“Seoul Fried Chicken seems to straddle two spheres of the dining experience. On the one hand they seem to encourage a get in, get your chicken, get the hell out mentality, like a lunch break bank job. On the other hand, for those bent on taking their time, they try to accommodate with a modern and chic ambiance in the meager slice of real estate they have.”
Guest review by Nicholas Aikema, student writer in the University of Alberta WRITE 297 program.
When Chef Jake Lee opened Seoul Fried Chicken, he made the claim that he intended to “bring value and comfort back to fried chicken”. His website goes on to explain his philosophy of bringing Korean inspired flavors to traditional frying techniques. Located on the corner of Calgary Trail and 79 Avenue NW, across from a pay-for-parking lot, this independent deep-frying eatery seems right at home amongst the niche eateries just off Whyte.
The first thing a possible patron should know about Seoul, besides their poultry predilection, is their focus towards take-out rather than dining in. There are options for those who would like to sit down, although limited. I counted four 2.5 person tables, a longer table for a party of four, as well as a bench near the entrance. Even with the scarce seating, the situation can get rather cozy once lunch time rolls around and foot traffic picks up. Consequently, Brody, my self-described “chicken aficionado” friend, and I were lucky to find a table.
The main course menu essentially breaks down into the choice of a ten- or twenty-piece meal. From there you chose your flavour. I started off with the SFC OG ten piece for $13.50. It seemed to be the standard issue of their chicken dishes.
As one approaches the counter, one is greeted with a view of the kitchen, partially obstructed by a large printout of a European side street that hangs just beyond the cashier. While waiting for the machine to process your card, you can take a gander at the pallets of pop cans, the hand-washing station and freezers full of buckets of chicken sauce. Brody remarked how clean the range hoods and fryer looked and noted how hard it is to maintain that level of cleanliness in the kitchen he works in.
We received what looked to be a miniature pizza box full of assorted wings, legs and breast pieces and returned to our seats. It was then that I noticed the roll of brown paper towels that sat off to the side of our table as well as everyone else’s. I would put it to good use.
Each individual portion was a generous helping. The flour-based breading adhered well to each meaty piece. The chicken was moist but far less greasy than your average drumstick. As far as flavor goes, the SFC OG doesn’t veer far from the typical fried chicken experience. It is done competently, certainly better than any fast food chicken. By my assessment, the chicken was fresh rather than frozen ,and overall had a more homemade experience over most fried chicken options available to Edmontonians.
That being said, it isn’t especially exciting, so ten pieces becomes a bit monotonous. I considered how this meal would likely be bettered serviced with the accompaniment of one of the five side salads on the menu. Options range from fairly typical sides like the Kale Caesar to a more exotic choice like the kimchi, described as “made with mom, fermented for 30 days”.
Brody went with the ten piece SFC BBQ for $14.50. It is in this dish that the Korean influence begins to shine through. The sunset red morsels bring a sweetness followed by a soft spice, forgoing the often overpowering smoky flavor that is regularly abused in dishes with BBQ in the name. He also sprung for a side of house cut fries for $3. The fries came as a heaping portion, but unfortunately lacked the saltiness one would come to expect with this deep-fried staple. They were firm and relatively grease free, but were in serious need of something of the Heinz variety.
We decided it was time to wash down all the fat and salt with a couple of Milkis for $2.50 each. While I was picking out a refreshment, I studied the assortment of imported beers they had to offer, but as it was 1:30 in the afternoon, I opted for something tamer. A Milkis is a Korean milk-flavored soft drink, which for my money, is one of the most enjoyable ways to get 62% of your daily recommended sugar intake in one shot.
My sweet tooth was warmed up, meaning it was time for dessert. I decided on the Black Bean Brownie Pudding. $5 seemed a little steep considering the size, but you get to keep the mason jar it comes in. It is no toy in the Happy Meal but I will take what I can get. It was as rich as any good pudding should be, with none of the hints of bitterness typical in bean pastes. The texture was smooth and the thickness almost spelt the end for my flimsy plastic spoon.
For those interested in atmosphere, we are dealing with mostly brick walls and a hodgepodge of mismatched lighting fixtures, a style, which in my limited experience, seems popular amongst trendy socialite restaurants. If you decide to dine in, the soundtrack to your fried feast will be comprised of canned top 40 pop tunes.
I was genuinely surprised to find that they had a public bathroom. It was well maintained and fitted with modern amenities and they have made the interesting creative decision of letting their guests do the decorating. The walls have been rolled white and one can’t help but wonder how many people visit the restroom with a Sharpie in their pocket.
Seoul Fried Chicken seems to straddle two spheres of the dining experience. On the one hand they seem to encourage a get in, get your chicken, get the hell out mentality, like a lunch break bank job. On the other hand, for those bent on taking their time, they try to accommodate with a modern and chic ambiance in the meager slice of real estate they have.
Both our meals together came to $36, reasonable by my assessment and it should be noted that during the winter season the hours run from 11:30am to 10pm. To those for whom the concept of premium fried chicken doesn’t sound like a contradiction, Seoul Fried Chicken might be worth checking out. Just keep in mind there isn’t much point in sticking around for long.