Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Honey Pig (Gooldaegee) Korean Grill

In the course of my recent trip to Mongolia, I spent a total of 34 hours aboard Korean Air. The airline offers a choice of Korean or Western meals, and at each dining service (there were six of them), I chose the Korean option. I was delighted by the airline's commitment to serving each meal with the traditional side dishes (panchan): little plates of kimchi, other pickled vegetables, or julienned raw vegetables like carrot sticks, cucumber, and crunchy green peppers.

Even thousands of miles up in the air, the signature Korean dish, bibimbap -- which means "mixed meal" --  was arranged to preserve the convention of mixing the various components together at the last minute. Rice, vegetables, chili paste and sesame oil were all served in separate dishes, packets or tubes, and for the uninitiated, a laminated sheet of instructions explaining "How to mix bibimbap" was provided. I really enjoyed these varied and healthful meals, which kept me feeling light and not over-stuffed on this series of longhaul flights.

When I finally arrived back in DC, numb with fatigue, I slept on and off for the better part of 24 hours. And I emerged from this haze wanting...Korean food! Where to get it, though? I definitely was not ready to return to the staidness of the DC restaurant scene. No, what was called for was a certain Korean restaurant in Annandale, VA, which Tom Sietsema had once written about: Honey Pig (Gooldaegee). It's not often that I agree with Mr. Sietsema's recommendations, so it was a bit unusual that I had filed this review away in the back of my mind. His evocative descriptions of the aroma of grill smoke, garlic and chilis in a setting of corrugated-metal walls had prompted a mental note that one day I wanted to go there. That day had arrived!

The Honey Pig did not disappoint. In some ways, it was even better than expected: when we arrived at around 8pm on a Monday evening, we were seated within 10 minutes, the decibel level was the right level of lively, and cigarette smoking had been banned since one reviewer wrote in 2008. Shortly after we ordered, an array of panchan was delivered, and our personal lady grill master arrived. The galbi (short ribs) we ordered was a very large cut of meat -- enough for two people -- and delicious. That was a good thing, as the thin-cut pork bellies (our other choice) shrivelled into ribbons of fat once they were grilled and were left untouched.  But what could be better than wrapping marinated galbi, grilled garlic and jalapenos in lettuce leaves, and biting into this fabulous combination chased by a swig of Korean beer?

The food hit the spot, but the real reason to go is the vibe: the corrugated-metal, exposed pipes and concrete floor create the illusion of urban edginess from the comfort of suburbia, which on this particular occasion, was exactly what I wanted.

To die for: the vibe

Photo credits: Chris Svoboda

Honey Pig (Gooldaegee) on Urbanspoon


Fairlington Blade said...

I ran across your blog when hunting for info about Korean food in Annandale. [NB: I have been to Honey Pig and enjoyed it.] I am surprised regarding the comment that it's not often you agree with Sietsema. [NB: I enjoy his column and he's steered me to many good restaurants.] I'm curious as to what were the disappointments he's recommended or the favorites he's dismissed.


Antoinette Ego said...

Hmmm, let’s see. Corduroy and Central are disappointments that come to mind. More generally, I find that Sietsema has a lot more tolerance than I do for formal restaurants whose food is perhaps better in concept than on the palate. Todd Kliman recently made a comment that food at highly regarded restaurants can be technically sound and beautifully presented, but all the work that has gone into it the dishes turn out to be dull. “As if, for all the processing they’ve been put through, the flavors have been leached out.” He was talking about Plume, but I find that that insight holds more generally as well.

Antoinette Ego said...

ps: just to clarify, I have never been to Plume, I am saying only that I agree with Kliman's comment more generally.