tofu time

reviewing sun & moon korean restaurant

I grew up blocks away from Koreatown in New York, so for me, soon tofu, a soft tofu stew with kimchi and usually pork, is as comforting as my mom’s chicken soup. She’d usually make chicken soup when my brother and I were sick, but in a pinch, this was her go-to. Out of all the times I’ve been sick while in Providence, I’ve made chicken soup just once. Other times, I’ve ordered soon tofu from the several restaurants on College Hill that offer Korean food. While the ingredients are the same—red gochujang-spiked broth, silky pieces of sweet tofu, salty bites of pork, and a soft egg hidden inside—the dish always falls short. Den Den’s soon tofu is fortified with tiny pieces of zucchini (ew, vegetables), and the broth is less thick. Higher up on Thayer, Soban’s version is heavier and saltier than I can handle, especially in an effort to battle congestion.

In comes Sun & Moon in East Providence, with the best soon tofu I’ve had in the area. Keep in mind, I’ve tried maybe three other soon tofu selections to validate that claim—so if you have any thoughts, send them my way. I could always do more research, but I’m happy to stop here. This stew was rich but not heavy, with tiny dried pepper flakes embedded in the chili-paste broth, and enlivened with soft egg yolk to be mixed in. The tofu, custard-like, tasted fresh and homemade.

Sun & Moon sits across the street from Asiana Food Market, a small store with excellent produce, where I used to go with my roommate to buy Alphonso mangoes in the spring. The restaurant looks vaguely like someone’s home. When you first walk in, there’s a Kelly-green, tiled counter with tiny mirrors in front of each seat, almost as if the set designer for the 1972 Russian version of Solaris had been hired to decorate a sushi bar. It’s amazing.

Then, there’s a larger room in the back with regular restaurant tables and an offshooting small room that is entirely mirror-lined. Two staircases lead upstairs, making it feel like you’re about to eat in somebody’s mom’s dining room. It is BYOB Tuesday and Wednesday; other nights, you’re free to order rounds of beer like the large group sitting next to us did. 

I went with my roommates, and we split things—in my opinion, it’s the ideal way to eat. Alan Yang phrased it perfectly in a food diary he wrote for New York Magazine’s Grub Street: “I have a policy where I just order as much stuff as possible and share it all. Basically, if you don’t want to share food, you can’t be my friend.” I’m less steadfast about this friend policy than Yang claims he is, but I agree with the basic idea. Luckily, my roommates are in on this ordering scheme.

We split the soon tofu stew as well as bibimbap, which is a rice dish with vegetables, ground meat (that can easily be made vegetarian), and an egg. The rice gets crisp and fried at the bottom of the hot dish—it’s pretty hard to portion control yourself with this one. We also ordered japchae, sweet potato noodles stir-fried with vegetables, onions, and a combination of sauces (mostly savory with a touch of sweet). I tried to recreate japchae later in the week after going to Good Fortune Supermarket, Providence’s recently opened Chinese supermarket about a 10-minute drive away from College Hill. It was good, but nothing compared to the japchae at Sun & Moon. A small side note here: Check out Good Fortune next time you need to stock your fridge, especially if you are as prone as I am to steaming frozen dumplings for a second dinner at 1:30 a.m. six nights a week.

The unexpected combination of a homey environment and excellent food makes Sun & Moon a place to fulfill Korean food cravings and try new things. A futurist Art Deco bar when you walk in, the restaurant itself is both familiar and intriguing. East Providence is also a 10-minute RIPTA ride from Thayer Street, or a five-minute drive, if you have a car or can convince a friend with one to drive you. Now that October has settled in, and midterm season stir-crazy is tangible in the air, it’s a good excuse to get off campus.

When we got up to leave Sun & Moon, the couple at the table behind us had overheard us talking about wanting to get donuts. Like the true Italian I am, besides sharing food, I tend to talk about other meals I want to have in the future while eating a meal. I don’t think this is likely to change. They told us about a new place called Proud Mary’s, also in East Providence, and we will probably check it out this week. I’m stalking it on Google Images right now…and it looks excellent.