I was wandering down Taaffe the other day, a somewhat hidden street in northwestern Bed-Stuy that I rarely walk down, and came upon a huge, two floor cafe and restaurant called 232 on the corner of Taaffe and Dekalb. The sleek, new spot offers sandwiches, pastries, coffees and teas upstairs, and a full menu of authentic Korean food and drink downstairs.
232 opened up a little over three months ago, in time for Pratt’s school year to start up, where the large majority of international students are Korean. Managed and staffed almost entirely by first or second generation Koreans, the restaurant was originally opened to be a closer option for Pratt students and local residents to enjoy some real Korean food, rather than having to trek all the way to Koreatown in Manhattan.
The restaurant and cafe are spacious and refined, with simple decor such as hanging curtains of shells and driftwood that contrast a more modern style bar and ongoing projected video of Korean music videos. The low light and sleek design make for a perfect date spot, and a great place to experiment with unusual, but delicious dishes.
Every meal at 232 comes with an arrangement of sides, which change daily, with the exception of the Korean staple, kim chi. The kim chi at 232 is crunchy, spicy and acidic, without being overly sour. A great way to clean your palate.
I also had fried sweet potatoes, cut into small chunks with a sweet, firm center, and a thick sweet coating, almost like a candied apple. The other sides were broccolli and sprouts with a mild sesame flavor, both refreshing and nutty.
232 offers a little bit of everything Korean. I started with the the garlic and beef bibim bap, a rice dish that is served in a hot stone pot, that sizzles and cooks your meal as you eat it. The dish has sticky white rice, carrots, onions, peppers, spinach, huge slices of barely cooked garlic, and thick strings of beef. On top of all of this is a cooked egg yolk and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. As you add the thick red pepper sauce and mix everything together, the yolk breaks and spills into the dish. Perfect for a cold night, this meal actually heats up as you eat it, and each bite is garlicy, spicy, and full of flavor.
To cool down the dish, I tried some Soju, a popular Korean liquor that is a bit more alcoholic than wine. The drink–made from sweet potato–tastes similary to a smooth, high quality vodka, but with less of a burn. It has a particularly strong flavor, considering it’s alcohol content, but works well with the spices of the Korean food.
Next came the Korean barbecue, which I highly recommend. Korean barbecue is something that everyone should try at least once in their life, and 232 is a great place to do it. I had the Yang Nyum Galbi, a beef barbecue. Nothing like the American version of barbecue, the beef is cut into thick, tender chunks, and marinated in a sweet sauce. Served on a heated iron plate, each piece is heavenly, with a mild crispy flavor, sweet, and a distinct sesame taste. The meat is heavy and there is a lot of it, but the subtle mix of flavors keep each taste different from the last. The dish comes with a thick, nutty, spicy paste, not at all necessary but definitely worth trying.
The sauteed squid and vegetables, called Ojing-uh Bokum and also served on a hot iron plate, is a spicy, delicious way to eat seafood, and if you are a fan of squid, this is a wonderful seafood dish. The squid is chopped into thick, long pieces and each bite is crunchy and firm, not at all chewy. The spicy sauce and soft sauteed vegetables compliment the flavor of the squid without overpowering it.
232 is a culinary experience. Try something you’ve never heard of and you won’t be disappointed. I know I will be back there soon, to try something entirely different, although I might need to get that Korean barbecue again as soon as possible, it was just so good. In any case, I can't think of a better way to counteract the cold of winter than entrees served on hot, sizzling plates.