This month in ‘My Brooklyn’ we’ll be hearing from long-time Red Hook resident, celebrated chef and author, Sohui Kim.
If you’ve ever eaten at either of Sohui’s restaurants, you’ll understand why I’m a fan of her food. It also helps that she’s just a fantastic human being.
Sohui first found success with The Good Fork, serving American classics with a Korean twist. Designed and built by her husband and partner, Ben Schneider, the Good Fork has maintained its place as one of Brooklyn’s best-loved restaurants, since opening in Red Hook in 2006.
Last year, Sohui and Ben expanded their culinary reach, setting their sights on Gowanus and opening Insa, to much critical acclaim. A Korean barbecue restaurant with a liberal side helping of karaoke (the restaurant houses five separate karaoke rooms, each with its own decorative theme), Insa has become a hot destination for discerning foodies. Schneider’s beautiful communal food hall design lends itself to large groups in particular and Sohui’s small plates of delicious offerings are made to share.
Yes the food. OH THE FOOD! Lordy, it’s good. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. The New York Times agrees, as do the hoards of customers who flock there every night.
Not quite busy enough with both restaurants, Sohui also managed to find time to publish The Good Fork Cookbook, late last year. The Wall Street Journal’s glowing review remarked that the book provided ‘a reminder of what made Brooklyn hype-worthy’. High praise indeed.
I met Sohui at Insa (because, you know, then I’d have another excuse to eat there) to find out about her favorite spots, sights and hang outs in Brooklyn. Here she shares her Top Five. Alright, six. I let her sneak an extra one in at the end….
I think the first place that pops into my mind is Valentino Pier, because it’s so close to my house – it’s literally a two block walk to the pier. It’s one of the most amazing views, not just of the harbor, but across the way you have the statue of liberty facing straight at you. You can watch people fishing at the end of the pier, plus there’s a little beach area where you can go rafting, canoeing…any of those water sports. If you want to participate, there’s a great local organization that has free kayaking every spring and summer, which brings families out.
There are lots of good neighborhood activities there too: Red Hook Flicks for instance, which is a totally home-grown organization staffed by people who live in and care about Red Hook. It’s just the most amazing community gathering. The Good Fork has been sponsoring it since it began 8 years ago, and every Tuesday during their summer season they show a classic movie. My kids saw E.T. there for the first time, they’ve shown Raiders of the Lost Arc, Goodfellas and when Prince died they screened Purple Rain.
Plus, I got married there! Right in the park area. Back then, in 2004 they were working on it, so there were fences up and it didn’t look so pretty, but they planted 3 tiny trees which made a sort of triangle. We got married right in front of them. The trees are bigger now, of course, and our kids know that that’s a special spot for us – it’s just a really magical, spiritual place for me.
Red Hook Soccer Fields
I also love the soccer fields at Red Hook – you can tell I don’t get out much (laughs). When Ben and I moved to Red Hook in 2002, pre-children, pre-businesses, there were all these cool South American and Mexican food trucks which would line up around the soccer field. There were some serious soccer leagues playing there, a lot of them Spanish speaking, and these trucks were like their little secret until the rest of us found out. So much so that in 2006 or 2007 somebody reviewed it for the New York Times and then the whole world found out and it started changing. A lot of these guys got some great publicity out of that and decided to branch out and go elsewhere with their businesses, so a lot of good trucks left. But they weren’t all just food trucks, there were women with their little carts and stands too, so it felt very homegrown, very organic and natural, very undiscovered, very much like how I feel about Valentino Pier and Red Hook in General. We still go there in the summertime at the weekends. I take the kids swimming at the public pool – we call it the ‘Red Hook Country Club’, then afterwards we get a taco and it’s really cool.
244 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Our favorite family restaurant is a place in Park Slope called Taro Sushi. We know the chef there and before he moved his spot to where it is now on Flatbush and 6th, he had a tiny place on Dean Street off of 5th Avenue. We discovered him, again, pre-kids, although we definitely had The Good Fork when he opened there. He just makes amazing sushi with really good quality fish and it just really stood out for me because I felt like every other sushi place in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens at the time was serving big slabs of fish on perfectly cooked rice, just so generic and so not good. I felt he added the real ‘sushi love’ into his shop and I recognized that. It’s still on my list of places to go now as my children love it. It’s just a great family restaurant, good quality, good vibe, with solid food.
Biking to Dumbo
We always love to cycle the bike path from Red Hook along to Brooklyn Bridge Park. From there we ride past that and go on to Dumbo. We like to have ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, go to the carousel and eat at either of our favorite restaurants there: Gran Electrica for Mexican or Juliana’s, which is a great place for pizza.
Juliana’s is the original Grimaldi’s. They sold their name and the new owners took the Grimaldi name and opened the restaurant on the corner, where there’s always that big line. Most people don’t know that Juliana’s is the original and there’s never a long line either, which is great. And again, there’s just that wonderful vista of the river and the Manhattan skyline.
This past Saturday was Lunar New Year, which a lot of Asian families celebrate. We had already scheduled a Korean family celebration at my sister’s house on the Sunday but on the Saturday we had the day off. It was a family day (which is rare and amazing), so I said to Ben “We should do something! We should go to Chinatown” and we both looked at each other like “Are you crazy? It’s going to be mobbed in the city” so we thought, “OK, what about Brooklyn Chinatown?”
Brooklyn Chinatown is again, a place that Ben and I have history: pre-kids, pre-restaurant, we used to go down there before it was really sort of ‘discovered’. I feel like a lot of Chinese people who lived in Chinatown got priced out and forced to relocate to make another community in Sunset Park. That was just developing then and in the early to mid 2000’s a large community of Fukienese Chinese people moved there, so it just kept getting bigger and bigger. I remember in the old days when it was just confined to maybe 10 blocks. Now it’s so big.
We used to go there and do what I’d call ‘extreme dining’ – go to a tiny little Chinese restaurant where we could see no non-Chinese in there. We’d look at what the Chinese people were eating and we’d point and say “We want that!”. It was really fun for us to discover the food there in that way. As a professional chef I also go there to poke around in the amazing supermarkets they have there with food from every part of China you could imagine.
It’s remained a fun destination place for us to go for an afternoon. So for Lunar New Year we went to our favorite dim sum place, which is Bamboo Garden. It was really festive with all the drummers and people in dragon costumes and the lion costumes who came into the restaurant. I didn’t even mind waiting 50 minutes for a table, and we never do that, but at a certain point I was like “I’m committed! We’re getting a table!”, plus I’d figured out the Maitre D’s system, where if you were not there straight away when your table was called, it was OVER. Anyway, we got our table, squeezed in with another two couples, and had our dumplings, which were SO good – plus the kids tried it (which was a win). So, we can officially say that we were in Brooklyn Chinatown to usher in Chinese New Year!
We love Coney Island for obvious reasons: like the Cyclone. You’ve got to go there when the season begins and the Cyclone opens – it’s like a right of passage to usher in the summer. Since we’ve had kids it’s all about Deno’s Park with all the little rides. Lunar Park too. It makes the kids so happy! Ben also likes to dip in the ocean, as do the children – they’re not germaphobes like me (laughs). We love it there. It’s a classic Brooklyn institution and we love to take part in that several times each summer.
You know what? Because I’ve lived in New York and Brooklyn for such a long time now I feel like I can be like one of those curmudgeonly old ladies that’s always bitching about it, but these special times and family weekends in Brooklyn just wipe that feeling away. Thank you for asking me to talk about these places. It reminds me how very lucky I am to live here.
To be entered into a free draw to win a signed copy of Sohui’s cookbook, The Good Fork, just subscribe to Brooklyn Home before 1st April 2017. Winner will be notified by April 10th 2017.
Photo credits: Craig La Court, Lindsay Owen, Jeremy Lee, Ana Marie Dalman, Jonah Trout.