The moment I saw the menu where there was marinated galbi (short ribs) but not the non-marinated one, I immediately knew there was something wrong with Insa. Typically, galbi is marinated when the kitchen lacks confidence in the quality of the meat. Yes, marinated one tastes sweeter but really the right way to eat galbi is in its non-marinated form without seasoning to give maximal effect to the meat’s texture. After a rather underwhelming dinner at a “modern Korean” restaurant Atoboy the other night, my girlfriend and I (both from Korean background) wanted to make it up by having a more traditional Korean experience focusing on grilled meat. It’s pretty rare to see a Korean restaurant in Brooklyn compared to Manhattan (centered around Korea Town in midtown) or Queens (in the Flushing neighborhood), and I was certainly intrigued to visit Insa located in the quiet neighborhood of Gowanus, especially after a favorable review in NYTimes’ restaurant critic Pete Wells. After the meal, I had to keep wondering whether Mr. Wells was probably too drunk from all the sojus and wild night at the karaoke that’s inside the restaurant. I really hate to slam a Korean restaurant, but Insa was by far one of the worst dining experiences ever since I came to New York City five years ago. My girlfriend and I are not picky eaters at all, but we were both eager to walk out of the restaurant as soon as the bill came.
Insa is billed as a Korean BBQ restaurant showcasing the traditional Korean barbecue and other dishes. Knowing that the restaurant was from a married couple one of whom is from Korea, I was hoping that the kitchen can deliver that satisfying authentic Korean experience. Not only did the kitchen fail to do that, but the food was just plain bad. The beef tartare dish (“yuk hwe”) is supposed to have layers of chewy texture, but the one from Insa was just a pile of amorphous diced meat with no textural effect at all. There wasn’t enough pear to add that refreshing kick to the dish, and the egg yolk further dulled the texture rather than enhancing it. My girlfriend and I looked at each other immediately as if we had seen a ghost after the first scoop. The textural disaster also took over blood sausage (“soondae”). Again, instead of layers of chewy texture that we were expecting, it turned out to be so mushy that I had to try a couple more pieces just to make sure that I was eating what they claim it is. I was absolutely incredulous that Mr. Wells in NYTimes praised this dish with enthusiasm in his review. After the initial shock from finding out there wasn’t a non-marinated galbi, we relented and ordered the marinated one, and the texture of galbi was uneven to say the least (the very next day, as a sign of my apology to my girlfriend for a terrible dinner, I took her to an above-average Korean BBQ place in Korea Town where we indulged on juicy, tender galbi in its non-marinated form). The only marginally decent dish to me was the bibimbap rice dish in a stone bowl accompanied by bulgogi, gochujang sauce and fried egg (even though my girlfriend didn’t approve this dish either), but there arises another major issue at Insa. In Korean traditional experience, a rice dish comes after all the appetizers and barbecue dishes, and the server brought out the bibimbap at the very beginning, even before all the meat dishes! When I stepped into Insa, I didn’t see a single Korean server, and it clearly shows that the service staff at this purportedly Korean restaurant doesn’t have a clue on how Korean food should be eaten. And for that, the restaurant charges 20% automatic service charges (instead of traditional tips that can be given by diners at their discretion)? Give me a break! I was really offended when the bill came out with the service charges.
The restaurant was moderately packed in the course of our dinner with mostly local Brooklynites. Another bad miscue from the restaurant is that they only serve natural wines which are not best eaten with the grilled Korean barbecue dishes; you need more traditional, deep-flavored red to complement the meat. Enough said about the lack of common sense from the service staff as noted above. It was really had to find any redeeming qualities from our disastrous dinner at Insa. Two major lessons learned: (1) Mr. Wells doesn’t know what Korean food is supposed to taste like and (2) always be wary of a Korean restaurant in a neighborhood that doesn’t cater to Korean customers. I’ve put a lot of time thinking about how to write this review. I don’t meant to sound mean or hurtful when talking about sub-par dining experience, but I hope that other discerning diners who appreciate the taste of my mother country stay away from this place, until at least they decide to fix their issues (which seems like a pretty tall order to me given the totality of disaster everywhere).
- Creativity: 5.0/10
- Execution: 1.5/10
- Ingredients: 2.5/10
- Flavor: 3.0/10
- Texture: 0.5/10
Address: 328 Douglass Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Telephone: (718) 855-2620