I love fried chicken -- from the triple-fried wing coated in sticky, spicy sauce of Southeast Asia to the Southern comfort of a battered and fried drumstick paired with mashed potatoes and gravy. But the Korean version could be my all-time favorite.
Korean cooks don't batter their birds, but they do deep-fry them -- and the best places deep-fry them multiple times. The result is a light but impossibly crispy skin encasing tender meat, both the white and dark variety dripping with juice. Served simply with a little salt for dipping, pickled vegetables to cleanse the palate and the ubiquitous kimchi, this is a dish I chase down in cities with a vibrant Koreatown.
But while metro Denver has a surfeit of Korean barbecue places, the only restaurant I knew of that served whole fried chickens closed more than a year ago. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when a Korean friend led a group to Aurora for a movable feast at his favorite Korean joints.
And there it was: whole fried chicken on the menu at Al Bae Nae Korean restaurant, a strip mall spot at 2040 Havana.
We ordered this, of course, and it came in golden glory to the table with sides of kimchi, pickled radishes and salt. By then, the group was chattering, which was good, because I might have chopsticked someone in the hand in order to get at the food first. But instead, I pulled a leg off the chicken and sunk my teeth into it, scalding the roof of my mouth as steam burst from underneath the skin. The skin was light and airy; the meat as tender as if it had been braised (it had definitely been brined), and smacking of salt and grease. And since Al Bae Nae doesn't have a liquor license -- and, therefore, no crisp beer that would have gone so well with this chicken -- I cleansed my palate with a crunchy pickled radish. But even without the beer, this bird satisfied months of longing.
I was ready to spill the news of my find in a review of the joint this week. And then our photographer made a call, which resulted in terrible news: Al Bae Nae is closing on May 8, and the space will be sold to a new owner who is definitely ditching the concept.
"They're doing some construction, and they'll be opening a new concept," says owner Stephen Lee, who also partners with his sister and James and Lily Kwon (who own nearby Seoul BBQ) on Q Table BBQ in Northglenn.
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But would fried chicken -- or anything Korean -- still be on the menu? "I don't know," says Lee. "You'll have to ask them."
In the meantime, if you want to sample the only restaurant I know of in this city that's making good fried chicken, you'll want to get to Al Bae Nae before May 8. After that, says Lee, he hopes people will visit Q Table.
And if you happen to know of another place doing this kind of fowl, please tell us in the comments.