There are many wonderful things in life, and biking on a gorgeous, sunny day and stopping by an adorable neighboorhood for food and wandering around is one of them.
There are also many disappointing things in life, for example visitng a hyped up restaurant and the food did not turn out like what you expected.
A couple days ago, my friend and I biked along the Lakefront Trail on this stunningly beautiful Chicago day, one of those days you have to seize before the Midwest gets cold and windy and below freezing temperature. We stopped by Lakeview East for lunch at this place called Crisp, a Korean-American fusion restaurant that serves highly raved Korean fried chicken, allegedly some of the best fried chickens in Chicago, and even in the U.S. We arrived during lunch hour and the place was pretty packed, with few vacant spots left. A glance at the menu and you get this mixture of excitement and indecisiveness because there are just so many options and you want to try everything. There are various parts of chickens (whole, half, tenders, wings) with your choice of sauce, as well as Korean burritos and Buddha Bowls, Crisp’s own recreation of Korean’s bi bim baps. We ordered a half chicken with Seoul Sassy sauce ($8.95), and chicken tenders with Crisp BBQ sauce ($5.95), which are two of the recommended sauces at Crisp.
The essence of Korean fried chicken is in the way they are fried and the sauce they are drenched in. Korean fried chickens (now aptly named KFC), unlike American ones, are deep fried twice to obtain that crispy, paper thin exterior, and then drizzled with sauce that can be anything from sweet and sour to fire hot spicy. Good KFC are tender and juicy, with the right amount of moisture from the sauce to give the chicken a kick of bold flavor.
The chickens came out pretty fast, served by a waiter who hollered out my name and carried the food over when I responded to his call. The half chicken is a combination of breast meats, a thigh and a wing. From its appearance, the half chicken is more on the dry side, with just enough sauce to cover up the parts. Sinking my teeth into the breast was surprisingly difficult, as the skin was hard and the meat dry. My throat felt parched as I swallowed the lump of meat that took some effort to chew. The Seoul Sassy sauce, a subtly sweet condiment with hints of soy and ginger, was the best part of the chicken and pretty much gave the meat its flavor. As I worked my way through the chicken, some batter even detached from the flesh – not impressive. Towards the end I simply dipped the chicken in the leftover Crisp BBQ sauce from the chicken tenders to make the flavor stronger.
The chicken tenders, on the other hand, tasted much more pleasant. A strip was as long as my palm and the meat was tender and chewy, the batter light with the right touch of crunch. The Crisp BBQ sauce is probably now my new favorite barbeque sauce, sweet and smoky with a subtle spiciness to it. The tenders were very filling and I like how they were generously soaked in the sauce. I dipped the tenders in Sirarcha mixed with Gochujang, a traditional Korean sweet and spicy sauce, and the result was this delicious, extra spicy and sweet flavor that complimented perfectly with the Crisp BBQ sauce.
I’m happy that I get to check off a restaurant from my Chicago to-eat list, but the dining experience leans towards being underwhelming. I definitely have had better Korean fried chicken, but the food here is good if you have no expectations, and the price wasn’t bad for the amount we got (my friend and I ended up paying around $8 each and we were stuffed). In my opinion, Crisp doesn’t live up to the praises they received, and if I do happen to come back again I hope to get a better taste of their food.
On a separate note, Lakeview East is a wonderful neighborhood, with plenty other restaurants, cafes and local shops – a great spot for those who want to explore Chicago without falling into touristy traps. We stumbled upon this Arts fair, which was super cool and was brimmed with live music and artworks on sell.
Address: 2940 North Broadway St, Chicago
Price: Below $10