These two terms rarely meet: “chef-driven” and “Korean barbecue.” Perhaps that’s because the notorious chef’s ego doesn’t usually allow for so much control to be given over to the diner. Kibum Kim, it seems, doesn’t suffer from that common affliction. And diners at Puzukan Tan Korean Grill, just steps from beloved Thai restaurant Elephant Jumps on the Falls Church-Fairfax border, are richer for it.
Puzukan Tan’s grill combines gas and charcoal for a natural, smoke-redolent flavor. But that’s not the biggest thing that separates the restaurant from the KBBQ pack. Much of the meat is dry-aged in display fridges in the restaurant.
Rib-eye rests for three or four weeks before it meets diners. Pork belly and pork steaks are dry-aged for a few days, too. That pork belly may also be cold-smoked in the kitchen before a server gently crisps it on a tabletop grill. The result is like bacon, made even more appealing thanks to a trio of sauces and a table full of banchan.
The best ways to enjoy Kim’s creations are through combos like the $99 Signature Cut collection or the $59-per-person Butcher’s Omakase. Both include the chef’s trademark dish, the giant rib galbi, a meltingly tender whole marinated short rib that’s cut into chunks for grilling and then rearranged on the dinosaur-sized beef rib.
Kim owns Puzukan Tan with his brother Sunghoon, who goes by Sam. Their father is also a chef, which inspired Kim to train in Korean and Japanese cuisines both in the United States and back in Korea. The family owns Matsui Sushi & Ramen in Alexandria, Rateba Grill & Ramen in Fairfax, and their first toe-dip into Korean barbecue, Alexandria’s Puzukan, which serves meats cooked in the kitchen in fast-casual bowls.
How did the Kims choose NoVA? “We were looking for a place with a good amount of Korean population and a good economy as well,” Kibum Kim says. “Northern Virginia seemed perfect for us.” And Puzukan Tan, with its low-key ambiance and tantalizing taste experience, is perfect for Northern Virginia. 8114 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church
This story originally ran in our February issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.