Fried Chicken, Korean Style 

Mr. Wok is the first Boise restaurant to serve an unsung delicacy

click to enlarge mr.-wok-6.jpg

Pete Grady Photography

Koreans first developed a taste for fried chicken during the Korean War, quickly making the dish their own. Now, Joseph Kim of Mr. Wok in Boise says he'd like the golden-battered birds to be an entree for Americans curious about Korean food.

"The response has been great," Kim said about the chicken. "People have been flocking to the doors. People have come to check out the chicken, and once they see the Korean menu, they get excited."

The chicken comes on the bone or boneless, dipped in a butter powder, sauce or served basically plain. The sauce is a fun add-on, but the first thing Americans will notice when they bite into the chicken is that it has crunch, and not just a little bit. The chicken is tempura-battered, then dipped in a secondary flour and double-fried. For the uninitiated, the crunching sound is shocking, but the crispy-but-somehow-smooth texture and nuanced flavor is as satisfying as it gets.

click to enlarge PETE GRADY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Pete Grady Photography

"There's a lot more spice to it. If I'd have to compare it to Buffalo Wild Wings, the sauce is very unique on its own, especially the Yang Ngam chicken. It all has a distinct taste to it. It's garlicky, [there are] peppers [and] onions. It has a super distinct taste. The batter is different. There's not much crunch to it at [Kentucky Fried Chicken]. This chicken has a lot of crunch," Kim said.

The Kims started serving Korean fried chicken in April after they became franchisees of Vons, a Korean-based company that operates in America out of California. Kim said they buy their chicken locally, but prepare it according to Vons' specifications (there's also a roasted chicken on the menu for more health-conscious diners). Essentially, they're running two businesses out of the same space, but they make it work. Apart from a few Vons posters and an add-on Vons menu, it's the same Mr. Wok Boise has come to know and love.

"We get our chicken from local markets from around here, but they train us how to prepare the chicken. We use their sauce and marinades. Butter powder, other things they provide for us. We just follow their system," Kim said.

click to enlarge PETE GRADY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Pete Grady Photography

For first-timers, this reviewer recommends sampling. During my visit, I sat under one of the aforementioned Vons posters near the front door and stared googly-eyed as the server deposited the gargantuan half order of boneless Crunch Fried Chicken ($12.99, or $24.99 for a full order) at my table. These nuggets are the base model, served without sauce, and the only seasoning is in the batter—as good an option as any to see if this was my thing. It was: The batter crackled pleasantly, and the chicken breast inside was full of flavor.

More adventurous (or seasoned) fried chicken-lovers will fall fast for the Yang-Nyeom ($13.99-$26.99), which came doused in a plum-colored garlicky pepper sauce. This stuff has zing, and will have folks with average heat tolerance torn between the desire for one more bite and one more minute of recovery.

Whenever possible, pair the fried chicken with beer. It's tradition. In Korea, it's called chimaek, a portmanteau of chikin (chicken) and maekju (beer), and it's at least as good a pairing as wine and cheese, oysters and Champagne, or Tango and Cash. One more tip: Eat with friends. The servings are huge, and going solo on a whole fried chicken could be regrettable later. Splitting the meal and a few beers with some compatriots—that's a recipe for a good time.

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