For Chef Esther Choi, her food is her life. Literally.
Choi, owner and chef at the Chelsea Market Korean ramen shop Mokbar opened a Brooklyn location of the restaurant last Wednesday. And she lives right upstairs.
“I wanted to babysit!” she said.
For a chef whose cooking is heavily inspired by her family and cultural heritage, it makes sense that her home and work life are so entwined.
At Mokbar Brooklyn, which is on Flatbush Avenue near Bergen Street, Choi wanted to show “how I eat at home and how I grew up eating. How my grandma cooked for me everyday.” To that end, the menu expands greatly on the Chelsea Market location with larger dishes and a focus on jipbap–“real, traditional Korean cooking,” she said.
A jipbap order consists of a main dish, usually a protein like short ribs or pork belly, accompanied by soup, rice and a variety of banchan–small, seasonal, vegetable dishes.
“We bring it out in a big tray,” said Choi, excitedly discussing the format of the meal, which she emphasized was created with non-Korean diners in mind. “On the tray we have soup, rice, mains and seasonal small plates that wrap it all together.”
The menu also includes appetizers including the extremely addictive sounding K-Pop Chicken. The chicken is breaded in dehydrated rice, Choi explained, before it’s fried and mixed with sweet potatoes and fried rice cakes. The whole dish is then sauced in a spicy, gochujang caramel.
Choi said she choose this particular part of Brooklyn because she likes to bring her food to neighborhoods where Korean cuisine is not yet familiar.
“I didn’t want to open a place in K-town that’s so not my goal,” she said. “We want to appeal to the non-Korean palate.”
The restaurant is currently open only for dinner, but brunch launches this weekend and lunch will soon follow. A liquor license is pending, but Choi is sure it’s coming and good thing: the soju program will feature a whole slew of locally-produced interpretations of the classic Korean spirit.