Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Mad For Chicken: Bonchon Korean-style Fried Chicken
314 Fifth Avenue (off of 32nd Street), New York, NY 10001
Review by MaceVindaloo, SuSu, Diasala
But be brave and go past the bouncer/security guard in the drab, cramped lobby. He'll ask for your ID this is a bar before directing you to the scary, narrow staircase at the back of the building. Once you get upstairs, there is a darkened bar with house music thumping away, very industrial with a lot of low lounge chairs and metal decor. It's a full-on bar scene, but go ahead to the bar and order your fried chicken. You get a choice of garlic soy, or hotsauce glaze. Get one order of each, and get the large orders.
There won't be room to sit upstairs in the lounge for your dinner (though go ahead and ask for a table, if you are okay with waiting). The place is crowded and dark. Consider taking out the chicken, and be sure to grab plenty of napkins.
This is not fried chicken like you know it. And you'd think something this funky and good would have a long history. But it's a late 1970s Korean invention; Korean cuisine's meat of choice is beef, marinated and grilled. No one seems to know how and why this evolved, other than it's delicious and people like it. It came back to the US via Korean migration, and thus the bastion of Korean-style fried chicken is Flushing, Queens, a neighborhood in a New York City outer-borough where many Koreans and other Asians settled.
It's very lightly battered, and according to many appreciative news articles, is fried twice in hot oil for long periods of time, so as to be virtually greaseless when served. The startling color is due to the marinade. The result is a thin crisp shell around moist, succulent meat. They only serve the drumsticks and wings; we don't know what they do with the rest of the chicken.
We can see that this might have started off as wondrous barfood, much like the Anchor Bar's chicken wings did in Buffalo. It's highly addictive, and we polished off the orders without even meaning to. The accompanying sweet-brined daikon (Japanese horseradish) cubes are a perfect antidote for the slight spiciness of the marinade, and were crunchy, de rigeur reminders of the Korean tradition of presenting pickles at every meal. For the sake of Americanness, bleu cheese dressing and carrot and celery sticks were also presented. These went well with the chicken too, so we didn't mind their inclusion.
The garlic-soy chicken is a bit sweeter and saltier than the hot-sauce option, but both are almost delicately crispy. The meat within is juicy and tender. The sauce isn't sticky, and the menu emphasizes that it won't make a mess. The hot-and-spicy chicken does leave a bit of a burn, if you like that. But seriously, try both; take the leftovers home, if you must! You can also opt for wings only, or drums only. The "combo" contains both extreme parts of the fowl.
A large order is $20, and theoretically should feed two or three people. But these are so succulent and addictive that if you come really hungry, you could probably finish a large order of 5 drumsticks and 10 wing halves on your own. As a bonus, if you've had a long, difficult day, a big order of these (in either flavor) with a pitcher of beer will make it all seem okay and satisfying.
Being a bar, they don't open till 2pm, so it's not really a lunch place. But it's a dandy place to go after sleeping in all morning, to meet friends (or a new special someone) for brunch. Unlike most bars, they serve a full menu of items that could be construed as a sort of tapas or izakaya offering (savory bar snacks). The other food is very good: we tried the Italian-style wedge-cut rosemary fries, their Mexican corn (covered with cojita cheese), and various drinks. They also serve sushi rolls, fried rice, Asian style "omu" (omelets stuffed with fried rice), Dduk (rice cakes with vegetables and covered in hot paste and/or cheese), Korean style pancakes with seafood or kimchi, and salads of many types.
We actually came here at 2pm to take photos of the place when it wasn't so dark, and to try their other food offerings, but we just couldn't! It was fried chicken, all the way. And also, when looking out the window across the street, we noticed Kyochon was squatting in a storefront across the street. As the signage for Bonchon was obscure, perhaps this place decided to emphasize their chicken-ness and change their name to Mad for Chicken? If you like, you can grab a franchise opportunity and add the secret delicious chicken recipe to your restaurant offering.
But perhaps the threat will come to naught, because the "Opening soon?" signs are still in Kyochon's windows. Anyway, competition isn't a bad thing, and we are all excited to think that someday, we may have TWO wondrous Korean-style fried chicken options, and we don't have to get lost trying to find it in Queens. It really does beat up KFC and Popeye's, though remember, it's not a comparable style. Whatever enjoy your grown-up fried chicken!
A word of caution many Asian places in NYC tend to only take cash. This place also takes Amex, we think. You may also find yourself waiting a long time, because they claim to make up every batch of fried chicken when it's ordered. So, be sure to order as soon as you get there (even while waiting for a table), or maybe try to call your order in. But it's noisy here and the staff's English is patchy, at best. They are very pleasant, but it's a bar, so expect a bit of attitude.
Disclaimer: The opinions and observations noted are the property of the author. Neither Wookieehut nor any associates makes any claims or lucre from the posting of this report or review. This webpage is presented by Wookieehut.com. Enjoy!