645 Manhattan Ave.
(betw. Bedford & Norman Aves.), Brooklyn
Nestled among the intimate Polish eateries, numerous bodegas and pizza joints of Greenpoint’s Manhattan Avenue, sits what was once a beacon of hope for those not willing to tromp into Williamsburg for decent Korean cuisine. But lurking behind the words LITTLE KOREA spelled out in big chunks of bamboo is a neighborhood restaurant that fails to make up with style what it lacks in authenticity.
Perhaps I should have been warned by the over-compensation evident in the decorations—particularly the gaudy bamboo used for the sign. And the bamboo that was also attached to the walls inside and glued to the front of the gigantic menus that the sweet, blond waitress gave us as we settled into our booth. They were a little difficult to handle, but we managed to pull ourselves together enough to admire the selection of large beers, available for about $5 a piece.
As budget-aware ladies (aka “broke”) we decided to focus on the positive, instead of on the lack of actual Korean alcohol, which seemed glaringly obvious. As we continued to scan the menu, however, we realized that the dishes weren’t exactly what we were expecting either, with few recognizable Korean specialties to choose from.
The vegetarian among us desperately scanned the pages looking for some sort of meatless Bi Bim Bop, or option aside from the enthralling “Little Korea salad” ($6), or the “seasoned mixed vegetables” ($9.50).
Unfortunately, when asking for suggestions, the waitress didn’t seem especially schooled in Korean cuisine, so we chose a few that sounded promising and waited for the assortment of banchan to show up. But sadly the cucumber/cabbage kimchi, sardines or other small dishes that usually accompany Korean meals never arrived, regardless of the stares we shot the sweet—but most-likely creeped-out—waitress.
The booth was cozy and round though, perfect for conversation, and the lighting was just dim enough to inspire romance in the couples around us.
Our meals arrived quickly, and the steaming glass noodles on my plate looked delicious, as did the beef short ribs with BBQ sauce ($10) cutely perched on top of them.
While I started digging in, my companion asked the waitress for a knife, and moments later I was awarded with a giant bowl of shiny mayonnaise. I don’t know who was more horrified: the waitress imagining globs of mayo being applied to the chicken dish, or my polite friend who feigned enthusiasm for the bowl of lard.
After the knife was finally secured, we could really focus our attention on the food in front of us. My friend’s Korean curry chicken with seasonal vegetables ($8) looked appealing, though it was a departure from usual Korean dishes. Upon tasting it we realized its lack of spice, though the vegetables did seem fresh and flavorful.
My other companion’s vegetarian dish was a little kickier, and the tofu was firm but juicy, which was a relief considering how difficult it had been for her to find a feasible veggie option to begin with. But again, it didn’t seem to be an impressive Korean dish as much as a well-composed vegetable medley.
My beef short ribs with BBQ sauce and glass noodles were along the same lines—good and edible—but not especially savory. The beef was tender and easy to peel off the bone, and the glass noodles made a delicious bed for them, but the BBQ sauce was a bit too sweet and threw the flavor off.
After finishing up our meals, we decided to skip dessert (though the raspberry and almond tart with vanilla ice cream for a mere $3.50 sounded tempting), and focus on our true love: the big $5 beers.
We agreed that though the waitress was sweet, the location convenient and the atmosphere nice (minus the excessive bamboo usage), Little Korea might best be enjoyed for its three-course, $9 lunch special (weekdays from noon-4 p.m.) and not depended upon for authentic or memorable Korean cuisine.
We’ll have to continue trekking to other parts of the city for that.