Korean Fried Chicken Chain KyoChon Invades Midtown Manhattan in a Big Way
The "soy" flavored chicken wing is indeed delicious--but do you want to pay a pro-rated cost of $1.20 for it?
Three years ago, just as four Korean fried-chicken chains were making their beachheads along Northern Boulevard in Murray Hill, Queens, I did a comparative review of all the competing establishments.
The new New York flagship of the KyoChon fleet.
I dubbed KyoChon the best, giving it an A minus, and loved their two flavors of fried chicken--"soy" and "spicy"--though found both too sweet, and reviled the cole slaw, which was inundated in vanilla mayonnaise. I also noted that the chickens, though expensive, were gigantic specimens, and juicy, too.
Fast forward three years, and find the chain setting afloat a new flagship across the street from the Empire State Building, just down the block from where K! Pizzacone established itself a few weeks earlier. Clearly, when it comes to chain restaurants testing the waters in New York, they prefer marketing to tourists (who think everything in New York is wildly expensive), rather then to the much-more-critical and quality-conscious New Yorkers. We make tons of great fried chicken here already.
The sweeping glass stairway provides the focus of the arresting interior design. The uniforms of the attendants might have been borrowed from the Guardian Angels locker room.
The upstairs is clearly intended to resemble a cocktail lounge--on the moon.
Next: a better look at the food.
A box of four somewhat oddly proportioned chicken drumsticks costs $8.99. To me, they look more like guinea hen legs.
The gimmick of the Queens Korean fried chicken places was to fry the chicken up fresh, and it would often take 30 to 40 minutes for your order to be ready. Some of the places were like bars, others like cheesy fast food chains.
In Manhattan, KyoChon has clearly decided to go high concept. The two-story spot is at an iconic corner that must be costing them plenty, and the interior features a circular stairway that sweeps, DNA style, up to the second floor. Order downstairs from the pointedly multiracial staff, and receive a beeper which you clutch as you wait by the window.
In contrast to the Queens place, the new Manhattan branch doesn't seem to cook your chicken to order. Our beeper went off within three minutes of ordering. Moreover, there are collections of wings and drumsticks in a glass case by the carryout counter, already cooked, which is somewhat suspicious. A big pizza oven without apparent purpose flickers behind the counter.
The biggest shock, though, is the tiny size of the birds. In Manhattan, KyoChon isn't serving the full bird, only wings and drumsticks in three flavors. The prices remain high, almost unbelievably so (four or five wings, depending on the type you order, for $5.99--and remember that the "wings" each represent one-third of an actual bird wing). Clearly, the chain intends to position their chicken as a value-added cult item, the value added being some really glamorous (or weird, depending on your point of view) real estate, and a product that is unremittingly excellent, in execution if not in conception.
New to me were the "honey wings," even sweeter than "soy" or "spicy." Cost of the collection of four: $5.99.
Next: the wrap-up
The "spicy" chicken wings are the very best, and they're fantastic. The collection of ten: $9,99
KyoChon seem to have removed most of the vanilla from the slaw. The so-called potato wedges come coated with some cryptic substance, and are chalky. The chicken, however, remains insanely excellent. The sugar not only sweetens the bird, but gives it a crackly crust like a crème brulee. "Spicy" is the best, "soy" doesn't taste too much like soy, and the honey wings are even sweeter than the other two varieties. Think of them as dessert. 319 Fifth Avenue, 212-696-0150
The potato wedges ($2.99) were none to exciting.
Each order of chicken comes with a plastic glove to help keep your mitts clean.
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