BWW Preview: MOKBAR Opens in Brooklyn
Brooklyn's burgeoning restaurant row on Flatbush Avenue by the Barclays Center is adding Korean to its roster of cuisines. Esther Choi debuts the 60-seat mokbar Brooklyn, a 2,000 square foot larger, more ambitious and less ramen focused sibling to her highly praised Chelsea Market mokbar. The new restaurant serves authentic everyday Korean homestyle food, as opposed to the ubiquitous-in-New York City barbeque and large casseroles that are associated with special occasions in their native land. Indeed, mokbar Brooklyn introduces a citywide first by presenting traditional Korean soul food staple "jip bap" the way it is in Korea's contemporary restaurants as individual meals - instead of communally - with the de rigueur collection of "banchan". Each jip bap meal is comprised of a protein-centric dish accompanied by an array of smaller complementary vegetable dishes (the banchan) to affect a singularly Korean enticing balance of flavor, nutrition and color. "Jip" means "house" and "bap" literally means rice, but is also generally used to refer to "food" or a "meal."
As another manifestation of chef /owner Choi's personal and professional mission to expose New Yorkers to genuine Korean food, mokbar Brooklyn offers a substantial selection of "anju," small plates that are an integral component of the Korean drinking culture. They reference another difference between the new restaurant and its Manhattan predecessor - the presence of a full bar with a convivial seating and standing configuration for 20, either facing the cement and dark wood bar or overlooking Flatbush Avenue through a window wall, which can be opened to the street during warm weather months.
Highlights of the jip bab offerings - all a great value as a meal, including several seasonal vegetable dishes, mokbar famous house made kimchi, market greens, ssamjang sauce and rice, for just $22 to $24- are: Kalbi Jim, braised short rib, marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, spices and Asian pear; Samchi Jorim, saltEd Mackerel simmered in spicy soy sauce with daikon radish; and Kimchi Jaeyook, thinly sliced spicy pork and caramelized kimchi. While among the anju, the following are particularly noteworthy: Ho' Cake, crispy bun with heavenly pork belly filling served with kimchi hot sauce; Lentil Jeon, ground lentils (mung beans), smoked bacon, kimchi, bean sprouts, onion, scallion served with soy dipping sauce; and Tteokboki , a classic Korean street food of chewy rice cakes elevated with brown butter, minced pork and house made white kimchi.
Other sections of the menu address "mandu," a variety of handmade dumplings with garlic chive dipping sauce and of course - ramen, showcasing Choi's signature combinations of characteristic Korean soups with fresh, custom-made ramen noodles that can be further embellished with an array of intriguing toppings. Both mirror the original mokbar's menu. Of course, there is also a section devoted to seasonal kimchi's such as Napa, daikon and stewed bacon.
Physically, the new mokbar Brooklyn is distinguished by having two entrances, one on Flatbush Avenue leading into the bar and column of high backed booths opposite the open kitchen beyond; the other on Bergen Street, which opens into a communal tabled dining room. The Flatbush entrance is a study in glass framed in sleek dark metal, while the exterior of the Bergen one is graced by a whimsical comic book style mural of giant chopsticks and an equally large ramen bowl in the colors of the Korean flag, white, red, blue and black. It is by Korean illustrator June Kim, her first mural project.
Inside, contemporary Brooklyn urban rustic - distressed exposed brick walls, melody of gray tones, hand hewn wood beams, Edison light bulbs, reclaimed wood tables and booths, custom made galvanized steel cabinets - melds with authentic Korean elements. A collection of the clay pots in which kimchi is fermented decorates the shelves of the steel fixtures, while a room divider is planted with Korean herbs; one wall is adorned with a typical menu for a restaurant in Korean - a series of hand-painted wooden signs, resembling tiles, each citing one of chef /owner Choi's favorite dishes; and there is the astonishing array of pottery and metal service vessels in a vast selection of shapes and sizes, as well as two different sets of flatware and chopsticks, all imported from Korea.
mokbar Brooklyn is located at 212 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217 off the 2/3 Subway Bergen Street Exit. For information call (347) 987-3042 or visit www.mokbar.com. The restaurant will be open daily for dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of mokbar Brooklyn