Saturday, March 6, 2010

Korean Honey Pig BBQ

We end up here -- in a little restaurant tucked into the corner of strip mall at Spring Mountain & Decatur -- on the suggestion of local food critic John Curtas, whose website is a must-read for all Las Vegas area foodies.

The name of the place is "Korean Honey Pig BBQ," which I find absolutely irresistible in a way that I'm sure I'm supposed to be ashamed about.

The 3 of us (Brother Juanito, Don & I) get seated at a small table, the middle of which is taken up by a "panchan," which is essentially a large metal convex cooking surface with a small lip around its edge to keep the food from falling off. Again, following Mr. Curtas's excellent advice, we order the "Honey Pig" package for 3 (total price: $59.99), which comes with a bottle of "soju," a drink which the waitress explains is "Korean vodka".

The waitress brings our bottle, turns a tableside knob to heat up our panchan, and, in the time it takes us to pour a round of soju, she starts to pile on the goodness:

Within minutes, slabs of beef and pork begin to sizzle as piles of kim-chi and bean-sprouts simmer & steam. Is there a better aroma than that of grilled meats? Small bowls of pickled cucumbers & seaweed, mushrooms, and some kind of slaw are brought as appetizers as we soak in a fragrant cloud of browning awesomeness. The waitress reappears, this time with a pair of tongs in one hand and a pair of scissors in another, and, in mere moments (the time it takes for us to swig another round of soju), our panchan looks like this:

We tuck in with gusto. And the flavors are incredible. In a single chopstickful, I manage to wedge a chunk of hot, carmelized pork with a strand of spicy, vinegary kim-chi, and the contrast of flavors makes my tastebuds quiver with delight. Then I try a chunk of barbecued beef coupled with an al-dente-but-sweet piece of onion, followed by a wad of hot bean-sprouts. Again, the flavors are staggeringly pleasurable. Once my eyes roll back into place so I can focus them again, I take another swig of soju and keep eating.

Between the 3 of us (not one of whom weighs less than 200 pounds), the panchan is nearly cleared of food when the waitress brings yet more bounty: a pile of octopus that she expertly slices and places at the top-center of the panchan, warning us that "it's not ready yet!"

At this point, I am swooning with such paroxysms of gastronomic delight that I forget to snap a picture of this last protein course. It, too, smells amazing as it fries. When the waitress nods to us that it is ready to eat, the 3 of us devour it like rabid dogs. The chewy octopus had been wonderfully marinated so that it is perfectly complemented by just the right amount of acidic, biting chili sauce.

But that isn't the end of it! When the waitress (for purposes of this narration, I have conflated 3 or 4 different employees into a single character) notices that we are done with our mains, she turns off the heat and piles a mixture of rice and veggies onto the panchan for a final course -- a little something to stave off the meat comas we are in danger of succumbing to:

The rice sizzles slowly, and I remember more advice from the sagely John Curtas, which I will now quote from his excellent website:

"If you’re patient, the rice will attain that crispy, browned underside that the Spanish call soccarat (when it sticks to the paella pan). Tossed with whatever meat, vegetables or seafood are left on the pan, it becomes something like the ultimate fried rice."

I cannot stress enough the importance of following the advice of professionals. We do, and are duly rewarded. When the bill comes, it's for $59.99 and tax, a paltry sum for a meal that stuffed 3 fully-grown men and included a small bottle of vodka.

Then comes the surreal climax of the night. As we enjoy the last few bites of this last course of our meal, I turn around in my chair to survey the room. And who do I light upon? The one-and-only John Curtas HIMSELF, seated a couple of tables away, enjoying a meal with 2 guests.

We are awestruck, and, after settling up, as Don makes a quick pit-stop, Brother Juan & I approach Mr. Curtas and offer a thanks for the recommendation. He is gracious and very kind, even snapping a picture of us, which I have cribbed below:

Mr. Curtas is the smartly-dressed man on the left. Brother Juan is the nicely-bearded man on the right. I am the dumbstruck fatboy in the middle.

Thank you, Mr. Curtas, for the recommendation and the warm greeting when we interrupted your meal. Thank you, Korean Honey Pig BBQ, for the incredible culinary experience. We will be back.

Korean Honey Pig BBQ
4725 Spring Mountain Road
(702) 876-8308

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