Monday, 6 June 2011

An Idiot Abroad: Mr. Fork in Los Angeles, Vol. I

KyoChon, 3833 West 6th Street, Los Angeles
Combo meal for one with Pepsi: $9.07 (around £5.50)

One of the perks of the “career” I’ve ended up in is the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles once per year for a “business conference”. In the past, this has boiled down to the daily cycle of meeting/boozing/sleeping/hangover that accompanies events of this kind. This cycle, combined with the fact that Thea is on the other side of the world and therefore incapable of cajoling me into eating offal, means that my diet for that week usually errs toward the immediate satisfaction of jet-lagged cravings for chilli burgers rather than embarking on foodie adventures.

THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT! As I approach my thirties I find it impossible to resist any opportunity to incite the kind of pouty jealousy that can be elicited from my better half when she feels she’s missed out on some kind of new gastronomic experience. This is the story of my quest to enrage my wife by eating better food.

First up: KyoChon. The Korean fried chicken joint has picked up a solid reputation on the interwebs, with locations in the Korean districts of both New York and Los Angeles, and it’s one of the first places that was recommended by Thea when I started planning this little trip.

The layout at KyoChon is unashamedly fast-food: metal counter-tops, space for around 20 seated customers and a clear commitment to a takeaway and delivery business, which I expect accounts for a large proportion of their takings. The look was completed with a pair of giant plasma screens reporting all the latest thrilling developments of the NASCAR season (spoiler alert: lots of people driving forward and turning left repeatedly).

In spite of KyoChon’s obvious fast food leanings, I’m reliably informed that their chicken wings are always cooked fresh rather than pre-fried and warmed up. As such, the wait for my ‘Original Combo’ with specialty wings and hot sauce was rather longer than I might have expected. My wedges arrived first and were good but unremarkable: nicely seasoned, with a fluffy interior and served as a generous portion. The extra cooking time on the chicken meant that I had almost finished my side-dish when the wings arrived. I’m sure I could take issue with the fact that the staff didn’t see fit to send all of the food out at the same time, but that would be unconstructive: the wings were worth the wait.

Succulent and tender, KyoChon’s wings are a far cry from the greasy, limp fried chicken I’ve come to expect from East London’s less salubrious establishments. The light, crispy batter is covered in a sticky hot sauce that demands to be eaten by hand in the messiest way possible. This sauce is clearly the highlight: lying somewhere between barbecue sauce, sweet-and-sour and fermented chili bean paste. It’s complex, balanced and spicy enough to please even the most hardened chili fan. Washed down with a large Pepsi (perfect fuel for setting my eight-hour jetlag aside on the walk home), I came away with a sated appetite and slightly giddy head rush from the hot sauce. Eating alone is one of the most depressing things about business travel, so it's always a pleasant surprise to find a place that serves good food in a setting that doesn't make solo diners feel uncomfortable.

KyoChon is an excellent example of the kind of fast-food that the USA beats us Brits with every time: simple, unfussy food cooked to a good standard for a great price. While it’s certainly a long way from the beaten tourist track of Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica, it comes highly recommended for travelers and Californians alike.

KyoChon Chicken on Urbanspoon

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