a dining destination, Sundy House is also a boutique hotel that houses eleven unique suites, as well as an impressive tropical garden complete with a fresh water swimming pond, and one of the nation's top wedding locales. I quickly came to realize that Sundy House is not merely a restaurant but a sensory retreat, and the more I became enveloped in its sights, sounds, tastes, and scents, the more I wanted it to become my permanent retreat. Again, for somewhere that only took me half an hour to get to, I felt as if I was in a completely different world.
Sundy House had been a Delray Beach institution for years and is a well-known destination for Sunday brunch, but merely two months prior to my visit, the hotel and restaurant decided that it was time to refresh and get in touch with the current trends in the hospitality industry, which is when general manager Bruce Siegel came in along with Executive Chef Denise Girard. Siegel had previously been the general manager at The Mayfair in Coconut Grove, as well as Regional Director of Operations for the Obadan Hotels including the Brazilian Court and Omphoy. He is credited with bringing Miami's sweetheart, Michelle Bernstein, to the Omphoy, and his experience at some of the region's top hotels can be duly noted at Sundy House.
Although I was mesmerized by the extensive gardens and ponds (I was really tempted to jump in the swimming pond), the hotel rooms, and the historical main building of Sundy House, that evening was all about the food. Chef Girard, who had previously worked in The Raw Kitchen in West Palm Beach and The Office in Delray Beach, had been in the process of updating the menu from something that was good but a little old fashioned to something that is on par with the culinary trends of today, with a particular focus on farm-to-table dining. While such gastronomic concepts have been in play at such South Florida restaurants as 1500 Degrees and The Dutch (both in Miami Beach), and Market 17 (Fort Lauderdale), Sundy House has taken it a step further by utilizing products that grow on the actual property, which includes a dizzying array of exotic tropical fruit such as jackfruit, guava, nísperos, and custard apples, just to name a very few. Additionally, the hotel has purchased additional land on the street and is planning on having its own food garden and farmers market, giving Chef Girard access to the freshest local ingredients that are propietary to Sundy House. That evening I sampled Chef Girard's summer pre-fixe menu ($33), which included a first course, entrée, and dessert and showcased some of Chef Girard's impeccable French technique along with her food philosophies.
An appetizer of lump crab cake with a honey and English mustard sauce sprinkled with fresh micro herbs was light but bursting with flavor, as was a napoléon of fresh poached artichoke hearts, yellow tomato, tomato chimichurri and warm goat cheese topped with a piece of smokey bacon and that had the perfect balance of crunchy and chewy. A tuna tartare stack exhibited even bolder flavors with a wasabi and sesame dressing alternating between delicately crispy waffle chips. All of the appetizers demonstrated an unmistakable classical French influence while remaining light and full of flavor, as well as a surprising richness that did not depend on the the traditional elements of butter, cream, and animal fats. Apart from having a knack for presenting dishes that are simultaneously light and almost sinfully satisfying, Chef Girard also has an eye for color, texture, and dramatic presentations that focus on the natural beauty of the ingredients themselves rather than manipulating them. Each dish was a delight to look at and contained such a spectrum of colors that is not commonly seen in restaurants.
Desserts are simple and satisfying: a well-made chocolate mousse with chantilly cream and fresh raspberries, and a selection of homemade cookies that include a spherical alfajor (South American butter cookies sandwiching dulce de leche or manjar blanco), chili chocolate cookies, and traditional madeleines.
As one can read, Sundy House is more than just a restaurant, but a sensory retreat. The notion of Delray Beach may seem like hundreds of miles away, but in fact it's right in our back yard, and yet a visit to Sundy House will make anyone feel as if in they're in a completely different world far removed from anything else they have yet experienced.
106 South Swinton, Delray Beach, FL 33444