There are nearly three dozen Chinese restaurants in the Providence vicinity, but Korean? Not so much. As in none since the tiny, simple Soloman closed on Benefit Street. Just Sun & Moon in East Providence and, for the past few years, Sura in Johnston.
Well, Sura owner Helen Kim and Hannah Choi have opened a new Sura in downtown Providence. Same idea: the menu offers Korean barbecue and other items, plus a sushi bar and some traditional Japanese dishes. Liquor is supplied equitably, with sakes plus herbed-up Korean baeksaeju — literally "100-year-old rice wine" — and vodka-like soju. The 14 bottled beers are for the unadventurous.
The place is attractive inside, with a simple monochromatic mural on one wall presenting cherry blossoms on branches and fluttering away in a breeze. The opposite wall is old, bare brick. The contrast carries through to the two cuisines, one tending toward light elegance, with white rice and sashimi, the other more comfortable with hearty dishes and stews.
|Sura | 401.277.9088 | 223 Westminster St, Providence | Mon-Fri, 11 am-10 pm; Sat, 12-10 pm; Sun, 12-9 pm | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Accessible|
The menu is vast, with color photographs of many of the items, efficiently cutting down on the number of times customers point to a dish with an "Um, what . . . ." We were served a plate of sautéed ginkgo nuts ($4.95) — fine to me, but an acquired taste for a couple of us — while we waited for our starters, which were all over the map. One of us had an avocado salad ($6.95) with a tasty toasted sesame seed dressing. Next to me was salmon caviar ($3), a heaping tablespoon of fat orange roe atop fanned lemon slices.
For the table, I ordered the intriguing oyster pancake ($10.95). A foot in diameter, there was plenty for the four of us. Soggy but full of oysters as well as scallions, it tasted better with the accompanying tamari sauce. For myself, I ordered a bowl of yuk gae jang soup ($4.95), since I like to start with a nice hot and sour bowl when I can. Intensely red and correspondingly spicy, it was packed with lots of beef, as well as such goodies as green beans, rice noodles, and stirred-in egg. My taste buds perked right up.
Johnnie started with a tofu tempura roll ($8). She appreciated the texture contrast through my head-shaking over the fact that she could have had shrimp or chicken tempura for the same price (there is no reasoning with a tofu lover). She also had a brown, non-spicy version of chicken bulgogi BBQ ($16.95), still in her beige mood. It was tasty, but the absence of spiciness circumvented the barbecue aspect.
Also on the table was beef bibimbap ($10.95), more or less fried rice with bits of vegetables. It answered our curiosity about why the stone pot version was two dollars more by arriving chilled. It was heated at no extra charge, but the fried egg on top came back hard, of course. A nice touch was the side of kimchi and both bean sprout and watercress salads, fragrant with sesame oil.