A quiet farming community in eastern Connecticut was a great place for a new immigrant to begin an American breakfast shop. Fortunately, New Haven became the home for that immigrant to launch her full-fledged restaurant: Seoul Korean Restaurant and Lounge on Crown Street, near Park.
Sung “Sunny” Kim came to the U.S. from Korea in 1984. She and her late husband started their first breakfast joint in North Franklin. She didn’t know how to make “over easy,” but she did know “sub,” “hoagy,” and “grinder.” By the time she had mastered how to make eggs, the couple started their next business, a convenience store in Groton. After that it was a breakfast/lunch spot in Hartford. With two kids to put through college, Kim launched her fourth and current enterprise in 1999: Seoul Restaurant.
Kim notes the differences between an American luncheonette and a Korean restaurant. “With a sandwich you just put it in a wrapper and done. I didn’t want to cook Korean food because it was high labor. Most restaurants they close between lunch and dinner but there is so much preparation” in Korean food it takes up the whole day. Kim wears five hats at the restaurant: owner, chef, waitress, bartender, and food shopper.
She makes all the food from fresh, including the kimchi. The only thing pre-made for her is the shumai. “Perfect fermented time [for the kimchi] is the best taste, like wine.” It takes three days to make the kimchi, then another month in refrigeration to ferment. She spends her one day off a week in Queens buying groceries for the week ahead at the restaurant.
She developed her Korean dishes according to her taste, reflecting memories of her mother’s and grandmother’s cooking. When she opened the restaurant her daughter was going off to Penn State, and she started thinking about the next generation’s needs. When students came in to eat, Kim thought about what kind of food her daughter would like, and also how much a student could afford. New Haven diners benefit from Kim’s pricing. Some dishes have a student budget in mind, some dishes priced for a bit of celebration. Either way, it’s delicious Korean food, only steps away from the bustle of downtown.
Restaurant Website: http://seoulrestaurant.net/
• The Detes: 343 Crown St., New Haven, 203-497-9634. Hours: 11:30 a.m. or noon to 10 or 10:30 p.m., depending on the day. Closed Mondays.
• Lunch Truck: Nope
• Price Range: Appetizers $6-16, Entrees $13-25.
• Style of Food: Korean, also Japanese
• Favorite dishes: Stone Pot Bibim Bap, Korean Barbecue
• Vegetarian: Most definitely
• Drinks: Full bar
• Music: Kim’s fiance Young Kim, a former Korean rocker, plays guitar weekend nights