I realized that the first restaurant I wrote about, Sung Korean Bistro, way back in November of 2007, hasn’t been revisited since then. I don’t know why– I loved the food the first time (and the meal I had at a wine dinner a month or two later), but when Terry and I go out for dinner downtown, this isn’t a restaurant we ever think of. Maybe it’s because 7th street just seems so far– it isn’t, and we’re crazy, and we know it.
So, on a whim, we went back on Labor Day weekend to get our fill of dolsot bibimbap and bulgogi. To be honest, I wish I knew more about Korean food– if anyone has any cookbooks or other reference materials to share, please do. I know what I like, but would love to know more about Korea’s culinary history.
The first thing I noticed is that there was a second bar area! It had just been installed that week, and will be the home to a sushi bar. It seems like few Asian restaurants in Cincinnati focus on only one Asian cuisine– every Thai place serves sushi, for example– but Riverside Korean and Sung Korean Bistro did not. I like this– I don’t like the idea of all Asian cuisine being homogenized, and love that Riverside in particular focuses on only one cuisine. My guess is that, since currently Cincinnati has limited sushi availability downtown, it’s an advantageous business decision. Either way, I’ll try it next time.
The second thing I noticed is that the place was dead. The server suggested it was because it was Labor Day Weekend, and people were doing the picnic and cookout thing with families instead of eating out. There were three or four other tables at around 8 PM on a Saturday night.
We started with an appetizer– calamari. The batter was light– definitely not wheat flour based, perhaps rice flour?– and the calamari strips were thick, but tender and not rubbery, and served with a soy-ginger sauce. It was very simple, but quite good– some of the best calamari I’ve had. I find it difficult to find good, tender, calamari at most restaurants– if you’re into calamari, this is a good choice.
Next, our entrees arrived– I ordered beef bulgogi, and Terry ordered dolsot bibimbap. Bulgogi is sliced beef, traditionally marinated in soy, ginger, and sesame oil, then stir-fried. It’s my favorite Korean dish, and Sung’s rendition is delicious. It’s sweet, barely spicy, but incredibly satisfying.
Terry ordered the dolsot bibimbap (which, in Korean, means “mixed meal”) — a stone bowl, filled with rice, vegetables and meat, with plenty of chili sauce and an egg on top, which is all mixed together at the table. The stone bowl is very hot, and gives a nice crispness to the rice and keeps the dish warm at the table. It is not the prettiest dish in the world once it’s mixed together, but it’s so good– it’s become a comfort food. Sung’s version is traditional and delicious.
The entrees are accompanied by ban chan, which are side dishes. My favorite has always been the sweetened potato, but there is also an assortment of kim chees, pickles (radishes and daikon), seaweed salad, and spicy cucumbers. My only complaint is that there’s never quite enough sweetened potato! These little bites of vegetables range from not spicy at all, to fairly spicy– but not so spicy that someone who doesn’t like a lot of heat (like me!) can’t enjoy them. It’s always fun to try the different ban chan at different Korean restaurants– they’re all a little different, and it’s fun to figure out the differences.
We skipped dessert, but next time I’m going to try one of Sung’s house-made sakes– when we ended up at Mr. Pitiful’s, Bob asked us if we tried the sake. We hadn’t, and he waxed rhapsodic for a good minute on the pear sake. Maybe I’ll stop by for a cocktail at their gorgeous bar?
The service was also nice– low key, friendly and knowledgeable.
Sung is such a great restaurant– elegant, with fantastic food. If you have a craving for Thai or sushi, branch out into a different Asian cuisine, and try Sung– drink some sake for me.