Sunday, May 10, 2009
Honey, I Shrank the Pig
I've written far too many downers lately so figured I'd give it a jolt with this pleasant surprise of an experience I had at Honey Pig in Koreatown. It may not be the best time to tout pork but it's totally safe when fully cooked so here goes my plug for pork. I had my initial doubts about the kudos this place that allegedly specialized in pork belly got. I recalled the dingy hole-in-the-wall joints in the alleys of Seoul where they brought out frozen pork bellies that were cooked tableside and washed down with soju.
As much as I reminisced about those times with some semblance of romanticism (ah, those carefree days!), I didn't necessarily associate that pork belly with quality meat. It was the experience that counted more than the actual flavor. But Honey Pig gave me flavor. The little pork belly rectangles weren't frozen. In fact, they came looking more fresh than I've ever seen pork belly served. The color was a dark pink that looked very fresh. Then when the meat hit the dome-shaped grill and they dumped the bean sprouts and red-hot kimchi, I knew I was in for a treat.
The grill dutifully melded the flavors of the pork, kimchi and nuttiness of the bean sprouts, resulting in a complex blend of soft pork texture and crunchy kimchi and bean sprouts. In short, I was converted. It helped that the dome-shaped grill got rid of the fat dripping from the pork. How about them low-fat pork bellies! The restaurant usually gives you some other veggies to grill, including pumpkin, tofu, potatoes and onions. If you want to wrap it in something, you have the thin rice cakes with either the red, Vietnamese-esque dipping sauce or the garlicky fermented soybean paste mixed with some red pepper paste, called ssamjang.
In the olden days, pork bellies were wrapped in lettuce or kennip or some mixed greens, but the popularity of places like Hanyang (my personal favorite) and Shik Do Rak have given way to the rice cake wrappers. I don't mind it. It's just different.
Then came the kicker -- the fried rice on the grill. I know I've belabored this point but the fried rice will never be as good as Dong Il Jang. Let's just say that up front. And it wasn't really "cooked" tableside.
Still, while it may not look like the most appetizing finish to a meal, it was good. It's also a lot of food, so if you're a party of two, one order suffices since it comes with so many things. My favorite part of the meal was undoubtedly the soft and fresh pork belly meat, which was a world of a difference from the rubbery frozen kind I was used to seeing and hence didn't like so much. And the combination with the kimchi is always good. As Jamie Oliver would say, pork bellies and kimchi really like each other. I would definitely return, although not your everyday restaurant because pork belly is still pork belly. The dome grill can only do so much to make it healthier. Unless you've got metabolism on your side, of course.
3400 West 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005