Pete Wells: Head to Brooklyn for Authentic Korean Flavors at Insa


“Chefs trying to get American eaters to fall for another country’s cooking often toss essential flavors out the window,” wrote Pete Wells at the beginning of his review this week for Insa, a Korean restaurant in Brooklyn near the Gowanus Canal. “The restaurant crosses over, but the cuisine becomes roadkill.”

Insa is not like that. It’s “a rare crossover that limits most of its tweaks to externals,” and Wells enjoyed it very much.


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“Officially, Insa is a barbecue restaurant,” though while many of the barbecue dishes were enjoyable, there were other, better things on the menu. In particular, he enjoyed soondae, a Korean blood sausage. Insa’s version, unlike others, is pan-seared:

I dragged one dark, purplish slice across a line of salt laced with ground chile and perilla seeds. The seared skin crackled between my teeth: the sign of an animal-gut casing. Blood sausage can sometimes be dry, but Insa’s soondae spilled with tender crumbs that were almost juicy, moistened with braised pigs’ snouts and ground belly meat. The noodles gave it a little bounce but didn’t get in the way of the deep, galvanic taste of iron. It was wonderfully well made, and not quite like any soondae I’d tasted on 32nd Street or on the kimchi belt along Northern Boulevard in Queens.

Other favorite dishes included yuk hwe (beef tartare) and tteokbokki, “pudgy little fingers of rice stick blackly seared on the bottom for crunch. They are tossed with tender ovals of seafood sausage and smacked with chile paste.”

The bibimbap left something to be desired. Also, the tables were so large that it can be hard to hear your dinner partners. He did mention that the table’s size felt necessary once the food got to the table.

Also worth noting: the restaurant has a tiki bar that serves mai tais. They’re not the best Wells has ever had, though they’re not bad enough that he didn’t have four of them. There’s also a jungle room with karaoke, as well as a “deep-sea room, a space room and a psychedelic room,” though Wells “never made it past the jungle room.”

The verdict? Two stars.

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