Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sung Korean Bistro

Korean food called my name late last year, here in this Midwestern city, of all the places in the world. We went to a small place on the other side of the river. There we sat on the floor, traditional style, and enjoyed everything we ate; pancakes, grilled meats, bulgogi, spicy-hot foods, japchae (sweet potato noodles with vegetables), all the banchans (side dishes) and of course the kimchi. It was love at first bite.

For my last birthday (I promise there aren’t anymore) dinner I made reservations to go to Sung Korean Bistro with friends and the husband. It recently opened in downtown. Evidently, Sung is owned by a previous owner of the other restaurant.

Upon entering, we were greeted by big smiles and warm hellos. The host even offered to hang up my coat (yes coat- it was a very cold March evening; isn’t it supposed to be Spring weather in late March?). Nice gesture because it’s not often that hosts offer to hang up coats and jackets. The place was deserted at 7pm on Saturday evening; startling for a downtown restaurant. Not minding that, I asked our server for suggestions on sake. He recommended the highly favored, well of wisdom. I am not a fan of sake but after the first sip I was satisfied with his recommendation. We ordered goonmandu, vegetarian dumplings, and yachae pajun, vegetarian pancakes, for appetizers. Both were good; the dumplings arrived first and were crispy on the outside and filled with lots of small peices of tofu on the inside. For dinner, I ordered jab chae (sometimes spelled japchae), sweet potato noodles with vegetables and chicken. Others ordered dolsot bibimbab, bulgogi, and dak bulgogi. While the food presentations were inviting, the taste wasn’t. My japchae was over sauced and short on vegetables. The sauce on the noodles was tad sweet and over spiced with black pepper. I was lucky to find couple pieces of carrots and maybe couple threads of cabbage. I thought my homemade japchae from February’s cooking club tasted much better than Sung’s.

picture courtesy of Dean

Maybe I am biased because it was labor of love for my own food but I truly found theirs overpowering. I had a bite of the dolsot bibimbab; it was good. Everyone else said their food was decent but nothing to rave home about. One of the banchans was kimchi- pickled cabbage, spicy and tangy at the same time, very well prepared. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in their quantity of banchans. At the other place, we were offered 8 banchans and at Sung we got 4 petite portions.

I don’t care for tea, unless it’s Indian tea with milk- chai, therefore passed on the dessert, green tea ice cream. The friends ordered the ice cream and thought it tasted like frozen green tea which I think is the purpose of green tea ice cream.

The ambiance and service at Sung Korean Bistro are spectacular and fit the downtown standards. The food however did not meet the high expectations we all had from our previous experience. It has the potential to improve and serve authentic Korean dishes. However I am not sure if they will because the atmosphere is furnished for a trendy crowd and the food is catered to a public that prefers Americanized version of Korean food. Like Nada, it meets the criteria for a chic restaurant but it lacks in the authenticity of food. I don’t generally compare restaurants but I wondered, if Sung’s owner previously had stake in the other place, why didn’t the recipes and taste of the food carry over to the new place? As a general rule of thumb, I’ll give Sung a second chance.

On a different note
To celebrate this milestone birthday with everyone I hosted a party at Plum Street Café. It’s a teeny weenie dive bar on Plum Street, adjacent to the Convention center and next to the Poison Room. I’ve been to many bars around here; some fun and some dreary but I whole-heartedly believe Plum Street Café is one of those fun places to hang out after work or on a Saturday night. In addition to hosting a party, I wanted to raise money for a local charity therefore asked Mike, the owner of Plum Street Café, to discount drinks for my guests. Mike agreed to the discount deal only for those that donate money. On that cold Saturday night in March, we ate dinner at Sung Korean Bistro, met some friends at the Plum Street Café, had a fabulous time and raised lots of money for The Women’s Connection. I was a very happy girl on this day.

I wanted to do it big for this day and I did. I am happy to say this is the last birthday post of the year. Thank you, my dear readers, for listening to me.


Veggie Option said...

Happy (belated) birthday!

liberal foodie said...

thank you!

Amber said...

My hubby and I keep trying to give Sung Korean a chance because we live downtown, but we are about to give up....the service is never good, and the food is decent but in our opinion overpriced. The ambiance is great though! I think they just need some more time to pull it together.

I think you live or are real familiar with downtown....what do you know about Tina's? It is down the street from me, and is one that is open in the evenings. Is it just your typical bar food? Any other places downtown I may not know about that are open in the evenings? I live downtown but work in Forest Park so I miss places like Paula's that I always hear about! Thanks!

liz said...

i totally agree w/ your review of sung. when i went i thought the food was bland and the portions were small. the servers were not knowledgeable about the food, and they absolutely refused to make it spicy enough for us.

i much prefer riverside, and also korea house in mason. if you have not been there i totally recommend it. their jap chae is delicious!

liberal foodie said...

cintwin, I've been to Tina's for drinks. I haven't had food there. A coworker said they liked their food. I wouldn't mind trying it to review. Couple other downtown restos: Tratorria Roma, Akash, Precinct, Grille at Palm Court, Nicholson's, Scotti's, Sophia's (i think they're open for dinner), Washington Platform (bar'ish), Cricket Lounge

Liz- I enjoyed korea house too but Riverside is my favorite out of all three.