Fuku: David Chang’s take on the spicy chicken sandwich

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFuku
163 1st Ave (10th st)
New York, NY 10003

I’ve been wanting to come to Fuku since I first heard that David Chang was creating a restaurant solely dedicated to fried chicken sandwiches. I… love… chicken sandwiches. And I’ll let you in on a secret. Every time I go home to Beijing, I have a list of restaurants I always have to hit up, ranging from my favorite peking duck to THE GREATEST spicy fried chicken sandwich ever from KFC. Yup, KFC. Those of you from Beijing will understand. KFC does not have it on its US menu. They call it the Zinger burger. The sandwich consists of a big, thick piece of dark chicken thigh meat fried to perfection, a smear of mayo, and a light sesame bun. It’s amazing. Just take my word for it.

Anyway, that was for context. In my mind, Fuku was benchmarked against my glorious Beijing fried chicken sandwich.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALAW and I came around 1:30pm this past weekend. Fuku is only open from 11-4 Wednesdays through Sundays. The place was packed with Asians. Maybe everyone else is benchmarking against Beijing KFC too?

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I ordered everything on the menu sans alcohol: 1 spicy chicken sandwich + 1 Koreana (Fuku’s newer off-menu spicy chicken sandwich with daikon radish) + 1 fuku salad + 1 french fries + 1 seltzer water.

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God I was excited. H.W. had visited a few days earlier and said it was the BEST THING he’s had in NYC. People waited HOURS in line when the place first launched mid June.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo here it is. Chicken to bun ratio is insane. The first five bites are basically all chicken. The bun is a soft potato bun, which Shake Shack has taught us all is a superior bun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe meat is, like my fave, dark, juicy, thigh meat. Apparently, the chicken thighs are marinated in habanero puree, coated in buttermilk, covered in a spice blend, and then deep fried. They are topped with pickles and special butter laced with fermented-chickpea flavor.

Sounds fancy right. It wasn’t. The spice level was very mild, catering to amateur spicy fried chicken eaters. The exterior was VERY fried and heavy. The potato bun, which I LOVE for a burger or hot dog, was too soft and… mushy (?) to go along with the fried chicken. I think I prefer a sesame bun for this kind of sandwich. It holds up and soaks up the oils better. It makes me very sad to write this because I wanted to love Fuku so much. I was already envisioning it being The Spot my friends and I would hang at  to grab a drink and eat fried chicken and make cherished life-long memories.

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It was good. It was juicy. It was tasty. My expectations were just way too high. Chang is quoted as saying, “We feel very confident we’ve developed a technique that allows for a very, very, very juicy sandwich that’s still crispy.” This technique I believe means the batter includes a thick layer of gooey tapioca/mochi like casing. See photo above. When the sandwich was hot, I didn’t really notice it because it disguised itself as fat. But once it cooled down, the gooey layer congealed… I’M SO SAD.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the special off-menu Koreana sandwich for a dollar extra. It’s the same sandwich but with pickled daikon. A nice addition to help cut the grease. I definitely prefer this to the regular.

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There’s also plenty of Ssam sauce on the side if you need more flavor. It’s basically that Korean bean paste (gochujang). I didn’t really need it because the chicken was flavorful enough and the Ssam sauce wasn’t spicy enough to help me add that kick I wanted. To be fair, Chang intended for the sandwich to be at that mild spice level. He said, “I want people to argue whether it’s spicy enough. I want people who don’t eat spicy food to say, ‘That’s fucking spicy but I’ll eat it and pay the price later,’ and people who do to say, ‘That doesn’t even register.'” Okay, Chang. It doesn’t register for me so can you please at least have some real hot sauce on the side?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFries are classic wedges with lots of salt and cajun-esque seasoning. Very salty. Pretty tasty. Tasted great with a ketchup + Ssam sauce combo. Seltzer water a necessary companion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe salad wasn’t what I expected at all. It was a very filling bowl with more grains than greens. The salad included farro (a barley like grain), seasame seeds, kale, red radish, napa cabbage, and mandarin wedges. It came with a side of citrusy dressing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI really liked the flavors of the salad but thought the grains were an overkill. Too filling for the sake of being filling. My first thought was that this salad is meant to be a meal for vegetarian friends who are forced to come along with their meat-loving friends. My second thought was then… didn’t David Chang once say EF VEGETARIANS when they complained that Momofuku Noodle Bar didn’t have enough vegetarian options? He then proceeded to add pork to every item on the menu or something.

Anyway, in conclusion (like all good high school essays), I would give Fuku a 3.5 out of 5. Maaaybe a 4. It was good. The fried chicken was really juicy. I was impressed with how smoothly the  restaurant ran, minimizing wait time (they only take credit cards – speeds up the process). The tapicoa-ish batter thingy just kinda grossed me out. It also wasn’t nearly spicy enough for me (and no real spicy sauce on the side!). The potato bun is usually an amazing bun, the winning bun choice really, but for some reason I didn’t like it with the fried chicken. But don’t worry, I’ll still be back. Fuku still probably has one of the best chicken sandwiches in the area.

Forever missing my Beijing KFC Zinger.

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