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Honey Pig More of a Fizzle Than a Sizzle

New Korean barbecue restaurant lacks flavor, writer says.

opened this spring in Centreville, to the delight of many residents who normally travel to Annandale or Ellicot City for their fix. I’m not normally a big fan of Korean food in general, but I’d heard this place was a good way to learn the ropes so I went there wide-eyed and hopeful, and totally open-minded to what they had to offer.

To the uneducated Korean BBQ dabbler like myself, the atmosphere at Honey Pig was a pleasant surprise. Part Chipotle (with sheet metal walls and tables) and part Japanese Steakhouse (with individual gas hibachis and cooks for each table), this place seemed like it could be a good time.

We ordered steamed dumplings, pork ribs, chicken and fried rice, hoping these were safe bets: familiar enough to our uneducated palates but also a good backdrop for new flavors and tastes that we expected were in store. 

The steamed dumplings were stuffed with seasoned ground pork. The large portion was hot and good, and our server provided lots of dipping sauces, along with Kimchee, cole slaw, seaweed, jalapeno peppers and fresh garlic, marinated eggplant, and other traditional side dishes and seasonings. A crispy salad with onion and soy dressing was also served while our waitress began spreading out the pork and chicken on our own personal barbecue grill. The salad was just ok.

This would have been fun if the grill had been hot and the meat sizzled in front of us. Instead, the gas grill (which looked more like an inverted wok than a grill) was lukewarm and our meat sort of steamed instead of grilled. I’m not big on steamed meat, especially not pork, which can be chewy and gamey, but at that temperature that was all we could hope for. The chicken was also prepared by this grill-steamimg process. It was a little better, but I wasn’t crazy about the dark meat. The pork had slivers of bone in it, not the best quality.

Our waitress methodically cut the meat with scissors and turned it as it cooked, then added vegetables to the grill-steam show, which included lettuce. I’m not a big fan of limp steamed lettuce, but to be fair she also added cabbage and other vegetables, along with generous squirts of sauces from unmarked bottles she brought with her.

Eventually she moved some of the meat to a serving plate, added rice to the mixture, and we had a steaming pile of what looked like a great fried rice with vegetables and large chunks of pork and chicken. Our waitress left the grill on and left us up to our own devices. We guessed we could go ahead and eat, and we did.

Even though it looked amazing, there was an important ingredient missing: the flavor. I kept trying this and that, adding bits of pepper or garlic or soy from our condiment tray, but to no avail. This stuff was flavorless. I couldn’t understand with all the ingredients and spices that were added throughout the cooking process, how could there be no flavor? It was odd. Perhaps the fact that the meat didn’t have time to caramelize on the grill contributed to its lack of taste. I don’t know.

I couldn’t help but to think of that old wildly successful Wendy’s marketing campaign from back in the 80s where the old lady (remember Clara Peller?) would look at her burger and shout: “Where’s the beef?” I wanted to shout: “Where’s the flavor?”

Sorry, Honey Pig. Your name enticed me but that isn’t enough for a return visit. Good thing there’s a Dairy Queen a few doors down. We drowned our sorrows in Oreo Blizzards. Not a total loss after all.

Ned Foster August 09, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Did you wrap the meat, rice, and various condiments in a lettuce leaf and eat it like a taco? If you didn't, you didn't do it right. Maybe you needed a Korean to show you how to eat Korean food. Maybe you did have a Korean with you. Dunno. I haven't eaten there yet but have eaten at Soo Won Galbi many times, especially after a Korean showed me how to eat Korean food.

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