Seoul Street

. May 16, 2012.

Seoul Street has distinguished itself from the pack of Ann Arbor Korean restaurants by focusing on a dish previously unknown here: Korean-style fried chicken. This addictive treat, poorly-known in the US outside of major cities with big Korean populations like New York or LA, involves a double-frying technique which gives a thin, crispy crust, and often a sweet or spicy sauce.  It’s complicated enough that it’s a restaurant thing, which means that if you’re hooked on it, and you don’t live in one of those cities, you’re out of luck.

Unless, of course, you’re addicted enough to start your own restaurant.

“We were sitting around, saying ‘Man, I wish we could have some chicken!’” said Reggie Kim, one of the partners at Seoul Street. So they decided to bring the concept to their home town of Ann Arbor. This led them on a long quest, which eventually involved six partners (three of whom actually run the restaurant), and an arrangement with one of New York City’s more popular chicken places, which not only assisted with recipes and advice, but also helped get their specialized kitchen set up properly.

The Chicken

The result is excellent. Seoul Street advertises themselves as having the "best fried chicken in Ann Arbor," and you know what? As far as we can tell, they're right.  It’s done in a thin batter, with a much smoother surface than American-style fried chicken, which overlays the skin to produce a single crispy layer. It’s not greasy or heavy, the meat (from antibiotic–free Bell & Evans chicken) is tender and juicy, and the glazes are light and delicious. Each bite is a taste of perfection. The hot and spicy has a sweet edge and its spice heat (which we think is pretty mellow) grows with each bite.  The soy garlic is mild and flavorful, but not
too garlicky. 

Your options are wings, legs, thighs, or breast strips (slices, really). People who want ease of eating go for the breast strips.  Connoisseurs decide between the other pieces based on the meat-to-coating ratio they’re looking for, so preferences vary.  Joe, who isn’t usually a drumstick guy, is a drumstick guy here.  On a first trip, we’d advise you to mix and match. All of the pieces are excellent, though the consensus opinion was that the breast strips aren’t quite as flavorful as the others. (This may be because they don’t have skin on them, which forms part of the coating on the other pieces.) Of the two sides offered with the chicken, the sweet and cooling pickled radishes (the more traditional accompaniment, along with beer or soju, which Seoul Street sadly can’t offer) were preferred over the corn salad by the majority of our group.

Be forewarned: all chicken orders are made fresh to order. Breast strips can come out in 10-15 minutes; other pieces run more like 20-25. Consider calling in your order before going.

Side Dishes

While you’re waiting for your chicken, you can have something else to eat:

Grandma Hong’s Mandoo:  Seoul Street makes these dumplings, available in both vegetarian and meat versions, fresh in-house, and it shows. The dumplings were crisp, and not oily at all, and soft inside. The vegetarian ones are a mix of tofu and vegetables spiced with black (or white) pepper. You can get them glazed, like the chicken, or plain. They are deep-fried, and have a thicker skin than some versions.

Dok Bok Ki / Ra Bok Ki: dense, cylindrical Korean rice cakes in a spicy red sauce (which was too sweet for some of our group).  They’re accompanied by slices of fried fish cake, and in the Ra Bok Ki version also by ramen noodles.

Fried Veggies: The fried veggies feature a large serving of almost shoe-string sized cuts of onion, potato, zucchini, and carrot, once again perfectly deep-fried. A great side to share with two or more people.

Other Dinner Options

The Seoul Street owners’ philosophy is to try to replicate “what their moms and dads made at home”; everything is done from scratch as much as possible. As a result, some of their non-chicken dishes are notably good:

Bi Bim Bap: Yes, you can get this at probably 15 other places round town. But we were surprised to discover that, in every respect, Seoul Street’s Bi Bim Bap stands up to the competition.  You'll get a beautiful refreshing selection of spinach, bean sprouts, pickled mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, and cucumbers over rice and topped with a perfectly fried egg. Add on tofu, bulgogi (Korean beef, which is excellent here), or chicken. Mix it all up and flavor with hot bean paste to your taste. The only downside is that it’s served in a flat plastic bowl, which means you have to chase it around while mixing. But seriously? It’s good. Comes with a side of kimchee (spicy cabbage salad). The night we had it, the kimchee was young and fresh, crispy and a bit spicy.

Budae Jjigae: The surprise hit of the night was this “Army Base Stew,” a chile-flavored broth with kimchee, tofu, ramen noodles, and thinly sliced spam and hot dogs. Yes, you read that right: spam and hot dogs. The broth, though fire-red with the chile, was not brutally hot. Delicious and warming with a savory, sour kick from the kimchee. Ideal for the cold winter days ahead.  The name, and the not-typically-Korean ingredients, come from the period during and after the Korean War, when meat was scarce but US Army bases, and their supplies, were relatively plentiful. (This has since developed into an actual Korean dish, eaten and loved by people who are way too young to have grown up with it.  There are even specialty restaurants for it.) You can add other items to it (mandoo, bulgogi beef, etc.) but the spam and hot dogs come standard.

Seoul Street is not without its quirks. First, it’s hard to find. It’s tucked into the far corner of the back side of its building, visible only from the back parking lot. Second, if you love your Korean food to be really spicy-hot, you will need to ask them to ramp up the heat. Ordered as-is, the dishes came mild to medium. Finally, be aware that this is primarily a carry-out place and it has limited seating. And keep in mind – the chicken’s done fresh, so allow time or call ahead.

Seoul Street
1771 Plymouth Rd. Suite 101
(Across from N. Campus in same building as Panera Bread)
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Friday & Saturday
Both delivery orders and chicken orders must be turned in 30 minutes prior to closing time.


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