Review: Bon Chon

Korean fried chicken, plus lots of hot and spicy
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  January 26, 2011
3.0 3.0 Stars

RISING STAR The takoyaki features stodgy dumplings of octopus with paper-thin slices of bonito flakes. It's as delicious as it is beautiful.

Bon Chon is a nine-year-old Korean fried-chicken franchise with a few dozen outlets in Korea and a few less than that in the United States. How it got here is complicated, but basically the old Privus staff has set up shop in the former Toki Super Fusion and now serves the sorta-famous chicken, some more authentic modern Korean cuisine, modern fusion dishes from Privus, scads of sushi, and the kind of Japanese food Korean-owned sushi places usually have. I should warn you at the beginning that the chrysanthemum silhouettes on the menu are about raw food, not hot pepper. Almost everything here has some hot-and-spicy to it, mostly in a good way, although a chicken entrée called bull dok ($17.95) may be the hottest dish ever served in a Boston restaurant. (Paging Chris Schlesinger: please report to the reviewing stand with an order of "Hell Night" spaghetti and two cases of water.)

You must, however, order the takoyaki ($5.95), small stodgy dumplings of octopus with attached bonito flakes cut so onion-skin-thin they wave around in the rising heat from the dumplings. The flavor of the flakes is more like bacon than dried fish, and whatever octopus was ground into the dumpling mixture is obscured by two slightly hot sauces, brown and mayo. I was also amazed by the beauty and flavor of "seafood with lime mustard," which is small batons of sashimi, including octopus, squid, surf clam, cooked shrimp, and phony crab with cucumber and stronger versions of the usual trimmings (the mustard is wasabi) plus lime juice and a shiso leaf. It comes piled up like vertical food, but there must be years of training involved.

"Crispy salmon salad" ($9.95) is a Privus holdover, a softball of green stuff like avocado and seeded cucumber, plus some crunchy tempura flakes, wrapped in salmon like a modern maki and then torched a bit. Pork-belly shioyaki ($7.95) sounds scary but is nothing more than mild unsmoked bacon cooked thoroughly and laid out around a mound of salad with marinated onions and scallions. Corn butter ($6.95) is the Asian equivalent of those small roasted ears of corn you get at Zocalo and Toro. This corn is off the cob, served with cheese and a bit of flying-fish caviar and crab for flavor.

On to the Korean fried chicken. In general, the recipes involve frying twice, with a marinade of soy and garlic, and quite a bit of hot pepper. The soy-garlic version at Bon Chon has some spice; the hot-sauce version is notably hotter than buffalo wings. With a "medium combo" ($18.95/10 wing segments and five drumsticks) — the smallest portion where you can split ginger-garlic and hot-sauce pieces — the fried chicken took more than 20 minutes after ordering, came to the table lukewarm, and had overcooked meat and too much breading. A small order of wings ($9.95/10 pieces) a week or two later was better — it came to the table quickly and nice and hot, and the wings seemed to take the double-frying better than drumsticks. Including strips, there are 16 sizes and permutations, topping out at $33.95 for what will feed six hungry people.

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