Location: 4116 Pennsylvania Ave., KC, MO
Food: Traditional Vietnamese + Buffet
Service: Extra polite, but almost too stand-offish
Price: $12.95 buffet or entrees from $7 - $18
Rating: one napkin
Sometimes, picking a place for dinner can be a frustrating and time-consuming endeavor. The goal of choosing the right spot, with the right atmosphere and right food for your mood and appetite is a task I probably (definitely) put more effort into than a normal person.
So when we were turned away at Korma Sutra the other night, arriving just a few minutes too late, a feeling of doom swept over me. Our carefully planned, thoroughly thought-out restaurant selection was abruptly rendered obsolete. But just as I thought the restaurant-choosing process was about to start over from square one, a celestial ray of light shone down on the simple doorway directly across the street, illuminating a path to dinnertime bliss. A siren's song beckoned us from Sung Son Vietnamese Bistro directly across the street. Relenting to fate with a shrug and a grin, we allowed ourselves to be sucked in through the doorway to a starkly empty (but nicely decorated) dining room.
Elizabeth had been there before but this was my first time. So without assurance from previous visits, I was a little scared by two things that struck me immediately upon entry: the aforementioned emptiness, and the buffet carts set up at the west end of the room, continuously heating food for apparitional customers. An unappreciated lineup of prepared, warmed foods begs the disconcerting question of "what's so wrong with this stuff that no one's eating it?" Turns out my fears were premature. Though we didn't eat at the buffet, we enjoyed an overall pleasant experience, and were also joined by a flock of other diners who came in shortly after us.
Elizabeth and I opted for a seat in the south side of the dining room (away from the buffet) and ordered off the menu. The restaurant is surprisingly large, tastefully decorated with white curtains and white tablecloths with a sealed concrete floor and exposed concrete walls, which lent much more character to the place than the institutional sheetrock and carpet many Asian restaurants employ. I liked the feel of Sung Son.
After promptly served ice water and a few minutes of menu-perusing, we made our selections: spring rolls to start, a Vietnamese scallion crepe as entree one and a simple shrimp and rice dish for entree two, both of which we split evenly.
We enjoyed the spring rolls just fine, which came filled with rice vermicelli, little cubes of fried tofu, lettuce, shredded carrot and mint. They were fresh - slightly sticky to the touch and moist on the inside. Few things are worse than a spring roll that's been sitting in the open air long enough for its rice paper wrapper to stiffen and its crunchy vegetables to become tepid and limp. The peanut sauce was average, which means good. Plenty of real peanut taste, but lots of sweetness, too. Maybe a little too sweet, but not enough to stop be from aggressively swathing out the bowl with my spring rolls each time I prepped a bite.
Relying on the ubiquity of restaurant menus online failed me on this trip, however. Sung Son does not appear to have a website or their menu posted anywhere online. And I failed to take down the names of our entrees. So I apologize for not having better details on the entrees we were served:
The crepe selection jumped out at us because we hadn't seen Vietnamese crepes on many local menus and the last time we'd had one was at The Slanted Door in San Francisco when we were on our honeymoon. This one reminded us very much of the one from our previous experience. The crepe is not like a French crepe. Rather than seeming to be made from a doughy batter, its flavor and consistency is more like that of an almost paper-thin omelette. More eggy; less like a pancake, and savory. Alongside the crepe, which is filled with a mixture of softly cooked mung beans (much like a yellow lentil in flavor and texture - quite good), came a huge pile of mint leaves and sprigs of cilantro, plus iceberg lettuce. In our ravenous haste, we failed to load the crepe with any of these additional accoutrements, still enjoying it thoroughly. The eggy, starchy Vietnamese pancake taco thingy was a nice, mild side to our more substantial shrimp and rice dish.
...Speaking of which, this large helping of well-cooked, medium-sized shrimp came on a heaping pile of steamed rice with little sweet fried crunchies of some sort and topped with chopped scallions. On the side were sweet sliced carrots, cucumbers and lettuce. The shrimp had been coated with an ultra thin batter and stir fried - juicy on the inside with a little crunchy shell on the outside. In small bowl with both of the entrees came a spicy, pinkish-orange chili sauce I'd not had before. It tasted almost like simple syrup with flecks of red chilies and maybe a little ginger infused in it. As a topping for both the shrimp and the crepe, it was a nice sugary compliment.
Thanks to the chili sauce, there was a good amount of sweetness among the dishes - again, probably more than I would have preferred - but when I finally set my utensils down and pondered my overall opinion of the meal while wiping my mouth clean, I came to the conclusion that the food I'd just consumed was far beyond satisfactory. It was tasty.
Several days later, as I write this, I find myself not necessarily dying to return, but definitely planning to hear the song of Sung Son again call my name. Sung Son is a solid addition to the Asian food scene in KC and a relatively classy addition to an area of town that is in dire need of relatively classy establishments. If you need a change of pace from your normal Vietnamese dishes, give Sung Son a try.
Rating: one napkin