Insa, a new Korean BBQ restaurant, bar and karaoke lounge from Chef Sohui Kim and her husband and designer Ben Schneider—the husband and wife team behind The Good Fork in Red Hook—will open to the public on December 15.
Located at 328 Douglass (between Third and Fourth Avenue) in Gowanus, Brooklyn, Insa is all about traditional Korean BBQ. Chef Kim’s menu is very authentic Korean BBQ, but with more variety and seasonality, and sourced from sustainable and humane purveyors. Marinated short ribs, beef brisket, and delicious pork belly among other meats will be offered for the table grills. Grill meats will be sourced from purveyors like Debragga, Dartagnan, Niman Ranch, and Nueske's, and almost all produce will be locally sourced. While Korean BBQ does make a star of the meat, Sohui Kim will focus as much or more upon the 12-15 banchan on the menu, the traditional Korean side dishes. These will include three types of kimchi, watercress namul, pickled beef and peppers, salted whiting, soybean sprouts with kombu, savory steamed eggs, and roasted and glazed kabocha squash. The mushrooms are sourced from Foraged and Found, who source across the country. The choice lettuce and produce will be from Insa's "favorite farmer” at Early Girl Farm, Patty Gentry, but in the offseason they will rely on Lancaster Farms Cooperative.
Insa's are classic banchans that are offered in homes throughout Korea. The taste will be the approach of "Son-Mat," the very personal expression of Korean home cooking, the "taste of the hand.” Chef Sohui Kim was born in Seoul, Korea, and moved to the Bronx when she was 10 years old. She quickly discovered the joys of Western cuisine, like pizza and doughnuts. After graduating from Barnard, she attended the Institute of Culinary Education and completed her education with an externship at Blue Hill under Dan Barber and Michael Anthony, and then went to work for Anita Lo at Annisa in the West Village. In March 2006 she and Ben Schneider opened The Good Fork in Red Hook, to express her unique hybrid Korea/Bronx/Manhattan style of cooking. For years, she and her husband and Good Fork team have talked about opening Insa, which they have dubbed “Korean Fun Time Place for Celebration.”
Chef de cuisine Michael Stokes was born on Long Island, of Korean American descent. His past involvements include Keen’s Chophouse, Prune, and the Barefoot Contessa. Stokes is also one of the authors of The Mile End Cookbook.
Sous chef (and partner) Yong Shin was born in Korea and raised in Dubai. He has worked with Franny’s and The Good Fork.
The 100-seat restaurant, designed by woodworker Schneider, who also designed The Good Fork, in collaboration with local architect Harry Simono, was inspired by traditional Korean design elements, with simplistic, clean lines, curved wood corners, skylights, and archways. Guests enter through a 100-year-old Southern Yellow Pine exterior that leads into a warmly lit hallway which becomes bigger and brighter as it nears the main dining room. Schneider even designed an elaborate traditional diorama of a bucolic scene in the Korean countryside. The custom grill tables hold two to 16 people, to allow for a wide variety of dining options, from the everyday neighborhood night out to large parties.
The 36-seat bar, with a separate entrance, evokes ornate speakeasies of one’s imagination with an overtly “oriental” or kitsch design, with a stripped birch tree that was brought from Vermont, propped at the back of the bar with a big fish tank, wood paneling on the ceiling, and a canopy of red flower lights. All elements were personally found objects, collected over the years by Schneider. The drink program, designed by general manager Jamie Seet, (formerly of The Spotted Pig, and the opening general manager of Tosca in San Francisco. The program will include Korean-Tiki cocktails (all are named for Korean folk tales, and feature Korean spices, teas, and milks), organic and biodynamic wines, a mix of widely available and craft beers alike, sake, and handcrafted Makkeoli and Soju from Van Brunt Still House, made specifically for Chef Kim for Insa. There will be a bar menu of small savory, sweet and fried bites that is separate from the main dining room menu, and this will be served in the karaoke rooms as well for late-night snacking. The karaoke rooms in the back of the restaurant are designed to be used after drinking or dining, and all will be themed: psychedelic, jungle, deep sea, and space. There are five karaoke rooms, four of the rooms hold 12 people each, and one “party room” holds 22 people.
Insa will have a strict no-tipping policy, instead instituting a 20 percent administration fee. Chef Kim and team were motivated by the disparity in wages between front and back of house, as well as the desire to keep their best cooks with them. Providing a decent living wage plus overtime, with merit based raises, paid vacation time and eventually affordable health insurance is all a part of The Good Fork and Insa ethic.