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Insa – a modern Korean BBQ restaurant in Brooklyn

entrance to the restaurant eating natto at Insa banchan at Insa mandoo at Insa tteokbokki at Insa grill in action at Insa grilled galbi at Insa grilling squid and octopus at Insa

Not infrequently, it occurs to me that my children are experiencing a far different childhood growing up in Brooklyn than I did, being raised in a small town in a rural state. One area this certainly holds true is with food and restaurants, and so far I’ve loved taking advantage of New York’s rich culinary scene to introduce them to a wide variety of cuisines at an early age. I can’t say that every restaurant outing has been a success, but we keep trying, and one place we’ve had great luck is at Insa, a Korean BBQ restaurant in Brooklyn.

Located on a semi-industrial street just off 4th Avenue in the Gowanus neighborhood, Insa is the second restaurant from husband-and-wife team Sohui Kim and Ben Schneider, who also own a restaurant called The Good Fork in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The cavernous, wood-lined dining room is filled with picnic-style tables inlaid with round grills, and every time we’ve visited, the benches are lined with families enjoying meals together. Everything on the menu is served family-style and designed for sharing, and kids absolutely love watching the servers grill parts of their meal right on the table in front of them – dinner theater at its best! The servers at Insa are patient with children and well-practiced in accommodating them, bringing high chairs and plastic cups before they’re even requested. Eating with a large group is a bonus here – you’ll be able to try a greater variety of dishes!

We visited for lunch on a recent weekend just after they opened, taking advantage of the relatively quiet restaurant to enjoy a unhurried meal. First came the banchan, the assortment of small dishes served ahead of the main course. As on past visits, my daughter loved the natto (fermented soybeans), the egg-rich potato salad, and the pickled daikon radish. The kimchi and other dishes spiked liberally with gochugaru (chili flakes) were a little spicy for her, but provided good opportunities to try something new (or keep trying it) – such an important part of becoming a good eater. Next were the appetizer-type dishes – the gogi manu (dumplings), the tteokbokki (stir-friend rice cakes), and the crispy pieces of Korean fried chicken. The BBQ dishes made a fitting finale, and both my children sat utterly transfixed as the servers carefully grilled pieces of beef, pork, squid, and octopus, the smoke curling up from the grill a bit before being drawn back down under the table. At exactly the right moment, waiting tongs whisked the finished pieces of meat, mushrooms, and onion off the grill, and sharp shears snipped them into pieces over waiting plates. We all munched away happily, bellies soon full and ready to head home for naps.

A few additional details:

  • The restaurant serves walk-ins, with reservations only taken for parties of 6-16 people.
  • The bar area of the restaurant serves the full menu with the exception of the BBQ dishes.
  • A 20% administrative fee is added to all bills, helping to ensure the restaurant staff enjoy steady living wages and benefits. Gratuity is not expected on top of this.
  • Karaoke rooms are available for rent at the rear of the restaurant. We haven’t tried them yet, but the hanging disco balls and boldly-painted walls were definitely pretty intriguing for my kids. We even saw caught glimpses of a child’s birthday party in progress!
  • The closest subway line stop is the R train at Union Street, but the Atlantic Avenue/Barclay’s Center Station (2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N Q and R trains) and Atlantic Terminal (Long Island Rail Road) are a short walk away.

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