Sujeo’s Korean-fusion dishes are great to share with friends

Almost everyone in Madison knows about Tory Miller’s Graze and L’Etoile, so I knew his newest restaurant, Sujeo, would open to some hype. The Asian-inspired, Korean fusion restaurant is in the new Constellation building on East Wash. On a weekday for lunch it was surprisingly slow, but it meant our food came out pretty fast.

Oolong tea
Oolong tea

It was pretty cold the day we went so we got some Oolong tea, which was sweeter than other Oolong tea I’ve had, but it still had the dark earthy flavor I expect from Oolong.

Sujeo egg roll
Sujeo egg roll

I went with two friends (Michelle and Krista), so the amount of food I’m about to show you is…well it was still a lot for three of us, but we couldn’t narrow down what we wanted! We started by splitting one of their larger-than-normal egg rolls. The outside was crispy and the cabbage inside was seasoned well and tasted fresh…it was basically a less-greasy version than something I would get at a Chinese take-out place.

Sujeo banchan
Sujeo banchan

The other starter we couldn’t pass up was banchan, which is small plates of food usually served alongside Korean food. Sujeo’s banchan ended up being six different type of pickled items and some odd little bowl of pasta salad. The pasta salad was good, but completely out of left field at a Korean-fusion restaurant (and also completely unnecessary – the pickled banchans were more than enough). From what I remember, we got pickled radish (pink ones in the far left corner), cabbage kimchi (middle on the right), cucumbers, the black things in the back were some sort of pickled part of a vegetable and I don’t remember what the first two on the left were…but they were also pickled. An order of banchan also comes with soup. I don’t remember what kind we got, but I remember really liking it.

Sujeo ddeokbokki
Sujeo ddeokbokki

We also got the ddeokbokki, which is spicy rice cakes (they look like thick, round noodles) and fish cakes. The red sauce had a good flavor, but wasn’t as spicy as other ddeokbokki I’ve had. Every time I try this dish I’m hesitant because it has some interesting ingredients in it (fish cakes!?), but I always end up loving it.

Sujeo bibimbap
Sujeo bibimbap

Krista got the bibimbap, which actually came with the raw egg, and was big enough to feed a couple people. Krista also noted it was spicier than she expected.

Sujeo ramen
Sujeo ramen

I got the ramen, which was a pretty big disappointment. It was rice noodles in a clear, almost flavorless broth with some pork and vegetables on top. I liked the soft-boiled eggs with the pork, but I barely touched the noodles and broth since they didn’t really have any flavor. I was expecting something so simple served at such a unique restaurant to be super flavorful and unique, but this was definitely neither flavorful or unique.

I had originally considered ordering the japchae, but changed my mind for some reason, which was a bad decision. Michelle got the japchae so at least I got to try it, but I wanted the entire thing (unfortunately I forgot to snap a pic). The japchae is sweet potato noodles, veggies, beef and bacon. I really liked the hearty flavor and the al dente veggies helped keep it from being too heavy. Michelle said it was not the traditional version of japchae, which I’m guessing was the reason I liked it so much…because it had bacon and other fusion flavors in it.

FOOD NOTES: Sujeo was a fun place to grab lunch with some girlfriends and get to share a bunch of new dishes. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who is looking for traditional Korean food, but if you’re looking for some good food with some new flavors and options — Sujeo is a good place! Avoid the ramen, period. When I go back I’ll be getting the japchae, but I would also like to try their dim sum carts on the weekends.

Small restaurant near Capitol has big secret: great Korean food

Sol's on the Square
Sol’s on the Square

Down a side road on the Capitol Square sits a small restaurant with a big secret: great Korean food! Sol’s on the Square took over a great location on East Mifflin Street right next to the Bartell Theatre. It has big front windows, a heavy wooden door and bar along one side of the dining room. I never made it into any of the other restaurants that have been at that location so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but the decor and structure of the dining room seemed a little rough. The decor was a hodgepodge of items, some with a Korean feel and some not at all. The day I was there the floors were a little dirty and the entrance into the kitchen was oddly covered with a piece of fabric that allowed to you to see garbage and boxes on the floor.

Sol's
Sol’s
Sol's bar, dining room
Sol’s bar, dining room
Sol's bibimbap
Sol’s bibimbap

Beyond the decor and cleanliness of the place, I had an amazing meal. We tried three of the most common dishes ordered and surprisingly my favorite was not the bibimbap. Bibimbap is a traditional Korean dish served with rice, veggies, beef and an egg. All of the ingredients were cooked well, but the chili sauce that was supposed to be on the top either wasn’t very flavorful or was absent. I was looking for a flavorful sauce or broth to go along with the good meat and veggies in the bowl. I love the concept of the sunny side-up egg on the top, but once that was gone the dish was very bland.

Sol's bulgogi
Sol’s bulgogi

Although I will be passing on the bibimbap in the future, the other two dishes we got were fantastic. The bulgogi is a tangy and sweet Korean BBQ beef that comes with rice. The beef was super tender and had amazing flavor. It was exactly 50 percent sweet and 50 perfect tangy, not too much of either. It was a great compliment to the extra spiciness of the third dish.

Sol's dbeokbokki
Sol’s dbeokbokki

The third dish, dbeokbokki, was by far my favorite, but when it came out I was very skeptical. The dish is comprised of super thick rice noodles, onions, fish pieces, a hard boiled egg on top and a spicy red sauce. The noodles are chewy and very thick, but don’t let their look or texture turn you off, they are very good. The fish pieces were interesting. I was a little hesitant to try them, but the flat strips that I was told were fish were actually pretty good. Again, the texture was a bit odd, but they tasted great in the red sauce! The sauce was what made the dbeokbokki special. It had a great tangy flavor underneath the perfect level of spice!

Sol's banchan: fish cakes, pickled yellow radish, kimchi
Sol’s banchan: fish cakes, pickled yellow radish, kimchi

We also got a plate of banchan. Banchan is basically small plates of food served alongside the main dishes. We got to try pickled radish, fish cakes (the same ones in the dbeokbokki) and kimichi. The kimchi was really good with the bulgogi, but I wasn’t a big fan of it on its own. It wasn’t too spicy, but the flavor was a bit harsh on its own. The radish was fine, but I was more excited about eating dbeokbokki at the time than the radish, and I was only able to eat one of the fish cakes because the flavor without any sauce was a bit odd.

Fish soup
Fish soup

Along with our main courses we got a small bowl of warm fish soup. It had onions floating on the top and looked really good, but it was bland and basically tasted like warm fishy water. I didn’t really think much of it.

Sol's front sitting area
Sol’s front sitting area

FOOD NOTES: Going to a Korean restaurant was definitely a new experience for me, and I am glad I went with a friend who knew what we were eating! My word of suggestion is to branch out from what most people get, the bibimbap, and try something new. The bibimbap was fine, but nowhere near as good as the bulgogi or dbeokbokki. The banchans and fish soup I could do without, but the kimchi was good with the bulgogi. I was expecting the kimchi to have more of a kick, but the one we got just had a pickled flavor to it. Sol’s  sold me on good Korean food, and I’m happy to say that my favorite dish was something other than bibimbap. There’s nothing bad about bibimbap, it’s just the go-to Korean dish and I’m extremely happy I got to try other really great types of Korean food and really liked it!