Three new chicken-centric spots take flight — each with their share of hits and misses
I’ve long abided by a steadfast rule of not eating chicken in restaurants. Driven by snobbery and chintziness in equal measure, I just don’t see the point of paying for a bland protein I most prefer in McNugget form. (Hey, a love of foie and fast food are not mutually exclusive.) If you fancy yourself a badass chef, pull out the big guns and feed me something a tad more interesting — no guts (literally), no glory. By the same token, you could argue that chicken is a good gauge for judging a chef. Let’s not deny the glorious nature of a perfect fried thigh. If a restaurant can’t get that right, why should I trust them with anything else on the menu?
In recent months, three popular figures in the local food scene have brought their version of the best bird to the Valley. The first to arrive was Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken (blueribbonfriedchicken.com). The New York City import, which opened in June at Downtown Summerlin, is a casual concept by brothers Bruce and Eric Bromberg (Blue Ribbon Sushi, Brooklyn Bowl).
The menu is predictable (fried chicken dinners, wings, tenders) but the flavors are not. The chicken here is fried with matzo meal and egg whites for a crust that’s thin and crispy. It makes a serviceable sandwich filling — I had mine in the form of The Original, which came with typical fixings and special sauce. However, I was less impressed with the individual pieces, only because I have a personal preference for darker, craggier, Southern-style fried chicken. Sides of sweet and spicy adobo corn and cooked-all-day collards with smoked chunks of pork belly made up for it.
Just off the Strip in an unassuming commercial plaza on Sahara, Sheridan Su of Fat Choy is putting his own signature spin on things. Flock & Fowl (flockandfowl.com) celebrates the bird in approachable but decidedly Asian forms. The highlight is Su’s Hainan chicken rice. It’s a dead simple dish — poached chicken on a bed of rice cooked in the chicken broth — popular in Singapore and Malaysia.
For what it’s worth, I’ve had it in both countries. Su’s version is not only great in terms of flavor, but it’s also slightly more refined. Dark and white organic meat are deboned for easy eating, and homemade pickles and dipping sauces demonstrate the chef’s commitment to his craft. Those of you on the paleo train will appreciate the cup of warm, clean broth served on the side.
Su’s take on fried chicken, which comes in the form of an impossibly crunchy and juicy half of a Cornish game hen, is even better. I was only disappointed that an accompanying salad, advertised as having kale in it, is a basic supermarket mesclun blend. (Shame on me for ordering a salad at a place that stars deep-fried food, though, right?)
Finally, there’s Chow (chowdtlv.com), the latest addition to East Fremont. Chef Natalie Young has capitalized on the popularity of her first venture, the breakfast- and lunch-only Eat, with a “chicken and Chinese” concept for the evening hours.
It was a packed house on a recent visit, and an impressive sight to watch Chef Young hustle in her open kitchen. Under her watch, my table received an excellent two-piece Southern fried chicken dinner with mini cornbread muffins and pickled jalapeños. The chicken was crunchy, not greasy, and well-seasoned; I was only heartbroken that both pieces were drumsticks as opposed to a mixed duo. (In fairness, my date argued that drumsticks are the best part of the bird and that the dish was extra satisfying for that very reason.)
Blame chicken fatigue, but I’m partial to Chow’s pork riblets. Tender, meaty, and richly glazed in a sweet sauce, it’s a prettier (but no less messy) take on foil-bagged nuggets of pork that come from my favorite Chinese take-out joints.
There were a couple of kinks throughout the meal, but my optimistic side attributes any missteps to opening-week jitters. For instance, a crispy chicken thigh with bok choy was definitely more rubbery than crispy, and its flavor was slightly off. Service staff also seemed slightly harried. The upshot is that we received a plate of potstickers gratis because an extra order was made by accident. (They’re generously filled with pork, with a lovely golden crust on the bottom of the dumpling.)
I remain ambivalent about this Hitchcockian era of casual dining, but at least our city’s most talked-about talents are the ones stepping up to give the Colonel a run for his money.