Something strange: I tend to think of the strips around colleges as dead zones for decent food.
But: new fried chicken place on Le Conte, across from UCLA: BBQ Chicken. It's just to the west of Westwood. Right south of the medical stuff.
I walked in, hungry but not particularly hopeful. I mean, you're across the street from a college campus. This worries me. ... But it smelled good. And there's sign that says: "your chicken will take 10-15 minutes as it's fried to order." And I was like, "Hey, these people are Korean maybe. I think this is Korean-run!" And, you know, Korean fried chicken...
Their schtick is: the stuff is fried in olive oil. Supposedly for health. They explain, very eagerly, to anybody that asks, that "BBQ" stands not for "barbecue", but "best of best quality." I almost chocked on my chicken when she told this to somebody ordering. It's.... so... *precious*...
Chicken comes either plain, or in spicy sauce. I had plain, curious about the impact of olive oil.
Anyway: the chicken is... well, I don't know how I feel about the chicken. I'd actually really like other people to go here and tell me what they think of the chicken. On the one hand, it's really freshly fried, with some skill. It comes out super fresh, the crispiness is exact, nailed, super juicy, etc. etc.
On the other hand: well, for one, they seem to be aiming at precisely the KFC aesthetic. They're way better, of course, but it's that precise type of batter, and that precise ratio of batter to chicken moistness, and even the spicing range. I'm largely OK with this, but, it's almost eerily so.
More than that: the olive oil frying... is... well, it supplies a particular kind of unguency and a particular oiliness... it's not that it's *too* oily or greasy, it's just this particular texture to olive oil... well, it's weird. I actually don't know how I feel about it. I'm trapped between liking and weirded out. It's distinctively olive-oil tasting, too. The balance is... odd. This is one of the few things I've tasted that I'm very suspended between liking and confused. I think I might like it. I don't know.
On the other hand, it's actually clearly a place run by people who give a crap, and take some care and pride in what they do, which puts it about four miles past almost everything else in Westwood Village.
Second opinions, please?
A branch of this place opened in Koreatown earlier this year. I liked the Olive Oil chicken. I don't think I'd compare it to KFC (though to be fair, I haven't had a KFC since it was called Kentucky Fried) as it is much lighter. I think what characterizes it most is its very basic nature - crisp, light and as you note, fried by someone who knows what they are doing; there is a certain purity to it.
That being said, I haven't been back since my first few visits (everything else on the menu was pretty bleak). Given that the Koreatown branch is only a stone's throw to KyoChon or BonChon, I tend to opt for those when I'm in the fried chicken mood.
Here's my review from April:
BBQ Chicken is a chain which recently opened a Koreatown location at 7th and Vermont. Contrary to what you may assume from the name, Korean BBQ doesn't serve much in the way of barbecue. In fact, according to their menu, the B-B-Q in BBQ Chicken stands for "Best of the Best Quality."
Instead, this is another of the Korean fried chicken joints, the major selling point of which seems to be that the chicken is fried in olive oil. I ordered a number of dishes to check it out.
The olive oil fried chicken, known as Olive Original Chicken, was very nice. The batter was crisp and light with a very mild seasoning. Generally, I haven't cared for the non-seasoned fried chicken at the various Korean chicken shops. Without the marinade, they tend to be bland, but I really liked this one which tasted fresh and had nice flavor from the olive oil.
The Teri-Q is more similar to the soy-garlic standards at places like KyoChon and BonChon, but the version at BBQ Chicken was greasy, overcooked and not as intensely flavorful as its competitors' chickens.
As with most of the Korean chicken joints, the further you move from standard fried chicken offerings, the more questionable the dish. The "seasoned chicken" at BBQ consists of fried chicken nuggets coated with a dreadful sauce tasting of sweetened ketchup, and the marinated barbecue chicken was a rubbery airplane-like dish (from the days when they actually served food on planes, that is).
The standout at BBQ Chicken is definitely the Olive Chicken; I can't imagine going back for anything else.
Here's what I mean by KFC-like:
There are several major categories/balances for fried chicken. I'll try to use the most well-known exemplars from L.A.
Kyochon's, for example, is very... clingy. It's more of a batter *layer*, that has a uniform texture, and is tight to the chicken. When you eat, the batter and the chicken come off as one.
Flossie's is less a layer, than a shell - a thin, shattering shell. It separates a little from the chicken, and you bite, you crunch past and through it. It shatters into, like, shards, that crunch around as distinct entities from the chicken.
Roscoe's, to a lesser extent, is a bit like Kyochon. It's not shattering/seperate - it's a *slightly* softer, more clinging layer, slightly thick. It doesn't seperate as you eat.
(Louisiana Best Seafood, by the way, is unique for have command of both of these style, and deploying them at will. Their shrimp is more clingy thick batter layer, their sand dabs very distinctly crisp-separate-shell.)
KFC's is this weird, very particular texture that you almost never find anywhere else. The texture is - well, if you look at the thing, it's a very craggy, surface-of-a-comet-like texture, with lots of nodules hanging off. You don't bite through it, like you do with the Flossie's - it's definitely a substantial layer - but all the nodules break off, so you have this sort of large-scale separation into crunchy bits. The effect is rather like, say, those potluck casseroles with the canned fried onions - large chunks of crunchy, relatively hard pieces, bouncing around with the softer flesh/bean.
Sorry, I'm doing a terrible job at describing this.
Anyway - KFC's version is fairly texturally unique, in my book, and I think it's some weird particular chemical thing they do, because none of my chicken frying experiments, using lots of different sorts of batters, have come close to it.
BBQ nails that texture exactly - so exactly, that it makes me pretty sure that they were chasing it.
I tried the one that opened in Irvine while I was visiting a friend in the area. I went back a few more times to try them out spaced over 3 months or so. I have to say, that initially it seemed... odd like you said.
But what turned me off on the place is the quality of their chicken. The quality started dropping each time I went. I asked my friend who's local to that place what their thoughts were on it (since they tried it a few more times than I) and they agreed. The last two times I tried it, the chicken had this bad funk and the quality, texture and flavor were all clearly a notch below their "grand opening" period.
I don't know whether it's to cut costs, or whatever the reason, but I no longer eat there (nor do any of my friends in the area). Very disappointing.
I loved it. A big part of that must be that it was freshly fried and really hot. I went to Dinah's recently, and you could taste the heat lamp that chicken was sitting under. This is nothing like that. On its own, this is no-frills, awesome fried chicken. You can also get the sauce on the side. They had three levels of heat; the hottest being pretty brutal. All were very light with an Asian flavor; lots of ginger. This is not barbecue sauce, or "Buffalo wings" sauce.
So, great place. Too bad it won't last. Terrible location. It's on the fringe of the Westwood Villiage, between a convenience store and a medicinal marijuana clinic. You can barely see the place. Nevertheless, I'll be eating there until they close down.
Good point. Also, I went back after writing that post last week. (Once it was on my mind, I had to go. In fact, now that I'm writing this post, I may have to go back tonight.) It was packed. Not many people eating there, but a ton of to-go business. Once school starts again this place could really take off.
I stopped by and gave it a try today. The chicken is quite good, perfectly fried to order, and I don't find the mild olive flavor to be weird at all.
The sauce is a sweet-sour glaze which sort of overpowered the chicken and which I could take or leave. I'll join others in recommending that you get it on the side so you can still taste the olivey flavor, but can also dip for variety. As for heat level, the "extra spicy" is what I would describe as a medium-hot sauce: it has a kick, but shouldn't scare away anyone who likes some fire in their food.
Prices are around $10 for a half-chicken, $18 for a whole.