Mrs. Kim's Watermelon Salad

Despite North Brooklyn’s deserved reputation as home to some of the best restaurants in New York, from Michelin-starred Dressler and Peter Lugar’s to hip neighborhood mainstays like St. Anselm, Five Leaves, and Zenkichi,  for every good restaurant here there are 10 bad or at least sorely overrated ones. (Some of the blame for the latter distinction goes to Yelp, a textbook example of why crowd-sourced ratings sometimes mean squat.) There is, indeed, certainly no shortage of dining options in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, but strength is not always found in numbers, particularly when it comes to Asian food and, specifically, Korean.

There are two places I go for quality Korean, each for different purposes. Miyako, located at 143 Berry Street on the corner of N. 6th Street, is that somewhat rare pan-Asian restaurant that actually gets both sides of the coin right. Most come for the fresh, tasty, if not particularly special sushi, but the small selection of Korean dishes tucked away on the back pages of the menu are the standouts, particularly the dol sut bimimbap ($10.95).

The other is Mrs. Kim’s, a trying-to-be-hipster cafe found in the heart of Greenpoint’s trendy Franklin Street, a few blocks down from the best craft beer tasting room around. Featuring some of the reliably worst service in the neighborhood and a menu pocked with taste bombs and boobie traps, a visit to Mrs. Kim’s is not without risk, but three praiseworthy dishes are the saving graces that make the insufferable service and miss-and-miss mains worth braving.

The key is sticking to the “small dishes,” as every main course my wife and I have tried was bland or in some other way completely bungled.  Not so, surprisingly, with the light, refreshing watermelon salad ($7), best enjoyed at one of the restaurant’s sidewalk tables on a hot summer day, but a treat anytime of the year. Topped with a handful of cilantro and made with chunks of seedless watermelon tossed with bits of feta, cashews crusted with szechuan spices, a light black vinegar, and splash of lime juice, the salad’s ingredients play together in perfect harmony, with the acidity of the fruits and vinegar deliciously meshing with the variance of textures and flavors from the cashews, cheese, and watermelon.

Spicy Rice Cakes at Mrs. Kim's

Mrs. Kim’s spicy rice cakes ($9), a take on the popular Korean street food ddukbokkie, are done just as well; in fact, I’ve yet to find any version of ddukbokkie that tops this one, including in South Korea. Whereas most of the rice cakes I was served in Seoul tended to be very heavy on sauce — and that’s fine, I like ‘em like that too — the dense, sticky tubes at Mrs. Kim’s are carefully caked with the spicy stuff, not swimming in it. A generous sprinkle of black and white sesame seeds, along with thin shavings of fresh scallions, are perfect garnishes, and the sauce is tangy with plenty of kick, but it’s the contrasting textures of the crisped outside and chewy inside of the rice cakes themselves that really put this plate over the top. The decision to crisp the cakes may be a small touch, but it’s also a brilliant touch, one that in other versions I’ve tasted  is either not done at all, or not done nearly as well as it is at Mrs. Kim’s.

A third and final saving grace, steamed pork buns ($9),  is one that as a pescetarian I can’t personally vouch for, though I have it on very trusted authority that they’re fantastic. My wife, something of a pork connoisseur, said “the rich decadence of the roasted pork belly, the bright, tangy sauce, and the light rice-flour buns all complement each other perfectly. Man, those are disgusting.” There you have it.

Are three stellar small dishes, served by a staff you might feel like punching by the time your meal is finished, worth stopping for? Absolutely. You’re on your own, however, if you delve much deeper into the otherwise forgettable menu. You’ve been warned.

Mrs. Kim’s is located at 160 Franklin Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 718-389-8881.

More of the writer’s features for the Perceptive Travel Blog can be found here.