Korean fried chicken (KFC? Is that taken?) is, in theory, a perfect dish. As the unbreaded chicken pieces cook, their skin renders its fat and forms a thin, crispy shell within which the meat steams to perfection. Finished with any number of aromatic sauces, this bird a surefire crowd-pleaser. A chicken joint's burden is to perfect the frying process and then get the hell out of the way, leaving diners to enjoy their food unhindered.
These tasks are simple but by no means easy. Proper rendering of fat is a slow process, so a Korean fried chicken joint must find some way to make the wait easy on diners, either by expediting the ordering process or by providing appetizers, drinks, or the like while the chicken cooks.
We wanted to see how two Koreatown chicken joints—Mad for Chicken and Kyochon—compared.
Mad for Chicken
Though Mad for Chicken has much to recommend it, including its appealingly modest walk-up digs, it failed to manage the wait period, all but torpedoing the dining experience. Though the menu warned that we might wait as much as 30 minutes for our chicken, the wait time, according to Chichi's hawk-like clock watching, was 47 minutes. After about 20, the pitcher of ice water that had been provided proved seriously insufficient; though we had just sampled a bunch of Korean baked goods, we really could have used some appetizers, which should be standard for a restaurant with such a long wait for the food. It didn't help that we were totally ignored by our waitress for the bulk of our wait.
When the chicken finally arrived, it was, for the most part, delicious. We ordered wings and drumsticks with both spicy sauce and sweet honey sauce. Chichi, a sugar fiend, preferred the honey sauce and wanted it a little sweeter; I preferred the spicy sauce and wanted it a little hotter. Though the chicken was not consistent across the board, most pieces were quite moist, and all the skins were crisp. No chicken part was strictly preferable; some wings were better than some drumsticks, and vice versa. The kitchen made the mistake of serving the chicken piled on a platter—with time, the pieces on the bottom steamed and their skins softened. The restaurant considerately provided a small bucket as a bone receptacle.
Bottom Line: Tasty chicken, but not worth the wait unless you're looking for a leisurely meal. A wings and drumsticks combo costs $22.95.
Mad for Chicken
Across the street from Mad for Chicken, Kyochon Chicken offers a very different vision of a Korean chicken joint: quick, convenient food in a stylish setting. The decor summons a future where the universe is ruled by adorable, impossibly stylish Asians—Chichi loved it. Inexplicably, the restaurant has a Woodstone wood-burning hearth oven. The upstairs dining area features a wall-sized TV screen tuned to the world cup and a truly awesome bathroom.
We ordered at the fast-food-style counter and received our food after a wait just long enough to take in the "English" on the restaurant's promotional materials.
The inexpensive combo featured a small order of chicken in a sweet and spicy sauce that packed a serious punch, a side of crispy roasted potato wedges, and a drink. The potatoes were hot and addictive, if guilt-inducing, while the chicken, though flavorful, was too soft and greasy, lacking the crisp, greaseless shell that is the hallmark of well-executed Korean fried chicken. The coffee was awful.
Bottom Line: Despite some flaws, I was pleased with with Kyochon's fiery seasoning, stylish digs, speedy service, and good prices. Don't go expecting poultry perfection, but definitely check it out for a quick lunch if you're in the area. A small order of fried wings, a side, and a drink cost $8.99.