When River Barrel opened in Greenpoint in January 2009, it served that familiar brand of New American/gastropubby food: burgers, trout, duck spring rolls, truffle mac and cheese. Et cetera. But when the chef quit, the owner, Lisa Kim, reportedly started adding her own Korean home cooking to the menu. When she hired chef Jonathan Meyer, he suggested jettisoning the New American stuff altogether and turning River Barrel into a Korean restaurant. So this spring, River Barrel became Mrs. Kim’s, with a menu that offers both traditional and nontraditional small and large plates, including pa jun (savory pancake), bi bimbap, the kim dog (homemade sausage with kimchi and gochujang), Korean fried chicken, and hangover stew, otherwise known as sundubu jjigae.
This is a neighborhood restaurant with a particular point of view — don’t expect ultra-orthodox, Flushing-style Korean. For one thing, you have to order and pay for the banchan — that array of small dishes including kimchi that is usually free — and there’s a burger on the menu. (God forbid a restaurant not have a burger on the menu!) The service is pretty slow, although it’s not the server’s fault, as there’s only one of her for the whole restaurant.
But there’s plenty to like at Mrs. Kim’s. For one thing, the rice cakes in spicy sauce ($9, shown above, otherwise known as dukbokki) are wonderful — pleasingly chewy and sprinkled with sesame seeds and the welcome addition of sugar snap peas.
And although you’ve got to pay for the banchan ($6), you’ll be glad you did. The pickled and cured vegetables are made in-house. The garlicky, chile-heavy sesame leaf (bottom left) is particularly good, as is the spicy celery (bottom middle).
You can find steamed pork buns ($9) almost everywhere now, but Mrs. Kim’s are distinguished by a slick of very tart — almost pickled — herb sauce that balances the fatty pork deliciously.
160 Franklin Street, Brooklyn