BBQ Chicken - Irvine
Ah, Diamond Jamboree. Nothing in recent memory has changed the Irvine dining scene like it has done, and in the way it has done: literally overnight. These past few weeks have seen a half dozen new Asian restaurants open there to flowery wreaths, balloon arches, and lots and lots of traffic. First, it was Tokyo Table and Chae Bahn. Then, this weekend, 85°C Bakery Café, Guppy Tea House and the return of BCD Tofu House.
And of course, there's BBQ Chicken, which marks the first time Korean fried chicken has made it into the city limits -- that is, if you don't count when its citizens smuggle it in from existing Korean fried chicken purveyors in Buena Park and Garden Grove.
Last night, after being refused entry to Tokyo Table (mental note for next time: secure reservations well in advance) we strolled over to BBQ Chicken to find that it, too, was crowded. Barely a week in and the place was already doing brisk business. Perhaps too brisk for us, who despite being fortunate enough to grab a table as soon as we walked in, had to wait a good half-hour for our orders to arrive.
Priority, it seems, is rightly given to its take-out customers. But also, there's this: When we ordered the Red Hot Drumsticks (5 pieces for $8.99), our server gave us two dire warnings. The first: "This is really spicy". The second: "This is going to take longer".
Only after thumb-twiddling, playing multiple rounds of cell phone games, and watching the sun go down, did we realize what "longer" meant. But when the Red Hot Drumsticks finally did come, our dour moods and growling stomachs were rewarded with what is possibly the best fried chicken in Irvine.
The drumsticks were wonderful, crusted over with a bubbled coat of batter and drenched in scorching red chili sauce that seemed to glow with radioactivity. Their raison d'être lies in that first quarter inch where skin, batter, and sauce gather to form a concentrated sucker punch of crunch and burn. Ralph Wiggum put it best when he said: “It tastes like burning!”
As your lips throb and your brow dampens, it will remind you of Buffalo wings, but much more memorable than that. In the sauce I tasted honey, kimchi juice and garlic. And even if you end up not liking them, you’ll still taste them over and over again, since long after your meal is over, the chicken will continue to produce burps more fragrant than CornNuts.
But as good as the sauce is, the chicken would be nothing without the crust. Like Kyochon's chicken, the skin is rendered of all of the subcutaneous fat -- so much so that it virtually disappears into the coating. But unlike Kyochon's chicken, BBQ Chicken touts a thicker batter and also the fact that their birds are cooked in olive oil. We did not, however, take that to mean that this was health food. Fried chicken is still fried chicken.
Their Teri-Q Gold Wings (10 pcs for $7.99) was battered with a lighter touch and soaked in a salty, soy-based glaze. And they were enormous, like they came from sort of gigantic, mutant hen. But somehow, they were less impressive than the drumsticks. “These are good,” I said to my friends, “but not Kyochon-good.”
But that was a minor complaint. As I mentioned, the service, during these formative weeks, is a bit uneven, and that’s being kind. They seemed to be struggling to figure out whether they want to be a quick-service fast-food take-out or a proper sit-down. Their biggest weakness is that their dine-in servers are also the cashiers, which is why no one offered us the pickled radishes until we asked. However, the fact that they were delicious and free was more than enough to make up for it.
The fried rice ($1.75) is another matter. It was, without question, the worst fried rice I’ve ever eaten. In fact, it tasted like bad Rice-A-Roni. Thank goodness for BBQ Chicken that their chicken drumsticks were light-years away from Shake n' Bake.
2750 Alton Parkway #111
Irvine, CA 92614
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