Bab Cafe opened in downtown Reno almost three years ago, with Korean rice bowls and other tasty tidbits. Its sister location at the south-end Summit Mall was recently rebranded as Bab x Chicken, replacing the bowls with “reinvented Korean street food,” bento boxes and Korean fried chicken. I couldn’t wait to try it.
In Korea, deep-fried poultry is referred to as “chikin” or “KFC,” a.k.a. Korean Fried Chicken. Dredged in a blend of wheat flour, corn starch and familiar Western-style seasonings, the boneless morsels are double-fried in soy oil to ensure a crispy, sauced exterior. Bab x Chicken serves it up in combo meals, wraps, salads and various à la carte servings with a choice of three sauces. Additional dipping sauces are available.
I chose three half-pound servings each of white meat, dark meat and wings ($7.95 each). For the breast meat, I went with garlic butter—a simple mix of butter, salt, sugar and garlic. Though definitely crispy, the meat bites were a bit inconsistent between being moist or dry. The sauce was garlicky and very buttery, almost to the point I felt I was downing a stick of the stuff. Perhaps not my favorite.
A half pound of dark meat was doused in Bab Soy—a mix of sugar, Thai chile, onion and garlic powders, soy sauce, simple syrup, carrot, bouillon, salt, apple paste, rice starch, black pepper, lemon juice, plumb paste and tomato paste. To its nature, the dark meat retained more moisture, the coating holding up well against the savory, sweet, slightly spicy goo. Good stuff.
Out of curiosity, I ordered a half-pound of gluten-free wings, made with a mix of rice and corn flour subbing for wheat. The very sweet, medium spicy sauce consisted of sugar, red chile flake, ketchup, garlic powder, chile paste, salt, corn syrup and capsaicin extract. Though the crust was crisp at the outset, it didn't take long for the rubbery skin's moisture and heavy sauce to render each bite a mushy disappointment.
A chik stick ($3.95) was six inches of ground chicken mixed with carrot, onion, seasonings and mozzarella cheese on a stick—drizzled with chile sauce and garlic mayo. Nothing fancy, but it was completely enjoyable. The texture was a bit like Thai satay, but with a melty cheese interior and a bit of heat. I'd happily grab a couple of these for lunch, as a snack or at a ballpark.
An oden cup ($1.95) was fish meatballs and fish cake in a broth of fish stock, soy sauce and scallion. I really enjoyed this soup. It was all about the umami broth. Sides of pickled daikon radish and kimchi coleslaw were also enjoyed ($1.95 each). The mild, diced radish was very crunchy, tart and sweet. The slaw's mix of white cabbage, Napa cabbage, carrot, onion, fish stock, mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, salt, sugar, black pepper, red chile flake, garlic, shrimp stock, ginger, onion and radish was a little on the soupy side, but it had remarkable flavor. It was easily one of the most complex and enjoyable cabbage salads I've experienced.
Finally, the snow chips ($1.95) were thin-sliced, deep-fried bits of sweet potato dusted in a mix of salt and sugar. These crispy little bits were cracktacular. They're more dessert than a side item. If you're catching a flick at the movie theater next-door, I'd recommend smuggling a bunch of these in for your cinematic snacking. You'll want more than one carton.