Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Jan. 25, 2008
Mon-Sat, 10:30am-10pm; Sun, 11:30am-9:30pm
Red Cap Chick2510 S. Congress, 416-1134
Monday-Saturday, 10:30am-10pm; Sunday, 11:30am-9:30pm
The letters KFC have a new meaning in Austin: Korean fried chicken, the food craze that took New York City by storm about a year ago, which is now colonizing the West Coast. The dish is yang nyum tong dalk, or seasoned fried chicken, a concept which springs from Korea's love of platters of fried chicken as a bar food, meant to be snacked on with beer or soju, the Korean version of vodka. It became hugely popular in Korea back in the early 1990s and is typically a dish that a person eats in a specialty restaurant or bar, since it's too time-consuming and laborious to cook at home.
Red Cap Chick, located on the west side of South Congress, a bit south of Oltorf, started up a little over a year ago and several months back was purchased by husband and wife team Hayeal and Heewon Lee. Red Cap also serves conventional fried chicken and tenders (including gizzards and livers for all of you organ lovers), as well as fried catfish, with all of the conventional Western trimmings, but Korean fried chicken is their specialty. Making it is a complicated process, and it is not fast food; it's prepared in small batches, to order, so you'll wait 10 minutes or so for the order to cook.
The chicken is first hacked Asian-style into 2-inch-wide pieces, bone and all, and then marinated with a spicy dry rub overnight. Heewon would not reveal the secrets of her seasoning mix, but subtle hints of garlic and red chile come through. It is then dunked in a thin batter, deep-fried at 350 degrees until it's partially cooked, and then drained and chilled. "We use potato starch in the batter because it makes a thin crust that's extra crispy," says Heewon. When the KFC order comes in at the counter, the chicken goes back into the batter and then into the fryer to finish cooking and turn golden and crispy. At this point it gets served either plain or covered with a sticky, reddish hot-pepper glaze or a sweet garlic glaze. In talking about the all-natural sauce ingredients, Heewon mentioned kiwi fruit as one component, but she was tight-lipped about the other ingredients. A regular order of about six pieces is $6.99, while the large order of 16 pieces is $12.99.
We loved all three versions, finding the skin especially crispy and delicious and the meat within very moist and tender. We would prefer the glaze to be thinner so that it gets absorbed lightly into the skin. The spicy version could have been much spicier, and the sweet garlic could have been much more garlicky for our tastes; the Korean flavor profile is normally more aggressive, so perhaps they've toned it down for Western tastes. On our next visit, we'll see if they can bump up the heat and garlic.
This is definitely a meal where you'll be licking your fingers, as the glaze tends to stick to your digits. And expect to nibble around the bones for all of those juicy tidbits. It comes with the traditional accompaniment, mool, delicious cubed sweet pickled daikon radish, which nicely balances the sweetness of the glaze.
We have to mention the amazingly good catfish. We got the plate with four pieces ($6.89), which was essentially two good-sized fillets with the dark vein in the middle trimmed away. The coating is well-seasoned, light, and crispy; the flesh, moist and sweet. It's served with your choice of sides and two onion hush puppies, and for the price, it's a bargain.
Red Cap Chick is unique, bringing Austin its first taste of Korean yang nyum chicken. It's a taste well worth the brief wait and Heewon's considerable efforts, and don't forget their catfish.