Re-Review: Sung Korean Bistro

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.

13 thoughts on “Re-Review: Sung Korean Bistro”

  • my favorite local restaurant is riverside. i like sung, too. i always get the stone bowl. and the potatoes are my favorite ban chan as well. i also like the daikon radish.

    i haven’t had korean in a long time… now i know where i am going for my birthday in a few weeks!

    have you written a review on the japanese place in florence? i want to try their sukiyaki.

  • Julie,
    If you have any questions about Korean cuisine, ask away. I lived there in 05-06. I recommend the cookbook “Dok Suni” by Jenny Kwak.
    This part of your review seems confusing: “It seems like few Asian restaurants in Cincinnati focus on only one Asian cuisine– every Thai place serves sushi– but Riverside Korean and Sung Korean Bistro did not.”
    Do you mean that the Asian cuisine is homogenous in Cinci or that restaurants focus on only on nationality? In the case of the latter, why would focusing on a traditional cuisine be a bad thing? In the case of Sung, I think he’s becoming more pan-Asian. Sake is Japanese (soju is the Korean spirit of choice), and sushi in Korean is usually a white-flesh fish that’s eaten sashimi-style with chili sauce and sesame oil. It isn’t generally wrapped in seaweed and often isn’t even served with rice. Riverside focuses on only Korean food, and for that I am grateful. It’s as authentic as you can get in the States, and it’s superb.


    • I’ll clarify that! I meant that a lot of restaurants around here don’t focus on one cuisine– and instead try to appeal to everyone, becoming homogenous. Sometimes, I think the quality can suffer. I’d love to have more Riverside-style restaurants that concentrate on authenticity. I’ll edit the post above to reflect this. Thanks, Stepf!

  • I have only been to Sung’s once and this post makes me think we should go back. Riverside was my first Korean food experience and I have loved everything that I have eaten there. Another favorite of mine is Kim’s Korean Cafe. It is almost in Indiana, but it is delicious. It might be inching into my top favorite Korean restaurant spot.
    .-= Meg´s last blog ..White Bean Bruschetta =-.

  • I have only been once about a month ago, but it was a good trip. Loved the Goonmandu (fried veggie and tofu potstickers) and that they have that big seasonal vat of sangria on the bar. Will return even if for just that.

    It was also a Saturday around the 8pm slot, and there were only a couple tables then too. I go past a lot and think they get busier with the lunch crowd and later night crowd though. Hopefully they are hanging in there.

  • I’ve been to Sung a few times but have come back disappointed, mainly because of their smaller portions and higher prices. I tend to go to Asiana (a Korean and Chinese restaurant, locally owned by a Korean couple at Cin-Day Road) or to Riverside Korean for my Korean fix (half Korean here).

    That said, their food is very good and is a place that I want to see live and thrive. Unfortunately, I walk by this often at all times of the day and very rarely see it more than half-occupied.

    BTW, Bulgogi should not be spicy. It is only marinated barbecued beef. Daeji bulgogi or “spicy” bulgogi is marinated, spicy pork. You will rarely find beef that is spicy in a Korean dish; it is typically the pork that is.

    • Thanks, Sherman, for the background! I went to Asiana for the first time last Friday and relaly liked it– the only problem is it’s pretty far away from me. Riverside Korean is closer, and I really do like it.

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