Deep Fried Chicago: Crisp
Ok, so you're craving chicken. You don't want it roasted, but beyond that are options. Southern fried, barbecue, or Buffalo? Sauce-tossed or herb and spice crunchy-battered? Spicy vinegar based, sweet and tangy, or hot beyond the point of flavor? Irresolute palates take solace: marinated, battered, fried, and coated in a complex and flavorful sauce, Korean fried chicken is here to save the day. At Crisp in Lakeview, you can have your fried chicken and eat it too.
Monday through Thursday, Crisp offers a Whole Chicken Combo ($19.99), which elevates vacillation to a whole new level. The combo includes your choice of two drinks, two sides, and the main event: a whole chicken broken into 12 pieces, fried, and tossed in the restaurant's two most popular sauces.
Seoul Sassy is a seemingly mild soy, ginger, and garlic based sauce, until you get a few bites in and the heat and sweetness that have been lingering in the back move to the forefront. However, these competing tastes never completely overpower the subtly spiced chicken, a balancing act that most similar sauces fail to accomplish.
The menu bills Crisp BBQ as the Korean answer to American barbecue sauce. But I think that the sweet, smoky, peppery, gochujang-based sauce can stand on its own two feet without the obligatory nod. While the thin Seoul sauce soaks into the crunchy chicken batter and infuses it with subtle flavor, this sauce is like a second coat of paint: brighter, more concentrated, and the perfect finishing touch to the crackily chicken.
The chicken itself is as the restaurant's name promises. Hard fried, it manages to stay crunchy even under all that sauce—a technique most buffalo chicken sandwich purveyors would do well to master. While the generous battering means that there are plenty of crispy, craggily bits, it never feels greasy: the acidic sauces ensure each bite feels like the first. If you're looking for me to pick out a favorite sauce, I won't do it. When Seoul threatened to become too sweet, spicy BBQ was there to balance it out. When the heat of BBQ spiked past smoldering, Seoul's mildness offered welcome repose. It's as though the kitchen planned for these sauces to work so well together.
While appropriate for the purposes of deep fried immersion dining, I wouldn't choose the same sides next time. The Superfly Frites were from frozen and hardly cooked beyond limp. That they offered a blank canvas for dipping into residual sauce is the best I can say for them.
The O-Rings (which, for the record, I refrained from ordering as such) were as solid as any bar & grill version, though they did suffer from the dreaded onion-pulling-from-the-breading affliction. My only real complaint is that they didn't really enhance the chicken experience; if anything, they detracted and took up valuable stomach space. Next time, I'm choosing white rice and kimchi, which though not fried, will invariably complement the chicken much better.
A quick word on table sauces. Allison's Atomic tastes mayo and sambal based, while Crisp Buddha, the restaurant's version of gochujang, has a sneaky spiciness. Both made valiant efforts toward sprucing up up the sides. And did I mention that they can also be used in tandem to create multiplicitously flavored chicken? At Crisp, indecisiveness never tasted so good.