I just came back from Soowon Galbi. It was good, not the best I have ever had in my life, but definitely enjoyable. We had the hae mul pajeon (seafood pancake) which was OK...needed a bit of salt. The chicken bulgogi was also OK. The Soowon Galbi was extremely delicious, I liked the sweet marinade flavor and the tenderness of the slightly fatty, marbled meat. They didn't give us the rib bones to grill and gnaw on...I love doing that when I order that cut of galbi and I asked the waiter if I could have the bone to grill (he BBQed for us instead of letting me do it) and he said "Yes," and proceeded to take the bone away!!! I just let it go. I wish I spoke Korean!!! I was like give me back my booooone!
I liked the ssamjang. That stuff is addictive---the flavors were balanced in this one. My favorite Korean place in another town also gives a little aluminium cup with oil and slivers of garlic in it that you place on the grill and allow to fry to a crisp. I love eating that crispy golden garlic and putting it in the ssam. Also, at other places they gave us slivers of green chile and cucumber and maybe a few other vegetables to put in the ssam but not at Soowon Galbi. It was just banchan, rice, lettuce leaf, a complimentary salad, and ssamjang. I have found every BBQ place does things a little bit differently and has very different in house marinades for the same dishes so I never know what to expect or what the protocol will be.
They did give us a delicious cinnamon drink at the end of the meal which I had never had before...it reminded be of Mexican Christmas punch or something.
The banchan were OK. Decent kimchi, new kimchee (I prefer it slightly more aged), and there were some interesting items like sesame oil dressed preserved lotus root.
Over all I liked the place and will go back. I will have to give Honey Pig a try, too.
We also get the bones grilled there--but we usually get them grilled at the table. The grilled spicy pork is also quite good there, and not terribly hot.
Honey Pig in Annandale definitely provides a small dish of garlic slices and hot pepper slices. However, as many others have said, be prepared for a really disappointing set of banchan there. What they provide is okay, but it is usually just 3 banchan. I guess we got spoiled back in the 90's when we lived near Hee Been (before it converted to mostly buffet), and they'd bring us a dozen banchan.
I haven't successfully been out for Korean barbecue yet; after one try at a buffet place where you pick out the meat and they cook it for you, and one try at a place where they didn't speak enough english for me to get by, I am just experimenting at home, with recipes from David Chang's Momofuku book and from what I can find on the internet. It's going real well, the big grocery in Centerville has all the right cuts of meat and I got two different burners and two different cooking pans for about seventy bucks total. I have experimented with making ssamjang and David Chang-style pickles, hope to start making my own marinades soon, made some KILLER braised short ribs, bought a rice cooker... and the cost advantage is huge, as you might imagine. Boneless chicken thighs and beef short ribs cost a hell of a lot less raw than they do in a restaurant.
If anybody out there knows a place, especially in Centreville, where I could explore the real thing with some help from a server who is pretty fluent in English, I would love to learn more, but for now I am quite happy to get by on my own doubtless-inauthentic efforts.
This is a crown yet to be taken (or passed on). What makes a good/great korean BBQ?
For me it is the meat (quality and amount), cooking fuel - charcoal, banchan (including ssamjang, and freshness of the lettuce).
I haven't found any korean places that serve really amazing quality meat. In LA you could find places that serve Waygu Beef and they are amazing. Second, the only placed that used charcoal vs gas has closed :-(. I've not found another one yet. If any of you has a place, please let us know. Third is banchan (honeypig really fails on this and also subjecting the patrons to the constant Kpop). Korean meals with out great banchan is somehow less satisfying.
I keep looking. There are many korean places that will get the job done if you are craving korean BBQ. However, not sure I've found a place that can claim the crown.
re: dining with doc
While I like Honey Pig for the octopus with pork followed by the fried rice made in the drippings, the BBQ itself is not my favorite. The side dishes pale in comparison to Anangol or Yechon. Yechon has its off nights but is quite good too.
I don't get the love for Hang Gang. Very expensive, only a few of the sides really excite me. The flavors seem on the tame side. I paid almost twice as much for my last dinner at Han Gang as at Annangol and I would take the latter straight up.
Soowon Galbi in Centreville or Han Gang in Annandale. However, I *think* the Soowon Jumbo Galbi was served to me on a platter, not cooked at the table, but you could ask about that.
At Han Gang in Annandale, get the #1 galbi.
Both of these dishes are on the expensive side, but highest quality around.