Popcorn Chicken, AKA Chicken Crack, at ViVi Bubble Tea in Chinatown
Heading to dinner in Chinatown, I spied a paunchy Homer statue holding up a sign for takoyaki. Though unsuccessful in coaxing my boyfriend onto Homer's lap, I did manage to whet his appetite for pre-dinner boba and a popcorn chicken snack. We stepped into ViVi Bubble Tea, curious and much amused.
The three-seater joint does brisk business. Combining J-pop whimsy with Cantonese grit, the pink and yellow interior is littered with copyright infringement. Al and I brought up the average age of ViVi's clientele by about ten years and were eyed with overt suspicion. But it's a testament to the quality of the chicken that we came back—three times in two days, each time with reinforcements.
The popcorn chicken, which we've fondly named chicken crack, is an order that's phoned in to the cook and served fresh out of the fryer. For $2.95, you get a bag of roughly 18 pieces. A light crisp encases dark meat nubbins and all their searing juices. The chicken comes in flavors of curry, pepper salt, spicy, basil, or garlic. My favorite flavor is the curry, dusted with a touch of cumin, but there's really no flavor I'd turn down.
The boba, or tapioca bubble teas, are also pleasing. Fans of the mushy pearl: this place is for you. The powder mixes at ViVi are stronger than those of its competitors. We enjoyed the almond milk bubble tea, the black green tea, and the three-color pudding milk tea with a side of bubbles. (The "pudding" is more like a scoop of agar with the texture of flan.)
Then there's the takoyaki. The takoyaki octopus balls are similar to Otafuku's but the octopus at ViVi is fresher: delightfully elastic and considerably less fishy. (My only wish? A touch more crust.) Takoyaki can be purchased with black green tea as a $5-set. Wash balls down with more balls.
ViVi Bubble Tea
49 Bayard Street, New York NY 10013 (b/n Elizabeth and Bowery Streets; map)