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Korean fried chicken owned 2007–2008. From K-Town to Flushing to Wall Street, KFC swept the city—only the Colonel’s recipe didn’t have a chance against this newcomer. Fryolators bubbled nonstop at Kyochon, Bon Chon Chicken, and Kyedong Fried Chicken, among other greasy greats. Then suddenly the craze was over, as food trucks were ushered in (ostensibly by food writers like me) as the next feat of gastronomic chic.
Fortunately, Korean fried chicken hasn’t disappeared from New York. And some of the best bird in town can be had at Mono+Mono, a new jazz-themed restaurant and bar in the East Village. It’s the second branch from owner Myung J. Chung, a former Bon Chon and Mad for Chicken franchisee. Yet this one, with its snazzy industrial digs, is far more enjoyable than its Midtown namesake.
American fried chicken is made by soaking the parts in buttermilk before coating them with a thick, flour-based batter, rendering a crunchy shell with an underlying layer of thick skin. Korean fried chicken, however, is prepared by frying the pieces twice so that the exterior becomes thin and almost transparent, not to mention shatteringly crisp. Cooks then glaze on a light coating of soy-garlic or hot pepper sauce for lip-smacking goodness. Mono+Mono chicken comes in three sizes; medium ($16.95) will sate a dining duo along with an appetizer or two apiece. Better yet, skip the small plates and sushi and split a large order ($21.95—get half-spicy, half-sweet). It’s so good, really, that it makes up for the rest of the menu, which isn’t bad but rarely hits a high note.
Should you ignore my no-appetizer counsel, though, order the chicken daikon ssam ($7.95), which rolls juicy poached chicken and Asian pear inside pickled daikon for a refreshing bite, or the yellowtail carpaccio ($13.95), topped with shaved black truffles and jalapeños. They’re a far better bet than the odd bulgogi ssam ($11.95), which inexplicably combines lettuce with cold mashed potatoes, or the gummy chicken yaki udon ($11.95), which tastes like it sprang from an Annie Chun’s box (but maybe you’re trying to relive those late nights back in the dorm).
The music lover will savor Mono+Mono as much as the die-hard chicken fan. Not only does the bar showcase a piano that doubles as a table, the cavernous dining area houses Chung’s personal jazz library—a whopping 30,000 albums displayed floor-to-ceiling behind a glass wall. Diners can request a record and watch it travel along a suspended ceiling track to the DJ. Indeed, one evening my companions and I asked for a 25-minute song off The Audience With Betty Carter, and our request was promptly played between the Coltrane and Davis standards.
Mono+Mono’s cocktails are all soju-based, since New York liquor laws weirdly allow restaurants with just a beer and wine license to sell the Korean spirit as long as it’s under 25 percent alcohol. Minty mojitos are the best of the bunch, enlivened with muddled kumquat ($12) or hibiscus syrup ($10). Infused soju is another specialty, not to mention a primary decorative element—the massive fruit-filled jugs are even found in the restrooms. It can be downed as a shot ($5) or on the rocks ($8). Get the grapefruit flavor—it’s bright and underscored with a touch of bitterness, unlike the cloyingly sweet red plum. The snow-white yogurt, meanwhile, fulfills Mary-Kate Olsen’s two favorite food groups (fro-yo and booze) and wins for the bar’s most unique drink. The combo of soju, lemon juice, and Snowberry yogurt only comes in 500 ml or 750 ml portions ($28 or $38), but can be had as part of the $12 sampler of four specialty drinks.
Beer aficionados, take note: The restaurant employs a special machine that automatically raises a glass and dispenses the exact amount of beer directly from the keg, ensuring a perfect pour with just enough foam every time. Even if you rarely knock back a brew, it’s worth sitting at the bar to marvel at the contraption. Plus, one of the barmen is a sleight-of-hand artist, so prepare to be doubly wowed. Not that you wouldn’t be jazzed already.