Into a land rich with deep-fried possibilities, where KFC and Popeye's have long reigned, comes a Korean competitor with a succulent bird that is sure to gain fans.
Cheogajip Chicken, a franchise chain with more than 1,200 restaurants in Korea, has opened 12 carryouts in the United States in the past three years, including the first Washington area location in Annandale's Korea Town in 2005. Two more opened last year: one in a predominantly Korean American strip mall in Centreville and the other inside Lotte Plaza, an Asian supermarket in Fairfax. The company has ambitious expansion plans and soon will add pizza to the menu.
Lightly battered with a thin, crisp skin, a Cheogajip fried chicken ($13.99 each) is chopped, Chinese-style, into 18 to 20 pieces and pressure-cooked to order. There is a fleeting hint of five-spice powder. Greasiness is not an issue. The meat is moist and flavorful, and better still, each order comes with an eight-ounce serving of refreshing pickled radish.
The word cheogajip (pronounced CHO-ga-jeep) translates as "mother-in-law's home."
"So Cheogajip Chicken means mother-in-law's chicken," company spokesman Sang Moon wrote in an e-mail. "Traditionally in Korea, when the son-in-law visits the wife's family, the mother-in-law would kill and cook the brood hen, which was a symbol of absolute hospitality."
The best of the side orders ($1.89 each) is the mashed potato, made with fresh red-skin spuds and topped with a spoonful of American-style brown gravy. Unfortunately, the french fries and the coleslaw are mediocre, at best.
For those who like their fried chicken dipped in a sweet, sticky sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds, Cheogajip has a tame Sweet and Mild chicken ($14.99 each) with just a touch of chili-pepper heat. A Hot and Spicy version ($15.99 each) has a much sharper intensity, best left to the brave.
--Walter Nicholls (July 18, 2007)