A Tree Grows in Kent: Namoo Korean Restaurant

It seems fitting that the name of the Korean speciality known as “bibimbap” bears such a resemblance to the word for a type of jazz characterized by complex harmony and rhythms (that’s “bebop,” of course). Bibimbap brings together a medley of different flavors - deliciously seasoned vegetables, sauces, minced meat, and a fried egg on a bed of rice - creating an arrangement of flavor notes worthy of a Charlie Parker solo. If you’ve never had an opportunity to sample this mellifluous sounding meal-in-a-bowl, head over to Namoo in Kent, CT, where you’ll find it on the menu along with other jazzy sounding Korean dishes like hwe dup bap (rice topped with vegetables and spicy raw fish).

The proprietors of Namoo, Sarah and Chuck Lee, have a background in restaurants and run the seafood counter at the nearby Sharon Farm Market. Their customers often expressed an interest in Korean food and culture, and in June of last year the Lees decided to obliged them by opening Namoo in the Kent Green Shopping Center.

The interior of the long, narrow red building which houses the restaurant calls to mind a dining car on a train, but it still manages to feel spacious and comfortable. The name of the restaurant, “Namoo,” means “tree” in Korean. Sarah explained it’s symbolic significance in Korean culture: “Back in the day, Korean people used to gather around a big tree and share a meal with their neighbors.” In this way, the tree came to be associated with food and shelter, but also with relationships and good times, making it a perfect name for an establishment that seeks to provide all of the above.

A distinguishing feature of Korean cuisine is the manner in which it is typically served, called “bansang.” The meal consists of rice, soup, condiments and various small side dishes called “banchan.” At Namoo, the bansang menu items are listed as entrees which come with rice, miso soup, the spicy pepper sauce called gochujang, and a set of four banchan, like kimchi and pickled radish. All are house-made, piquant, and very tasty. Those familiar with Korean food will recognize mainstays like bulgogi (marinated grilled beef) and galbi (short ribs), these and the lesser known dishes are all listed with helpful descriptions.

“I believe Korean food is among the healthiest in the world,” says Sarah, “and there’s a great variety of dishes to enjoy.” Indeed, kimchi, like other naturally-fermented foods, is getting a lot of attention from health experts these days for it’s gut-health benefits. And the menu at Namoo does offer a wide variety of delectable dishes to sample, with appetizers running the gamut from silken tofu, pan-fried glass noodles, chicken wings in chili sauce, to scallion pancakes and sticky rice served with fish cake, and that’s just a few of the appetizers. For those new to Korean flavors Sarah recommends their dolpan bibimbap, a vegetable dish served in a steaming-hot stone bowl which gives the rice a delicious crispy texture. If you are familiar with - and enjoy - the spicy, pungent flavors of this cuisine, you’ll find plenty on the menu to entice you, but there are also some more mildly-flavored Japanese dishes like tempura, udon, and teriyaki. There’s a sushi selection as well.

On a recent Saturday, my son and I shared an order of stuffed dumplings called mandoo -we fought over the last one on the dish (well, not really, but we did devour them in short order). My entree from the bansang menu was a generous portion of grilled mackerel; he ordered the aforementioned hwe dup bap. We each tried one of the two Korean beers on offer, Hite and Kloud, and both provided a pleasant hoppy accompaniment to our flavorful meals.

Chuck and Sarah plan to add some new dishes soon. A few to look forward to are sam gae tang, a type of chicken soup, and gujeolpan, a feast of eight different foods arranged on a wooden plate and served with paper-thin wheat pancakes with which to wrap up the seasoned vegetables and meats. Keeping up with another fusion trend, the Lees are also planning to offer Korean-style barbecued beef taco.

Namoo is located at 12-14 Kent Green Blvd in Kent, Ct. Namoo is closed on Tuesdays and open for lunch and dinner every other day of the week.