Zabu Chicken

by KimHo on February 23, 2011 · 11 comments under: British Columbia,Food,Restaurant



Zabu Chicken
1635 Robson Street
Vancouver, BC
Zabu Chicken on Urbanspoon

I might be overstating the obvious here: Restaurant business is a cuthroat business. Even more so in Vancouver where restaurants seems to come and go. Restaurateurs blame the economy, HST, drinking laws, etc. However, what they forget is that eating out is not a necessity; is a luxury. If you can’t make people come to your restaurant and generate revenue and income, probably you are doing something wrong. While I do miss some restaurants that are long gone, those empty spots are usually filled up by something else down the road. Or, in some cases, just close for a week and reinvent themselves. Fuel, in Kitsilano, for example, turned into Refuel. Am I digressing here? Maybe; however, thoughts like these came to my mind when I saw Zabu Chicken…

Zabu, Chicken, Zabu Chicken, Vancouver, Robson, Korean, fried, chicken, wings, whole, drum, stick, drumstick, thigh, breast, soy, original, lemon, spicy, hot, salad, dressing, rice, KFC, Chruch's, Kosetsu, Kim Bob Chun Gook

Wait, what is the deal with Zabu Chicken, isn’t it a new restaurant? Maybe? It might be a case of Deja Vu. Long time ago, way before my days of food blogging, 1635 Robson Street, across from Robson Market and next to Capers was home to Roscoe’s, a home cooked type, European restaurant. For some reason, despite living really close, I didn’t feel it was welcoming. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure their culture is; just that, the exterior didn’t reflect it and, as a result, I never walked in. Fast foward, to summer 2010. After some remodeling, an izakaya was supposed to open here. It’s name? Kosetsu. However, some wacky scheduling on their side prevented me from going there and, instead, I ended up going to Guu Garden. A couple of weeks later, it was suddenly closed and, wala!, a new restaurant pops out. This time? Kim Bob Chun Gook, which I went for lunch with PO. Yes, yes, it is gone and now it is occupied by Zaku Chicken. At this rate, one can’t help but wonder if this spot is cursed or the new tenants are avoiding the Canada Revenue Agency by closing and reopening (wacky thought, most likely no, as the bill from Kim Bob Chun Gook and Zabu Chicken both had the Kosetsu business name in it). But enough back story, now to this visit.

First, I am not completely unfamiliar with how Korean fry their chicken. Granted, I have not been in Korean nor will claim any expertise. However, what I can say is that, after my experience in Red Chicken and Chicken Party, at least, I sort of knew what I was up to. The question is whether Zabu would deliver.

Once again, partner in crime PO and I arrived at just after 12 o’clock, just to find a somewhat confused wait staff, as if they weren’t expecting any customers. Now, I could say that would have been “possible”: before this actual visit, we tried to go there a couple of instances just to find out they weren’t open yet. Let me try again: their original (hand written) hours were Monday to Thursday, opening at 2:00 p.m. Yup, this is one of those “WTH?” moments. What is the point of opening at 2:00 p.m. if the lunch rush is way gone? Or could it be Koreans eat later during the day? Anyway, we were seated in the dead middle of the restaurant and given the menu.

At this point, you can guess their menu is quite straight forward: Fried chicken. They have it in three different possible iterations: “original”, which meant either whole or half chicken; “sitcks” referring to drumsticks; or wings. You could also order a combo which is a mix of wings and “sticks”. Similar to Chicken Party, they have “flavours”, from the generic “fried chicken” to their soy original, hot oraiginal, lemon and “soy sal-sal”. Anything else? In addition to booze, a “zabu chicken katsu” and “zabu chicken salad”, you can say that is about it. And probably in sort of lack of judgement we ended up ordering 12 pieces of their soy wings and 5 pieces of their drumsticks, plus a salad to share. After making our orders, we got…

Zabu, Chicken, Zabu Chicken, Vancouver, Robson, Korean, fried, chicken, wings, whole, drum, stick, drumstick, thigh, breast, soy, original, lemon, spicy, hot, salad, dressing, rice, KFC, Chruch's, Kosetsu, Kim Bob Chun Gook

Zabu, Chicken, Zabu Chicken, Vancouver, Robson, Korean, fried, chicken, wings, whole, drum, stick, drumstick, thigh, breast, soy, original, lemon, spicy, hot, salad, dressing, rice, KFC, Chruch's, Kosetsu, Kim Bob Chun Gook

Now, I know that a lot of us are used to banchan – those small side dishes; here, we got a small coleslaw-like “salad” and some radish. You know what? I am OK with this. As for the radish, I thought it was a bit too acidic but, otherwise, eaten as an appetizer, it was a sort of good starting point. As for the coleslaw, too much dressing for me. On that note, it was a creamy type dressing, not too different from a ranch dressing, though without that acidic taste behind it.

From there, things went downhill… OK, to those who haven’t fried food, it is, in a way, a test of patience. Vegetables are quite forgiving because you can appreciate if they are still a bit raw, while, if overcooked, well, still edible because it is covered by the batter (or something else). Meats? That’s when it gets tricky. Depending on the oil temperature, you can end up with something that looks burnt outside but still raw inside. And then there is the timing: it has to be cooked through while the exterior is still nice and crispy. Given how much emphasis they were making about their chicken, I thought, well, they might do it old school, which might require 20+ or so minutes for it to fry. And how long it took for our food to arrive at the table? How about 30 minutes after ordering? In fact, by minute ~20, PO and I were starting to debate about how the food will be presented. I.e., plump pieces? Or some run off the mill pieces? Or, as they say “we cook the freshest, not frozen chicken”. Hmmmmm…. Will see if that’s true. Anyway, the first dish to arrive was (at the 30 minutes mark already)…

Zabu, Chicken, Zabu Chicken, Vancouver, Robson, Korean, fried, chicken, wings, whole, drum, stick, drumstick, thigh, breast, soy, original, lemon, spicy, hot, salad, dressing, rice, KFC, Chruch's, Kosetsu, Kim Bob Chun Gook

The chicken salad. Why the hell we were ordering this? Probably because we needed vegetables? I will go outright and say this salad is a sore disappointment. In a way, it can be considered to be the coleslaw salad it was given the us original, with some extra lettuce, chicken and in a larger portion. That is because the dressing used here was basically the same. What didn’t help was that they didn’t hold back in the dressing. At times, I felt slurping it. Darn… But, one thing was decent: the chicken pieces were crispy, though, wished it was juicier. Then again, chicken breast, should I have expected more? Regardless, it was that dressing overkill… Come to think about it, I prefer the chicken salad from Costco to this. In a way, I guess that basically tells the story.

Zabu, Chicken, Zabu Chicken, Vancouver, Robson, Korean, fried, chicken, wings, whole, drum, stick, drumstick, thigh, breast, soy, original, lemon, spicy, hot, salad, dressing, rice, KFC, Chruch's, Kosetsu, Kim Bob Chun Gook

Shortly after the salad came the wings. Looking at them I had to chuckle a little bit. At just over $12 the order, we are talking ~$1 a piece. It would have been OK if it was a regular size wing. But, alas, it wasn’t. I was wondering if these were cut out from baby chicken or some specialty type chicken because these were small. Compare it to places where it is sold per pound (Wings, House of Wings, et al, or a Beaver and Mullet visited recently), these were definitely losers in the pricing category. But, wait, the proof is in the taste, isn’t it? So, how was it? Meh. From a “soy” perspective, I didn’t notice anything soy-ish there. In fact, I was wondering if this was borderline a honey garlic type “sauce”, more on the lines of honey than garlic. Furthermore, if that wasn’t enough of a killer, there was the fact it felt overfried. See, wings is one of those cuts that stand overcooking quite well because of the fat/skin ratio to meat compared to other cuts so, unless overcooked, the meats can still “flake” out and/or keep itself juicy. Alas, these were extremely crispy, which means overcooked wings…

Zabu, Chicken, Zabu Chicken, Vancouver, Robson, Korean, fried, chicken, wings, whole, drum, stick, drumstick, thigh, breast, soy, original, lemon, spicy, hot, salad, dressing, rice, KFC, Chruch's, Kosetsu, Kim Bob Chun Gook

Moving to the drumstick version, we ordered the hot version. I was a bit hesitant because it could be a repeat of what happened at Red Chicken, i.e., a chicken so spicy that cold liquid didn’t really help. Here, I was wondering if they used a sweet chili sauce because spicy it wasn’t. As for the meat, similar to the wings, it was starting to get crispy “inside”, while the outside part, given it was layered in sauce, was a slightly better but not by much. At one point, we were wonder if the skin was removed because we couldn’t determine why it was so dry. Alas, skin was on. So, as a result, don’t ask me what is going on here.

At one point, we wondered if we should have ordered a whole fried chicken instead. While we did “argue” about it, in the end, had it been the whole chicken, there were parts that wouldn’t have helped anyway. The chicken breast, for example, considering how the wing and drumstick were dry. But here is the one killer: timing. Why it took so long for the food to deliver? It didn’t feel it was fried to order, specially considering neither the wings or drumstick were pipping hot (temperature wise). So, did I miss something? Probably the moola we had to fork? Total bill was in the $36 range (tax included) and we paid $40. At the risk of alienating readers for saying it but, for that $$$, we could have easily bought a rotisserie chicken with some sides at Safeway (< = $20) or, in a fried chicken comparison, I might have even gone to KFC or Church’s. In fact, we joked we should have done exactly that! Yes, I know people will ask for my head for making this comparison but, when the food was so sub-par, even to KFC, such statement is not overkill and might hold some truth in it. So, once again, Zabu Chicken is a no for me…

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 LazyCityGirl February 23, 2011 at 10:02 am

I am a bit disappointed that Zabu was sub-par. I was looking forward to trying it.
We, Koreans, are pretty specific with our fried chicken. I don’t know why. Haha.. We always pair fried chicken with the acidic radish. Sometimes when I buy a roast chicken from Costco, I prepare the radish in advance so I can enjoy both. :)

Regardless, the price seems steep for what you are getting.
Thanks for your thorough review.

LCG

2 KimHo February 23, 2011 at 10:12 am

LCG, again, this is not my first time trying Korean style chicken and, add the steep price, it creates a compounding effect. Yup, I was disappointed… However, hey, if you are up for it, don’t let me deter you from trying them. Who knows, I might have missed the point and ordered “the wrong stuff”!

3 Kevin February 23, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Those are some pretty disappointing looking Korean Fried Chickens wings…….

Want to go to Korea?!

4 KimHo February 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Kevin, have plans already in the near future, buddy…

5 Sherman February 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Kim, you know I like spending money on food…. Of course I do… LOL… But… as you remarked… this is just too much money for that! Let’s see how long they last.

6 KimHo February 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Sherman, we have talked about that. In the meantime, that discussion will remain off-line…! :)

7 jlomein February 26, 2011 at 4:27 am

FYI If you go on a Friday or Saturday from 7PM-2AM and order soju you get a free appitizer plate of sliced pork hock and edamame. I actually enjoy their chicken along with drinks, but I agree that their pricing is quite high. Most people seem to be voting with their wallets as this place is never busy while other Korean restaurants in the area on weekends are packed.

I will always consider alternatives first, but if it’s 1AM on a weeknight and I want to drink soju and have some ok food, I don’t mind going to Zabu.

8 KimHo February 26, 2011 at 8:59 am

jlomein, that’s a lot of conditions for me to meet! If it was 1:00 a.m. (unlikely for me), drink soju (even less likely) and want some food (OK, easy to meet!) AND I am in Downtown, I might consider La Belle Patate instead (open late, drink beer and something greasy)! :D

9 jlomein February 27, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for recommending La Belle Patate. It looks amazing. I’m intrigued about their Michigan hotdog, as no reviewers on Urbanspoon have tried it or have photos. They do close rather early though. Their facebook page states their hours are:
Mon – Tues: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Wed – Thurs: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Fri – Sat: 11:00 am – 3:00 am
Sun: 11:00 am – 9:30 pm

10 KimHo February 27, 2011 at 5:40 pm

jlomein, 3:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday is all I need to know! :)

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: