Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Other KFC: Korean Fried Chicken

I'm Korean...well at least I'm part Korean and so in 2007 when I read this NY Times article praising Korean-style fried chicken I couldn't be prouder. My first and most memorable experience to date with Korean fried chicken was in a Kyochon in Seoul, 2005 (Hey, I never claimed to have discovered it). Compared to KFC and all previous fried chicken I had eaten thus far this chicken was remarkably not greasy and much more flavorful. A bold sweet and spicy glaze covered a incredibly thin and crispy skin that encased moist succulent meat. Since the NY Times article was published there have been some small changes in the New York City Korean fried chicken scene. The old Bon Chon Chicken at the corner of 32nd Street and 5th Ave is now Mad for Chicken (see Midtown Lunch post) and the old Bon Bon Chicken on Chambers Street is now a Bon Chon Chicken.

Upon returning from Japan, Korean fried chicken was one of the first foods I craved. Coincidentally I held a going away party for myself at Mad for Chicken. When I heard that the former Bon Bon Chicken had become a Bon Chon Chicken I decided to swing by Chambers street and grab a take-out order on my way back to Brooklyn. So, how did the new Bon Chon compare to the old? Understanding that one version was take-out compared to the dine-in versions in the past I would say that the differences were negligible. The spicy glaze still tasted faintly of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) and the skin was crispy without being greasy. The meat for both the drumsticks and the wings were also as moist as I remember the old Bon Chon chicken to be. The main difference I noticed was not the chicken itself but rather what accompanied the chicken. Instead of the pickled daikon served at Mad for Chicken, Bon Chon offered a kimchi coleslaw and while this riff on a classic fried chicken side proved better than expected it lacked the acidity that I enjoy to help cut the richness of the chicken. There were also french fries with a wasabi mayonnaise and some generic dinner roles that seemed misplaced compared to some of the more classic Korean bar foods found at Mad for Chicken but I conceded that these were two vastly different dining experiences. You can see our complete flickr set of Bon Chon pics here.

Spicy and Hot Chicken Wing from Bon Chon Chicken.

I recently accompanied HDB and our friends to Momofuku Noodle Bar for a late night fried chicken feast. You can read that post here and see our entire flickr set here. I was told about the dinner like this:

Chief: "Yo, I just scored a reservation for Momofuku fried chicken, you in?
DAsian: "When is it?"
Chief: "Friday around noon."
Chief: "Oh shit! More like midnight, the reservation is for 11 p.m., not 11 a.m!"

Momofuku Fried Chicken (Southern Style and Korean Style.)

The group that accompanied Chief and I to Momofuku were familiar with the Korean style fried chicken at Mad for Chicken. Washed down with some beer or soju many considered the chicken at Mad for Chicken to be the best fried chicken in New York. So how did David Chang's Korean style fried chicken compare to Bon Chon or Mad for Chicken? I'd say I was disappointed. Was it a failure, no, Momofuku's fried chicken (both styles) were plenty tasty to justify the price (maybe not the reservation process) but in my opinion I think there is better chicken elsewhere. But the beauty of fried chicken is that it has become the chic food of restaurants across New York since the recession and there are plenty of chicken to sample. From Andrew Carmellini's version at Locanda Verde to the fried chicken at The Redhead, which Serious Eats anointed as their favorite among several restaurants the choices and styles seem limitless. But do yourself a favor and if you haven't already done so, try Korean style fried chicken and see if this won't replace your notion of what KFC is.

Bon Chon Chicken
98 Chambers Street
(212) 227-2375

Mad for Chicken
315 5th Ave. 2nd Floor
(212) 221-2222

Momofuku Noodle Bar
163 1st Avenue

(212) 500-0831

To see all of our pics, please click the flickr link.

Bon Chon on Urbanspoon

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