At this restaurant, your table is on fire. OK, not quite. It merely sizzles.
Not to worry. This is benign combustion at Honey Pig, a new restaurant in Ellicott City featuring Korean barbecue.
Think strips of meat, chicken or seafood cooked quickly on a tabletop grill that sits in the center of your table and becomes the focal point of your meal.
Think small plates of spicy sides, pickled vegetables — some smooth, some quite fiery .
Finally, put all of these elements in a big room crammed with stainless-steel tables, filled with energy and waves of Korean-speaking servers moving to loud music, and you've got the scene at Honey Pig.
Igniting the grill and most of the subsequent activities associated with its operation are not your concern. Those tasks are handled by the servers. Your responsibilities are grasping the cooked morsels with chopsticks, dipping them in the sauces of your choice and popping them in your mouth.
It reminded me of fondue without the oil. It is a style of eating that encourages group feeds. On my visits to Honey Pig, the tables were occupied by families, golfing buddies and young couples, all of them serving themselves from the sizzling grills.
The pace here is fast. Faster than you can say kimchi, dishes begin appearing on your table, and a staffer is at your shoulder waiting for your order.
The menu is printed in Korean and English, though the staff seems more conversant in Korean. The first time I visited Honey Pig, I was caught up in the frenzy and ordered in a hurry, pointing to a couple of items on the menu.
This meant that in addition to an order of finely sliced pork bellies ($12.99), which when grilled tasted like high quality bacon, I also ended up with an order of octopus mixed with pork bellies and vegetables ($12.99) in a spicy sauce. I loved the pork bellies, was less than thrilled with the chewy octopus and could not handle the fiery sauce. The residual fire of the sauce was quelled somewhat by helping of a seafood pancake ($6.99) a mixture of bits of seafood, scallions and other vegetables in batter.
In a subsequent lunchtime visit to Honey Pig, I was more composed and ordered a serving of LA Beef Rib and buckwheat noodle soup ($9.99)
A waitress put the ribs, thin slices of marinated beef, on the grill, and when the moment was right, deftly separated the meat from the rib bones with a pair of scissors. I did the rest, dipping pieces of the beef in sweet and hot sauces. I was one happy carnivore.
The cold buckwheat noodle soup was refreshing, although I found it impossible to eat gracefully. I simply got ahold of the foot-long noodles and sucked for minutes at a time. The portion was so generous I couldn't finish it.
Honey Pig has been open a little over a month (there are other Honey Pig restaurants in Annandale, Va., and Los Angeles). The Ellicott City restaurant is almost always open. Its only downtime is Monday morning from 2 to 11.
Overall service was attentive. One evening, for example, three different servers worked on our pork bellies. Readers had sent me reports saying that in the restaurant's opening days, they had not gotten great service. I had a better experience. My only issue was with the beverage service. When I ordered a beer (a so-so $4 lager called OB , short for Oriental Beer), I got a bottle, no glass. The next day, when I ordered a Coke ($1.50), a can was plunked down in front of me. Eventually, a server brought me a glass
On the two occasions I visited Honey Pig, many of the diners spoke Korean. That is a good sign, I think, if you are billing yourself as a Korean barbecue restaurant.
But non-Koreans can have a fine time as well. My older son accompanied me on one of my visits to Honey Pig . Like most people in their 20s these days, he is more widely traveled than his parents and had feasted on Korean barbecue at street stands in Los Angeles during a visit there. He rated Honey Pig's barbecue as OK but not up that found on the streets of Los Angeles.
I say it is fine, but be wary of the octopus.
Honey Pig Korean Barbecue
Where: 10045 Baltimore National Pike (Shopping Center behind Double T Diner), Ellicott City
Open: 24 hours, 7 days except Monday, when closed 2 a.m.-11 a.m.
Credit Cards: Visa, MC, Amex
[Ratings: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]