The dish: sticky-crunchy ribs.
The place: Hazel.
The reason: the Bonchon effect.
Rob Rubba got his start in the Neighborhood Restaurant Group manning the stoves at Arlington’s Tallula, a restaurant that happened to sit four blocks from Bonchon and its addictive Korean fried chicken: “You’d think we’d get sick of it, but even after four days of eating it, our staff was like, ‘More Bonchon!’ ” When Tallula closed and Rubba and the restaurant group opened Hazel (808 V St., NW; 202-847-4980) in Shaw, he decided to pay winking homage to the crispy-sweet stuff while also honoring his love of barbecue. His plan worked—we’re hooked.
• Rubba goes for the cheaper “rib end” cut of Berkshire pork—the last three or four ribs trimmed from each side of a St. Louis rack in order to make a symmetrical presentation: “They’re not as pretty, but they have the same flavor—and it’s a better value for the customer.” They’re cured with a mixture of Chinese five-spice powder, Szechuan pepper, salt, and sugar, then smoked for three hours.
• Next, the ribs go into a combination oven, which uses both steam and heat to braise and roast the meat at the same time. They’re dipped in tempura batter—a hit of vodka helps eliminate water bubbles and turn the batter extra-crisp—then deep-fried.
• Rubba calls the tangy-sweet glaze he concocted “a sort of vegan demi-glace.” The mixture includes sugar, Fresno chilies, sesame oil, and soy, and it’s reduced until it becomes extra-sticky.
• Finishing the dish (and giving it more crunchy textures): a handful of toasted coriander, cilantro, chopped peanuts, and fried shallots. Now, Rubba says, “almost every table gets an order.”