People have been getting creative with their pandemic downtime, whether that means baking sourdough, or in the case of chefs Kevin Tien and Scott Chung, launching a new Asian barbecue venture. Tien recently left his high-profile gig at Emilie’s on Capitol Hill and is flying solo at his Ballston fast-casual chicken sandwich shop Hot Lola’s. Chung, who runs homemade bao business Bun’d Up (Union Market, Ballston Quarter), had to cancel several farmers market locations due to Covid. So in their spare time the two dreamed up Wild Tiger BBQ, which launches Thursday, August 20 next to Bun’d Up at Pentagon Row in Arlington. The pop-up will run Thursday through Saturday for the first few weeks.
Chung grew up with his Korean family’s barbecue, while Tien, who is of Vietnamese descent, ate a lot of chargrilled meats in his native Texas and Louisiana. Their style for Wild Tiger is duly eclectic. Meats are “ramen-rubbed” with a seasoning that mimics the punchy, umami-rich flavor of Shin Ramyun, an instant Korean soup brand that both chefs love.
“Scott ate it the normal way. As kids, I ate the ramen spice packet raw. It’s a flavor I’m addicted to,” says Tien.
Chung bought a North Carolina whole hog smoker, and the two have been experimenting with chicken, brisket, ribs, and pulled pork with the help of friend and fellow Ballston Quarter food hall vendor Joe Neumann (Sloppy Mama’s BBQ). Chung says he and Tien took inspiration from spots like Blood Bros. BBQ in Texas and Heirloom Market BBQ in Atlanta, which meld traditional American barbecue and smoking techniques with Asian flavors.
For Tien, it’s all about the sauces and sides. To start, you’ll find accompaniments like fish-sauce-glazed fried Brussels sprouts, kimchee pimento cheese, corn salad with chili crunch, and Korean-style potato salad. Barbecue platters will come with all five homemade sauces including miso-ranch—great for dunking smoked wings—a mustardy concoction that’s a mix between Carolina gold and Chinese hot mustard; a mild hoisin char siu sauce; a spicy gochujang barbecue sauce; and a fiery Szechuan comeback sauce. Tien, who opened Emilie’s with a tableside bread-and-butter cart, created several whipped butters (Szechuan-honey, maple-seaweed) to spread on a version of Chung’s homemade bao dinner rolls.
For the opening weekends, the menu is limited to family-style platters that serve three-to-four diners ($79). Orders must be placed through the Bun’d Up website in advance. Diners can carry out the food or (weather pending) sit on an outdoor patio area at Pentagon Row. A selection of sodas, beers, and pouch-style sochu cocktails will be available.
Eventually, depending on interest and the state of the world, Tien and Chung say they’d like to find a permanent home for Wild Tiger BBQ. The two spent a good chunk of time planning and coming up with a name.
“We wanted people to know it’s not traditional barbecue, it’s the barbecue Scott and I grew up with, so ‘tiger,’” says Tien. “And ‘wild’ because we’re all over the place right now.”
Wild Tiger BBQ. 1201 S Joyce St., Arlington. Pre-order for pickup, Thursday through Saturday, here.