Name: Sol’s on the Square
Location: 117 E Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703
Ambience: Warm, family style
Best Dish: Bibimbap
Korean food stands alone from other Asian food — it tastes completely different from Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai food. Although they’re famous for their BBQ style meat, their vegetarian options are often very flavorful. Madison has two Korean restaurants that I’m aware of — one in Sauk Square, and Sol’s, which is out by the Capitol. Tucked away next to the Heritage Tavern, Sol’s is a nice sit down restaurant with some great vegetarian options.
They pass around four small dishes to share as a table — pickled cucumbers, pickled potato, bean sprouts, and kimchi. I found the pickled potato to have an odd texture, although it was exceptionally flavored all the way through. My favorite was the cucumber. The tartness of the vinegar was just sharp enough to lend flavor, but it didn’t drown out the vegetable and it was well paired with the coolness of the cucumber.
We started with a kimchi pancake (11.99) to share for the table. While it comes with seafood and bacon, the staff was more than willing to make it vegetarian by combining vegetables and kimchi in place of the seafood. The pancake was crisp on the edges and well caramelized, complementing the chewiness of the dough. The kimchi, which tends to be very strong, was muted — I wish there was more kimchi flavor. Sol’s bibimbap ($14.99) was delicious — literally sizzling in the iron bowl, the rice had crisped up well on the bottom and was beautiful to look at with a rich array of vegetables. It included wilted spinach, razor thin slices of zucchini, and carrots that were still crunchy, along with tofu on the top. I wish they had used a firmer tofu, since this tended to crumble when I tried to pick it up with chopsticks. I really liked their spicy sauce, which combined a unique sweetness with a slight kick. It could have been spicier, but it allowed the flavors to come through a little more.
Sol’s is a great Korean restaurant in Madison — it doesn’t come close to matching the quality of Korean food in Chicago or Seattle, where I’ve had the best Korean food, but it does a good job with what it does. The food leaves you feeling content, a balanced, colorful meal even when eating out.