As much as I enjoy the dishes forged by the hands of the Momofuku empire, I don't like them enough to make a reservation for any of their special offerings. (Except for the bo ssam, which I've...er, had a few times before the online reservation system was in place.) But I will happily ride on the coattails of someone else's effort.
To make the most of his trip to New York City, Lee Anne's Arizonian food-loving friend Jason made reservations for Momofuku's fried chicken at Noodle Bar two Saturdays ago. He nicely extended the invitation to Lee Anne's friends. Including me. HELL YEAH, I was in. I had tried it once before on the company dime, but it's worth having more than once. Like twice. You can reserve the fried chicken with a party of four to eight; I suggest aiming for six or more unless you don't mind having a lot of leftovers. You don't want this chicken to go to waste.
For $100, you get a big honkin' mountain of chicken fried two ways—Southern style in a buttermilk batter, and triple-fried Korean style coated in a sweet and spicy sauce—four dipping sauces (hoisin, ginger-scallion, jalapeño-garlic, and gochujang-based), another big honkin bowl filled with vegetable matter, and a stack of mu shu pancakes. $100 may sound like a lot, but for up to eight people, that's as low as $12.50. For the six of us, it was $16.67 a person. Non-New Yorkers could think, "Man, you're dumb for paying so much for fried chicken," but to me it's really not that bad when compared to the prices of other fancy pants fried chicken in the city and for the quality you get. I don't think any other place is going to give you two kinds of awesome fried chicken with such a unique variety of accompanying sauces and vegetables.
Both times I've had the chicken, most people preferred the Korean over the Southern. There's nothing wrong with the Southern—it's super crunchy and the meat is juicy and tender—but the crust on the Korean is lighter and crispier. I also prefer the spicy sauce over the Old Bay-ed Southern.
The fried chicken alone doesn't make this meal awesome. It's the accompanying raw vegetable-and-herbs bowl that I really love. If I really want fried chicken, I can get a good version elsewhere, reservations-free. If I want a bowl of seemingly perfect baby carrots, red ball radishes, bibb lettuce, stalks of mint and basil, and...that tree-like one in the back that I can't identify (although one of you probably can), I'd have to compose that myself. And I'm probably not going to, because I'm not going to seek out those ingredients, even though when thoughtfully combined and plopped in front of me I scarf them down like potato chips. It's more than just crudités or a plate of herbs like you'd get at a Vietnamese restaurant. Or maybe I am so far removed from fresh vegetables that seeing a vibrant pile of them automatically makes me go, "OMG YAY!"—but I'd like to believe there's more to it than that.
Methinks the idea of the fried chicken meal is to combined the meat with the herbs and sauces and roll it up in the lettuce leaves or the pancakes. It's a messy ordeal. I mostly ate the chicken off the bone instead of trying to pry it off with my fingers or utensils, sometimes plopping sauce right onto the chicken (which didn't work well with the less viscous sauces) or alternating mouthfuls of chicken with herbs.
The pancakes are unfortunately craptacular; after being exposed to room temperature air for more than five seconds, they become much too chewy and stiff to provide any sort of harmonious starchy component to the chicken. They should replace it with rice, which I'm sure you could ask for, but the idea didn't cross our minds. It wouldn't just be awesome for the chicken; you could also douse the rice in the sauces that would otherwise go to waste. RICE WOULD MAKE THINGS SO MUCH BETTER. I LOVE RICE SO MUCH. (I feel like my love of rice is one of my most Chinese characteristics. ...That, and having the facial structure of a Chinese person. That's all I've got.)
But it's still good without the rice.
I don't know how this fried chicken compares to the real deal, never having eaten fried chicken in the South, but Momofuku's should leave you happy. And now you have an excuse to gather seven of your meat-loving friends and have a fried chicken party.
Rotisserie Chicken at Pio Pio Salon
The next day, I went to Pio Pio Salon (they have an official website, but I'd rather spare you from its auto-playing music wrath) on the Upper West Side with Jessica and Kathy after Kathy and I had watched Jessica perform with a chamber orchestra at Alice Tully Hall. (She is a mega talented violinist. I suggest you see her perform and then have your mind BLOWN AWAY, leaving behind a shell of incompetence.) I had one thing on my mind: rotisserie chicken. With fries. And hot dogs. And avocado. And more.
So that's actually more like "a bunch of things" and not just one thing, but it's all under the heading of Matador Combo. The last (and only) time I had eaten at Pio Pio Salon was over two years ago, and ever since then I've wanted to go back for the combo of a quartered rotisserie chicken, rice and beans, tostones, salchipapas, and avocado salad. All of this only costs $32, a bit more than in 2007 when it was $26, but still a great deal for four people's worth of food.
No complaints about the rotisserie chicken—it's juicy, tender, and well seasoned. Carbony skin bits make it even better.
But before I dug into the chicken, I went for a big chunk of avocado. So creamy. So fatty. So good. It was the first substantial thing I had eaten the entire day. My body needed the hit of something fresh and healthy.
...Especially since nothing else at the meal would exude as much freshness or nutrient-density. But it did all scream DELICIOUS STARCHINESS, such as the plate of salchipapas, hot dog nubs on a bed of french fries.
And the tostones, deep fried, flattened slices of green plantain, with some face-punching garlic sauce on the side.
And rice and beans. That's self explanatory, methinks.
If anything is lacking flavor, you can just douse it in aji sauce flavored with...I don't know what, to be honest, but I assume there's mayo, jalapenos, and garlic in there. And other stuff. It's creamy and savory, and makes everything taste better.
We ended our meal with flan, one of my favorite members of the dessert family. Thanks, flan, for being jiggly, eggy, rich (although not too dense), smooth, and sweet.
Pio Pio Salon
702 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10025 (map)