Owned by the team behind Tender Mercy, the upscale, underground cocktail bar that opened shortly before the pandemic shutdown in March 2020, Sueño is the newest concept by The Idea Collective, a multi-disciplinary concept development and design firm.
“Different menus, different vibes, different aesthetic — everything’s different except for the ownership,” said Sueño’s general manager, Lauren Gay. “It’s the same level of innovation and quality that you could expect from Tender Mercy.”
Three giant, 50-year-old cacti are the first thing guests will see when they enter the restaurant.
Inside, there is an almost 360 degree bar that is first-come, first serve, with seating for 25. It’s the centerpiece of a large dining room filled with cacti, other succulents and plants, all engulfed in the aromas from the flames of the wood-burning grill visible for guests to watch.
“I think what makes Sueño really special is the people, and it starts from the top all the way down,” Gay said.
Sueño’s executive chef is Jorge Guzman, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and owner of Petite Leon restaurant in Minneapolis, MN, Guzman’s home where he and his family still reside. His heritage runs through the entirety of Sueño’s menu. Born in the Yucatan in Mexico, Guzman’s cuisine is built from scratch according to authentic Mexican traditions.
“Chef Jorge … these (recipes) are very near and dear to his heart,” Gay added. “He’s extremely passionate, so being able to translate that element of his history and his culture and being able to bring it to Dayton is really, really amazing.”
The menu that will be presented to Sueño’s first official guests tonight is iteration 15 or 16, as Guzman and his culinary team have refined it over and over to match their expectations for the restaurant.
“I wanted it to be challenging, but not pretentious,” Guzman said. “Challenging the norms of what Dayton’s used to. … Some of the items on this menu are things that you can find in Mexico. So, it’s challenging the perception of what Mexican food is for people that haven’t been able to travel there or don’t understand what Mexican food really is.”
The backbone of Sueño’s food is the restaurant’s “masa program,” according to Gay. Making masa — the soft flour made from dried and finely ground corn kernels that have been cooked and soaked in limewater — is an intensive process that can often be avoided by restaurants by buying inexpensive tortillas from a store.
However, Sueño has chosen to make its masa from scratch, even importing heirloom varieties of corn from small, multi-generational farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Once the corn has been soaked in an alkali solution, “an ancient technique that releases nutrients in the corn,” it is ground using volcanic basalt stones that “help aerate the masa to perfection.”
Highlighting their scratch-made tortillas, all of Sueño’s protein dishes and many side dishes are served with tortillas and are meant to be a kind of replacement for a fork, Gay said.
“It’s truly about storytelling,” Gay said. “Each dish has so much history behind it.”
The price of Sueño’s dishes range between the low-end of $12, an order of two salbutes, a deep-fried tortilla dish with Mayan influences, and upward of $48 for a carne asada dish.
Reservations can be made at suenodyt.com.