Korean barbecue is an all-encompassing experience. From the smells of the meat searing on the grills distributed throughout the restaurant to the colorful sights of diverse banchan (side dishes) that come to the table, the cuisine provides a sensory assault that few others do.
Now imagine adding in coffee, cake and shaved ice to the mix. You’ve got a culinary emporium worthy of a meat-loving Willy Wonka. You’ve also got Meat Project and its twin, Coffee Project, one of the latest additions to the Centreville dining scene.
Sam Kim and his mother, Grace, longtime owners of Rainbow Catering and Manoa Bakery in Annandale, looked to meat and sweets as a way to widen their audience. “While we were doing the catering business, we could only go to the Korean community,” Sam explains. “We were trying to find a way to reach out to different people. Korean barbecue was the best way we could think of to do that.”
Sam says that because Meat Project is not all you can eat as many area KBBQ restaurants are, it allows them the opportunity to showcase higher-quality meats. “People can actually sit down and enjoy their meals rather than feeling rushed. That’s what differentiates us,” he says.
This is clear as soon as the meat hits the grill. Though the bulgogi—thinly sliced, marinated rib-eye—is a touch too sweet, the unmarinated meats are pure caramelized, fatty loveliness. Order the brisket for a beefy wallop, or pork jowl for porcine flavor that’s a literal cut above more common pork belly. Or try a combo. For a group of three people, it’s advisable to order the Project Combo, which includes the above meats as well as mapo-style pork ribs and beef rib-eye.
The combos come with an especially flavorful steamed egg and a creation called the Corn Cheese Pancake. This might conjure images of a wheat-based kimchi pancake fused with the gooey KBBQ staple of corn and melty mozzarella. But there’s no batter in this pancake. Instead, the Kims’ cooks pour a round of corn cheese directly onto the griddle and cook until the cheese is crisp. It holds together enough to be cut into slices, but just barely.
All this will doubtless leave diners with little capacity for dessert. But they must venture through the door of the adjacent Coffee Project, all part of the space that was once a sports bar. They should order a coffee first—the beans are from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Sey Coffee. Then it’s just a matter of picking out a slice of cake from the shelves, or deciding on a cooling bingsu. The latter is Korean shaved ice that’s flavored with condensed milk and a range of toppings.
For a classic experience, order it topped with sweet red beans, which, at room temperature, provide a respite from the chill of the snow-fine pile of sugared ice. Whether it’s sweets or meats, no matter where diners come from or what they’re craving, chances are, Meat Project has something that will bring them back for more. //5825 Trinity Parkway, Centreville; Open daily for lunch and dinner; Entrees: $9.99-$25
A bright, spacious restaurant with grills embedded in tables. Behind one door, Coffee Project is full of sweet treats.
Corn Cheese Pancake, Project Combo, red bean bingsu.