Living in Newport, I find there are very few restaurants that transport me. There’s some great food, but I’m never in doubt as to where I am. For culinary wanderlust, a trip north is the best bet, and on this night it really paid off, at Sun & Moon, a family-run Korean restaurant in East Providence.
The place is unassuming, with an illuminated box sign that has “Korean Restaurant” writ large, while “Sun & Moon” is just a footnote. The entrance is a narrow little foyer opening to a humble bar, and we were quickly whisked into a much cozier space, a tall back room with a handful of tables.
The room was airy and cool, and I liked its quirkiness. There was a mirror-framed entrance to a side room and above it a curious stairway to a loft. As I ate the unexpected plates of cucumber salad, beansprouts, and kimchi, I saw a big family in the other room, who seemed to be eating in an MC Escher drawing. A grandmother and mother took turns bouncing a little baby. At one point, a chef came out to check on a family friend who was eating with a date, and I didn’t need to speak Korean to appreciate their warmth.
We began with a Korean Tuna Roll, or Chamchi Kimbap. If you have not had Korean rolls before, fix that. While Kimbap is thought of as “Korea’s sushi,” in my mouth it always feels more like Korea’s answer to a nice sandwich.
Superficially, Kimbap looks similar to a sushi roll, but because the rice is seasoned with sesame oil, not mirin, it is sweeter, and the fillings tend to be cooked. The roll was equal parts tuna, pickled radish, burdock, spinach, carrot, scrambled egg, and spinach rolled in rice and nori.
Our entrees were tame choices: Beef Bulgogi and a delicious Duk-Mandoo Guk. The Beef Bulgogi nailed all the necessary texture contrast, with tender ribeye strips meeting browned but crispy broccoli, onion, and carrots. Bulgogi, by design, is sweet when left plain, and I did find myself putting Gochujang on it to give it a bit of balance. The Duk-Mandoo Guk was on the other side of the textural palette, all soft and silk. This is one of those long-simmered broths that warms the heart with a cloudy beef broth, strains of egg, and plump dumplings.
“Oh, I got a dumpling,” my wife said, as though by accident. There’s a reason she was cherry picking: left to itself, the broth was comforting and understated, but when it soaked into the dumplings, sharpened by onion and enriched with pork, it was fantastic. Same with the medallions of rice cake; after they sopped up the broth flavor, their glutinous chewiness was seriously addictive.
Finally, for dessert, we got what was listed as a Red Bean Sherbet, but blessedly, was actually bingsu, something I’ve driven miles for. Bingsu is a perfect summer treat and comes in many flavors, but is generally fruits and condensed milk over shaved ice. My wife ate it down to the last dregs of melted ice.
This Korean restaurant felt like a ship in a bottle, bigger on the inside that it appears, and while the food part was an integral big part of the rigging, the family feel was just as essential.
Sun & Moon Korean Restaurant
95 Warren Street, East Providence • 401-435-0214