Korean barbecue has become quite popular in the states as go-to places to feast with friends. The atmosphere provides the “cook in front of you” experience on a smaller scale than Japanese teppanyaki, and it’s wonderful for social events as the restaurants are usually upbeat and open late.
For those that may be unfamiliar, Korean barbecue refers to a method of grilling beef, pork, chicken or seafood. Such dishes are often prepared at your table on gas or charcoal grills that are built into the center of the table.
Recently, I tried a local favorite – raved about on Yelp and many dining blogs – for Korean barbecue, Honey Pig in Duluth. At first look, the restaurant offers quite the eclectic vibe with figurines of pigs scattered around the entryway. In contrast, the dining area has a clean, modern feel with dark wood and cast-iron dome griddles on each table, which seems to fit with the young wait staff dressed in black T-shirt uniforms.
Once seated, you’re presented with a menu that’s in both English and Korean. But don’t get overwhelmed – this menu is very easy to read and understand. One thing to note: although the wait staff looks young, they’re very helpful if this is your first experience with Korean barbecue or you have no idea what to order. I suggest allowing your server to describe the different entrées on the menu and asking him or her to name their recommendations. An introduction to new dishes opens yourself up to many conversations between you and your friends over dinner. I found myself mesmerized by the entrées’ originality and flavor, and how the Korean culture varies so much from that of my own.
The menu consists of a list of pork, beef and seafood entrées ordered raw and cooked at your table – in this case by your server. We order the most popular Korean dishes (which happen to be Honey Pig signatures) the sam-gyup-sal (pork belly) and the boneless prime short rib – Kobe style. The pork belly (much like what you know of as American bacon) is cut into thick slices and cooked on the grill to the guest’s liking. The crisper the better is my motto! The boneless prime short ribs are chunks of beef generally known for their flavor, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture. A little pricier than your typical beef steak, but well worth it for its buttery taste.
Once the meat is cooked, there are various ways to eat it. You can either wrap it in a rice cake, daikon sheets or lettuce. Soybean paste, chili paste, jalapeños and green onions are provided as condiments. My favorite way to eat both meats is wrapped in a rice cake (watch out, they’re sticky!) with soybean paste and green onions. The chili paste is a great flavorful addition to the wrap if you enjoy a good spicy hot sauce. In addition, Honey Pig offers a salt and sesame oil sauce for your beef that’s supposed to bring out its natural flavors. It really does, and it’s a must try!
It’s not just a meat fest at Honey Pig. Kimchee and bean sprouts are served with all the entrées. You can eat them raw or cooked on the griddle. Kimchee cold soup or hot tofu soup can also complement the meal. Lastly, if you’re still hungry, the Honey Pig servers can make you fried rice with dried Nori seaweed and the remaining items on your grill. This is a great way to enjoy those last bits of grilled leftovers, but it’s just not for me. The seaweed addition offers a somewhat salty taste that I don’t prefer in my fried rice.
Overall I would definitely return to Honey Pig for another dinner and recommend it to family and friends. Its inviting atmosphere and friendly staff made for an enjoyable evening. Nevertheless, Korean barbecue can be pricier than your typical weekend fare, so save up and enjoy this meal as a nice night out every now and then.