By Mary Yeung
774 Driggs Avenue
If Sung Park wasn’t a chef, he would make a wonderful guru. He has charisma, speaks about food and life with unbridled passion, and dispenses his opinions on culinary matters with authority and certainty. Sung owns Bistro Petit, a little French place on South 3rd Street and Driggs Avenue. “It was supposed to be a take-out restaurant for French food, but everybody wants to eat in,” he says.
The charming joint with the hand-painted blue-and white tiles and the flirty French striped awning was designed by his girlfriend, an interior designer. It has a serious kitchen, which takes up two-thirds of the space, with only a few feet left for three short counters and ten backless stools. It’s a tight squeeze. Yet people insist on hanging out, they want to eat their gourmet meals right there and quiz the chef on the ingredients and his cooking techniques.
Sung says getting good ingredients is half the battle, when it comes to food. “You have to have great suppliers. You need to develop good relationships with your fishmonger and butcher so when they get something special they’ll call you first.” Sung has always worked in restaurants. “My grandparents and my father all owned restaurants in South Korea, and my Mom, a Korean-born Taiwanese, opened the first Korean restaurant in Hong Kong back in the 70s.”
Though born and raised in Seoul, Sung’s ancestral home is North Korea, near the Russian border. “I remember my grandma making cheese every day. It’s not something that the South Koreans do,” he says. Sung honed his culinary skills working in Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan. From 1993 to 1996, he traveled to Italy and Greece and visited Southeast Asia, sampling different cuisines. He says his most memorable meals were the ones he had in Greece.
“I lived in this bed and breakfast place and the owner cooked all the food. He would go to the backyard, pick a large fig from his tree, drizzle it with honey, and pair it with some cheese. It was great. Greece is where you can pick up fresh fish from a fisherman, walk two blocks and get a restaurant to cook it for you on the spot,” he says. Sung came to the U.S. in 1996, where he attended culinary school, and later got a job working with Jean George as chef de partie. “I didn’t have a hard time working for a (four-star) French restaurant,” he says. “I had military training and that taught me discipline and precision. Also, I had already worked in several very high-pressured Asian restaurants back East,” he says. “People say they want to work for a famous chef so it will look good on their resume. That’s bullshit! You work for great chefs so you can learn their techniques and their exacting standards.” He also worked for Didier Virot and Laurent Tourondel. Bistro Petit’s menu is as extensive as anything you’ll find in an upscale restaurant.
The entrees are priced from $10 to $20. There is a kimchi bouillabaisse with mussels, scallops, pollack, shrimp, fried tofu, rice gnocchi, white wine, Korean chili, and kimchi. The broth is creamy but light with a briny ocean sweetness, and there’s a tinge of Korean chili to give it a subtle kick. The popular pork belly is braised for hours in red wine, apple, lemon, chili, ginger, and chestnut. You can just taste layers and layers of bitter, sweet, tart, and savory flavors; a tender lamb shank is topped with a vibrant pistou (mint, basil, garlic) sauce and is paired with a creamy cauliflower pure. For lighter fare, try a faro mushroom risotto, grilled Belgian endive and radicchio, a wild mushroom plate, or a salad. The pasta dish features a house-made Chinese style noodle, tossed with pancetta, broccolini, crushed tomato, and shaved Parmesan, and dressed with a fennel pepper sauce. Duck confit and an organic steak are also available. For dessert, there’s a French donut, which tastes like a cross between a beignet and a hush puppy. The little balls are fried to order and rolled in powdered sugar with mint leaves, cinnamon, or citrus spice.
On weekends, Sung offers a brunch menu along with the regular offerings. The seasonings are bold and unexpected, but flavors are nuanced and balanced. “My cooking technique is classical French, but I incorporate Korean and Chinese flavors to give the dishes a personal twist. The Asian flavor is not aggressive, just a back note,” he explains.
With so many foodies finding their way to his bright red door, he’s now offering a tasting menu from Tuesdays to Thursdays, in addition to the regular menu. It’s $90 per person. He personally serves the seven courses, which includes dessert. “They have to make a reservation and leave a 50% deposit,” he says. “This way I know they’ll show up. Besides, I need the money to buy the ingredients,” he laughs. Sung says he loves cooking in Williamsburg. “People are just so nice here. They enjoy your company and they are so appreciative of what you’re doing.” —firstname.lastname@example.org