[kevinkeveats]: fuku this
[1:45 PM, East Village, Manhattan]
It’s hot today. It’s so fucking hot today. It’s about 95 degrees, the humidity is unbearable, and the inside of my mouth is drier than my love life. The shop is air conditioned — barely — and pretty dim despite the blinding sunlight outside. There’s a bar with 10 seats, and a couple other standing tables. The menu is a florescent sign framed with two dozen ssam sauce bottles. It offers a small selection of things, but I’m only interested in two — a chicken sandwich and a cold drink. I opt for a slushie and at the last minute am convinced by a friend to go for the Koreano — which includes a healthy serving of pickled daikon threads — instead of the classic spicy chicken sandy.
Looking over the counter I see that the kitchen of sorts is relatively small — a couple deep fry stations, two heating lamps, a minifridge for drinks. A guy dunks large, fatty, chicken thighs into the deep fry station for a few moments, and pulls them out transformed — crunchy, glistening, decadent— on a drying rack. Fries go under the heating lamp. I tear my eyes away as a second guy calls out orders from the register, and pauses briefly to make drinks. He makes a michelada inside a can in what seems like a few seconds. That’s impressive. Back to guy number one — he’s slathering buns (martin’s potato rolls, I’m told) in what looks like mayo, then dropping a few pickle chips on them. While this is happening guy number two deftly hands me the slushie I ordered. I sip it and enjoy the brain freeze as guy one finishes my sandwich and slides it to my spot on the counter.
The first thing I noticed was that the wrapper, with its cute little momofuku peach sticker, read “DERICIOUS” in bright, shake-shack green. Dericious. Incredible. I unwrap.
The Sandwich Rubric
A chicken sandwich can be ultimately judged in three areas.
- The chicken (flavor, size, mouthfeel)
- The bun (size ratio, structural stability)
- The toppings (pickles, extra toppings)
I need to comment on the size of this thing.
The size of the burger was average. The chicken thigh, on the other hand, was thick. I wanted to try the chicken first — not hard, seeing that I had about two inches of un-bunned chicken to bite into. Holy shit. The edges were a little dry, but the texture of the coating and the tender thigh was on point. The thighs were pretty uneven, but in the best way — it was fatty at random intervals, which allowed for different mouthfeels when eating through it. It had a nice kick to it — a slow heat that burns for a couple seconds before fading. It’s the type of addicting kick that pressures you into taking another bite. I would later learn that the secret behind this was a habanero-puree-and-buttermilk marinade followed with a dredging of a house spiced coating.
The bun is the vehicle that the chicken travels in to reach it’s destination (optimally, your mouth). Fuku, taking a cue from Shake Shack, has opted to use a squishy Martin’s Potato Roll. There’s not much else that needs to be said on this point. It’s solid.
The Koreano utilizes both traditional pickles and a daikon slaw. The slaw is akin to the pickled daikon found in banh mi sandwiches. By itself, daikon is a winter root eaten more commonly in Asian cuisines—slightly bitter, slightly spicy. But soaked in a brine and julienned into strips made a sweet, acid, and crunchy component that would be good even standalone on rice. On the other side (literally) laid three sweet pickles, that largely served the same purpose, albeit overshadowed by the daikon. The daikon isn’t necessarily the clincher— it’s good, but not game-changing. It’s simply something that complements the sandwich very well.
Oh, and that mayo I talked about earlier? As it turns out, it’s not mayo — it’s a secret house-made chickpea butter. Wild.
Bonus: Ssam Sauce
Ssam sauce. An all-purpose gochujang-based condiment that’s slightly sweeter than gochujang. The hyped-up condiment that David Chang has sworn by time and time again. Personally, I prefer sriracha for it’s more acid taste, but Ssam is a thicker, fuller sauce that coats your mouth. Used as a dipping sauce for the burger, it’s not bad. I prefer the sandwich without the sauce, personally.
Overall, Fuku is solid. The chicken sandwich is probably at the top of the fast-food (or fast casual) food chain. But for $8 dollars a pop, it’s also one of the more expensive chicken sandwich options. I definitely recommend a try, and I’ll definitely be back when I’m in town.