There’s an admirable democracy to New York City’s food scene. We wait months for the privilege of paying over $400 (per person) for dinner in the same city that spawned the fast-casual revolution. Just look at anytime Shake Shack offers a one-off burger.
This time, however, the cows could rest easy, because we finally got to taste why David Chang renounced ramen: His new chain-restaurant-to-be,Fuku, opened in the space that used to be his first Momofuku Noodle Bar, 163 First Ave.
It serves just two items — three if you count the side of French fries ($3), which the consensus is you should not — a fried chicken sandwich ($8), which can be ordered Koreano style with slaw, and a farro-citrus salad ($6). The fully liquor-licensed drinks menu, meanwhile, is eight deep, with a Michelada worth exploring.
So, good stuff, well done, this city can use a spicier take on the Chick-fil-A sandwich without having to make friends with an NYU student and tasting the bitter backwashof their ideology. But that's not the reception it got.
We collectively set aside our normal cold-pressed, kale-centric Paleo lives, and even paid the penance of waiting up to an hour in line. There was a liveblog of the opening, to the point of detailing the phases of paper being peeled off the windows and the socioeconomic demographics of the people in line? Are we so brand-obsessed that Chang’s name elevates it from Morgan Spurlock blood pressure fodder to Instagram bragging rights?
Or is it just an easy way to claim some kind of recognition in a city filled with unique experiences, beautiful people and exclusive events?
At least the sandwich (and even the salad) seem to be worth the effort. Besides its limited menu, Fuku has another quirk: no modifications. Your sandwich has one mode, and that’s spicy. Grubstreet says the patty (made from thigh meat so expect fat and, you know, actual flavor) is marinated in habanero puree, then battered in buttermilk and spices before going in the frier.
Oh, and it’s BYO mustard if that's your thing — the potato roll is dotted with pickles and a smear of butter, and your only other condiment options are ketchup (Heinz, of course) or Chang’s own Ssam sauce.
Fuku does resemble the Shack in one crucial, head-shaking way: This is still not the fast-casual space that serves a decent fry. Eater’s Robert Sietsemashares my frustration:
“One thing Fuku and Shack Shack have in common is their comparative contempt for fries. Shack Shack uses treated crinkle cuts, and recently reneged on a promise to provide better ones, while Fuku serves steak fries, the world’s worst type of fries, which seem to have been par-baked before being fried, thus giving them an interior texture of instant mashed potatoes.”
In the end, however, we're all slaves to our Summer 2015 bingo cards. Fuku is cash only and open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so make those interns earn their keep, or try them this weekend — if eating brunch standing up is not a dealbreaker.