Monday, January 10, 2011

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 22

At last month's very exclusive Foodie Girls' holiday potluck and gift exchange, there were several things that went over big with the crowd:

FG16's Butternut Squash Soup
FG3's Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus
FG17's Corn Souffle
FG14's Tamales
FG9's Decadent Macaroons
FG10's Salted Caramel and Chocolate Potato Chips

But, as good as all of those things were, the biggest hit, BY FAR, was this little piggy.

Not only is he cute, he does this:

What a party animal.

Episode 22 - This little piggy says "yum!"

In a fortunate confluence of beginning-of-the-year culinary virtuosity and pig lighter avarice, these little piggies call Honey Pig home.  A high-end BBQ restaurant in the heart of Koreatown, Honey Pig has   nothing battered or fried, and absolutely no cream, eggs, chocolate or sugar.  Just prime cut meats, lots of vegetables, and loads of exotic flavors.  Perfect for people coming off of the seasonal excesses of late December.*

The place is all clean lines and dark wood, nearly empty at lunch but likely packed at dinner time.   A plump and clearly happy white pig greets you on the sign outside, on the rug walking in, and on the menu.  That menu is mostly in Korean, with tiny English notes beneath each entry.   The notes are accurate, but not super helpful.  For example, did we want the "beef prime", the "beef rib prime" or the "thin beef"?  The "pork belly" the "black pork belly" or the "special pork belly"?    It was hard to concentrate on making sense of the choices because of the delicious smells and sizzling sounds coming from the tables around us.  

Each table has a large round piece in the middle, essentially like a wok turned upside down. As we sat there sniffing hungrily and puzzling through the options, our waitress appeared and flipped a switch to start the BBQ heating up.   She came loaded down with a bowl full of bright green scallions, beautifully cut into delicate shreds, dressed with rice vinegar and a dash of chilis, a huge pile of marinated bean sprouts, and another bowl overflowing with napa cabbage kimchee, the fermented vegetable side dish that is a Korean specialty.    She passed out trays, each with two dipping sauces, one sweet and pungent, and the other as spicy as its flaming red color would lead you to believe.   There was a tumbler of cool water, too.  Rice paper wrappers, lettuce leaves, and small shallow bowls of garlic-infused salted oil also appeared.   And we had yet to utter a word to her.

As the only veteran visitor, I did manage to stop the group from devouring the condiments immediately as I recalled that we'd be needing them later.   However, my experience was limited to that one tip, since I hadn't been the one to order on my first outing to Honey Pig.  After being advised that we would definitely be wanting the "beef rib prime" instead of the "beef prime" (not sure why) and the "special pork belly" rather than the "pork belly" (because the special comes without skin), we sat back and started to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells coming from our very own table.

Our waitress ringed the lower part of the BBQ with alternating piles of the bean sprouts and the kimchee.    Over the course of the meal, these expertly pickled veggies (what was left of them) became crisp and caramelized treats that FG9 was picking off with gusto at the end, like dessert**.    Then the waitress arrived with our first protein...the thin beef.    The rolls of paper thin meat arranged in a circle on her tray looked almost like candy, with each tube of bright red accented by the strip of clean white fat on the end.  She placed them in the center of the BBQ, stirred up the veggies, and seemed mildly amused by our dumbstruck faces.  

As the beef quickly cooked, she demonstrated how to create a little package with the rice wrapper, the sauces, some cooked sprouts and kimchee, the sizzling meat, dipped into the salted oil, and a hearty topping of those refreshing scallions.   Folded up, it became this incredible melding of hot and cold, crispness and softness, oil and vinegar, earthy fermentation, meaty juices and bright, fresh acidity, all in one bite.   Every flavor your mouth could want, right at your fingertips.  Oh, yeah.  We like this place.  A lot.

The parade of proteins continued.  The beef rib prime turned out to be deeply marbled boneless short ribs, and they were very good, adding an element of rich meaty texture to the flavors we had so enjoyed with the thin beef.   The special pork bellies, skinless as advertised, were too fatty for some, but I found that if they were left on the BBQ long enough for the fat to render and get nice and crisp, these, too, made me very happy all wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with the condiment bonanza.   Overall, the quality of the pork was excellent, just like the two cuts of beef we tried.

Next came four of the largest shrimp I have ever seen in my life.    When the note said "big shrimp", it wasn't kidding.  They were beautifully butterflied and had been smeared with garlic on the way to the table.  They hit the sizzling center just as the last pieces of pork were on their way off.  More than enough for all five of us to have several satisfying bites each as the waitress materialized yet again, bearing sliced squash and tofu***.  After tossing those on to cook, she looked at me.



The rice is my favorite part.   If you recall, our little upside down wok had played host to the sprouts and the kimchee, the squash and the tofu.  There was an onion in there, and the garlic shrimp and the pork and the beef.  There were crispy bits all over the place, a few slowly caramelizing veggies still sizzling, and a stray piece or two of beef and shrimp that had survived the furious reach of our chopsticks.   To all this goodness, they add a bowl full of seasoned rice, lettuce, seaweed and other fresh greens.  We stir and scrape and stir again.  The smell is maddeningly good.  The rice is browning and the greens are just wilting.   Steam rises.   We scrape and stir and scrape again.  It's perfect.  We load up our little plates with this fried rice of the gods and pronounce ourselves very, very happy.  Perhaps even more happy than that little white pig.

We look longingly at the now nearly empty, completely blackened upside down wok and realize the lunch has come to an end****.

After waiting a bit longer for the check than we would have expected, we split the bill and looked, rather pointedly, I thought, around for the complementary pig lighters.

Alas, those little piggies were gone*****.

FG Final Verdict?  Honey Pig is ON the list!
Pricing Information:  Meats (which come with all the sides, soup and rice), $16 (regular pork belly) to $26 (beef prime).   We ordered four proteins for five of us, which was more than enough food for lunch.  Price per person, with tip, was $25.
FG Value Rating:  Fair Deal

* OK, maybe it was just me that went crazy on the cookies.  But I doubt it.
** Turns out she's given up sugar and flour until March, so it wasn't surprising to see her doing that.  And, clearly, it wasn't just me going to town in December.
*** These must come with the meal, as I did not see any notes saying "squash and tofu" on the menu.
**** A robust miso and cabbage soup was served somewhere in between the shrimp and the rice, too, to wash everything down.   But we didn't BBQ it, so I put it here in the footnotes.
***** Sources say more are on order, so perhaps next time we will be able to bring one of those little piggies on home.


  1. WOW! Looks like you girls hit the mother lode. My mouth is watering. I am so sorry to have missed it. I think this one has to be a repeat.