"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
(George Santayana, The Life of Reason)
As I look back at the events that have transpired that have led me to this point, I can only close my eyes and weep bitter tears of sorrow. This is the final account of yet another utterly stupid and foolish journey in search of a great dish, this time, the perfect Roast Chicken. Surely my friends and I had learned our lessons from the last Gourmet Burger Battle? How did it end up like this?
[Some Time Ago...]
Months had gone by since the day of utter lunacy and stupidity known as the Gourmet Burger Battle. I managed to reconnect with "lost" friends, and pretty soon we were able to broach the subject of Food again, without anyone wincing in fear. In what I thought was a brilliant way to counteract the damage done by that tragic Burger exploration, I challenged everyone to name their favorite Roast Chicken. After all, what could be more healthy than a wonderful Roast Chicken? Perfectly cooked, with crisped skin (and all the fat rendered away), and juicy, moist white meat and dark meat. Enjoyed with a fresh Organic Salad and you've got just the thing to heal the wounds from the Bovine Burger gorging that shattered our friendships. :)
Most of my Hounds seemed to perk up and suggestions began to fly, "Costco! It's so cheap and it tastes good." "It's all about Zankou and the Garlic Sauce." "Pollo Ala Brasa: Best Chicken in town!" etc.
I foolishly thought I outsmarted myself: "This time will be different! This time, it's finding a wonderful, healthy Roast Chicken!" "There's far less cholesterol and fat with this dish than a decadent Gourmet Burger!" "It'll be OK... (I hope)." :)
And so I began compiling the list of finalists, and we began to scout out places. I remember the wonderful work that Chowpatty and all the veteran Hounds did years ago, with their Roast Chicken showdowns. I remembered an old L.A. Times article by Judith Kane Jeanson on Rotisserie Chickens that got me hungry to find great Chicken around town.
Soon, the list grew to around ~34 or so places to try. Now that "Roast Chicken" was at the forefront of my mind, I suddenly realized it seemed like *every* restaurant in Southern California served some kind of Roast Chicken. The list soon started looking like the Yellow Pages for Restaurants across the Southland. And Desolation set in. Like the first astronaut that stared directly into a black hole, we realized that our puny list of restaurants to try probably represented only 0.000002% of the restaurants around So Cal that serves Roast Chicken, and as a result it was already a failure.
But we pressed on, cheerfully trying to do our best to find the best Roast Chicken in Southern California. After some initial visits, we had a list of 20 Finalists. And the Roast Chicken Battle began! The first few restaurants were quite fun. Jaunting across the "wonderful" L.A. freeways in traffic, traveling to wherever the possibility of great Roast Chicken existed, but after the 3rd place, my friends began disappearing (again). Like a sequel to a bad Hollywood blockbuster movie, this one only got worse. The next day and the day after that yielded fewer and fewer people until finally the entire Battle ended in utter failure: I had hoped to visit each restaurant at least 3 times (in the interest of consistency and fairness), so a combined 44 visits later, we failed to reach the target of 60 visits to the restaurants, and for that, I have failed my fellow Hounds again. :(
So here are the incomplete results of our Roast Chicken Battle (special thanks to my 'dachi Noah from Man Bites World and veteran Hound mollyomormon for helping judge the last day :) -
(Note 1: Each Rating is based on the Roast Chicken itself. Specifically, (1) How well the meat was cooked (juicy? dry? overcooked? just right?); (2) How flavorful the meat was; and (3) The crispness of the skin (a wonderful Roast Chicken has to have slightly crisped skin). :)
(Note 2: Food is totally subjective, but for Roast Chicken, it's even more pronounced. I know plenty of people who do *not* eat Chicken skin; the first thing they do is remove all the skin, regardless of if it's wonderful, well-seasoned, crisped, or not. So for those people, that's not even a factor (but it is for us).)
(Note 3: Unlike Burgers, Roast Chicken is really challenging. There is no "medium-rare" or "medium" for a Chicken. In this country, if you attempt to serve a customer medium-rare Chicken, complaints would shut down a restaurant immediately. There's only a tiny window from when a Chicken just hits "well done" (cooked just through), before it quickly turns to "overcooked." It's brutal, and it makes total sense why so many restaurants serve their Chicken overcooked. It'd be better to serve a customer a Chicken that's 30 seconds overcooked, instead of 30 seconds undercooked, especially with a Roast Chicken where you can't break the skin open without the juices gushing out. If it was slightly undercooked, it's too late for a restaurant to try and "fix it" at that point.)
* Special Mention *
Dino's Chicken and Burgers (Los Angeles)
While this is a Roast Chicken Battle, I wanted to discuss Dino's, since it seemed like every Roast Chicken thread on Chowhound always elicited at least one recommendation for Dino's. That, and I've been hearing so many good things about Dino's, I couldn't wait for an excuse to try it out. (^_~)
As listed on their menu, website and repeated to me by their friendly staff, Dino's serves a "Char-Broiled Chicken." It's a fiery orange-colored bird that's completely coated in their proprietary spice mix and fire-grilled until ready to serve.
When we finally get our order, I see what people are talking about: Dino's Char-Broiled Chicken is a 1/2 Chicken, glowing in this gorgeous, eye-catching orange hue, on a bed of French Fries that are coated in this orange-colored Sauce as well.
Dino's Char-Broiled Chicken (1/2)
Price: $6 (including tax)
Includes: Fries and Cole Slaw
There's a nice smoky quality wafting to our noses, and the white meat is moist with slightly tart notes from the Vinegar, and unique flavors from the Paprika, Chile Flakes and their other spices. There's a gentle heat that adds to the tantalizing quality of this bird.
The dark meat is slightly dried out (surprisingly), but generally still moist. If there was one thing to improve upon, it'd be to have a deeper permeation of their spices into the meat.
While Dino's Chicken isn't a traditional Roast Chicken, their distinctive spice / sauce combination makes it a worthwhile consideration if you're looking for a good Chicken dish in the area. And the Fries coated in their proprietary Sauce is definitely addicting. :)
Dino's Chicken and Burgers (Los Angeles Branch)
2575 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Tel: (213) 380-3554
* Cash Only *
Hours: Sun - Thurs, 6:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 6:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight
* 19th Place *
Zankou Chicken (Pasadena)
One of the most baffling (yet obvious) discoveries I had during this Roast Chicken Battle was that not all Zankou Chicken locations are the same. Thinking about it, it should be pretty straightforward: Every location has different people manning the kitchens, so the way their Chicken comes out would naturally have some variance as well. For the longest time, my experience with "Zankou" involved my 4 - 5 visits to the Anaheim and Pasadena branches, since those are the ones I first tried, visiting friends in those areas. After the lackluster meals I had at both locations, I never bothered trying any other branches.
Zankou Chicken's most famous element is their special Garlic Spread that comes with their various Chicken dishes. It's so addictive and popular, that people remember their Garlic Spread more than the Chicken itself at times. :) We quickly place an order for their signature:
Roast Chicken Plate (Half)
Price: $8.99 (Whole Chicken Only, $8.99 / Half Chicken Only, $6.39)
Includes: Hummus, Pickles, Garlic Spread & Pita Bread
Zankou Pasadena's Roast Chicken is a complete salt bomb. :( Everyone recoils, and reaches for a drink, as the skin is probably 200% as salty as it needs to be. (Three visits to Zankou Pasadena have yielded the same result.) There's a slight crispness on the Skin for 1 of the visits; the other 2 visits have a slightly flabby Skin.
The Chicken Breast is overcooked, but still has some moisture to it, and the Chicken Wing is overcooked to the point of being inedible (completely dried out). The Chicken Leg & Thigh portions fare better (with the higher fat content helping), being generally moist underneath the overly salty Skin.
If my experience to Zankou was limited to just this branch, I'd still be wondering what the excitement over "Zankou Chicken" is all about, but thankfully not all branches are created equal. :)
Rating: 4.5 (out of 10)
Zankou Chicken (Pasadena)
1296 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91106
Tel: (626) 405-1502
Hours: 7 Days A Week, 10:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
* 18th Place *
The legendary L.A. institution, Langer's, is famous and responsible for arguably the greatest Pastrami on the planet, but how does their Roast Chicken fare?
I was always curious how their Roast Chicken (and other menu items) would turn out:
1/2 Roast Stuffed Chicken
Includes: Soup & Salad
Langer's Roast Chicken is of the most commonly found, "gigantic bird" variety, the new types of Chicken bred for huge Chicken Breasts that are found in most places these days. The most interesting aspect of their Roast Chicken is that it is "stuffed," with a classic bread-based stuffing that reminds one of Thanksgiving. It's soft and moist, and comforting, and they stuff it between the Skin and the meat.
Unfortunately the Chicken Skin itself is flabby and mushy, drenched in their Brown Gravy Sauce. The white meat is a touch dry, but the dark meat is more enjoyable, but overall, there's this muted quality about it (it tastes like what you'd expect from a typical diner Roast Chicken).
While Langer's Roast Chicken isn't anything noteworthy, don't let the Roast Chicken rating detract you from trying their legendary, mouth-watering Pastrami if you haven't done so already. :)
Rating: 5.0 (out of 10)
704 S. Alvarado Street
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Tel: (213) 483-8050
Hours: Mon - Sat, 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
* 17th Place *
Soumarelo is a prime example of one of the problems of going to a restaurant with low turnover: Reheated Chicken. :( Located on a quiet corner in Pasadena, during our first visit we're the only customers, at prime lunch hour (12 Noon), no less. While I see no Chickens roasting in their oven, I quickly place an order and we sit down to wait for the food.
I see the chef walk into the back kitchen, and we hear a "Click" "(Slam)" and "Beep, Beep, Beep..." and then the "(whirring)" of a microwave. After a few minutes and the signature "Beep! Beep! Beep!" that we all know so well, he comes back out front with a plate of:
Rotisserie Chicken (Half)
Includes: 8 oz Rice, 2 Pita Breads, 2 Garlic Paste Containers
Slightly shocked in disbelief, we each sample a bite, and sure enough... Microwaved Chicken. (>_<) The Chicken is rubbery and dried out, with the infamous aftereffects of what happens when you microwave meat. It's chunky and dessicated and pretty disgusting.
There are some portions of the Breast that managed to be decent actually, with a fragrant taste that shows promise.
Wanting to give them another try, I arrive for another visit, making sure there are some other customers in the restaurant this time, and fortunately, there were 2 Chickens roasting in the oven. We order a Whole Chicken this time, hoping that we get one of their freshly cooked Chickens instead of a reheated bird:
Rotisserie Chicken (Whole)
Includes: 16 oz Rice, 4 Pita Breads, 4 Garlic Paste Containers
This time, we received a freshly cooked Chicken, chopped up and delivered immediately to our table. And the results are far better: The white meat is a touch overcooked, but mostly moist, it's tender, and their overnight marinade gives the meat a nice savoriness. The Chicken Skin is soft and mushy, though, unfortunately.
They also make their own version of a Garlic Sauce (in a nod to Zankou), made with fresh Garlic and Yogurt, which results in a very smooth, pungent, fragrant Garlic Sauce that works great with the Chicken.
Soumarelo has potential to deliver a solid Roast Chicken, if you're lucky to get there when they have decent turnover. If you happen to show up and see no Chickens being cooked, you might want to consider skipping out, unless you enjoy Microwaved Chicken.
Rating: 5.1 (out of 10)
1090 N. Allen
Pasadena, CA 91104
Tel: (626) 791-0999
* 16th Place *
Located in the Brentwood Country Mart, Reddi Chick has been a popular eatery for the locals for decades. After fighting through the long line on a pleasant sunny day, we sit down and enjoy their:
Roast Chicken Basket (1/2)
Includes: No sides.
The Chicken Breast is overcooked and dried out, and sadly, very plain. The Leg and Thigh is moist, but the skin is severely undercooked: There are huge globules of fat deposits (normally rendered away during roasting), with unappetizing, undercooked skin around the Thigh area. :(
The Chicken Wing manages to be the best part of the Chicken, being cooked just right, and quite juicy.
Overall, Reddi Chick's Roast Chicken is a safe, unevenly cooked, plain Roast Chicken, that tastes underseasoned (and I enjoy light cooking).
Rating: 5.3 (out of 10)
(in the Brentwood Country Mart)
225 26th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90402
Tel: (310) 393-5238
Hours: Mon - Sat, 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
* 15th Place *
One of the most talked about places for Roast Chicken in many of the Chowhound threads is none other than Costco. It's been talked about so much that all of us agreed that we had to give it a try. We ended up trying the Alhambra Costco since one of our dear SGV Hounds happened to have a membership and volunteered to pick this up for us.
(Apologies for the lack of pictures: Both visits were impromptu and I didn't have my camera with me.)
Costco Rotisserie Chicken (Whole)
Includes: No Sides.
Perhaps the most obvious appeal of Costco's Chicken is the price and value: An entire Rotisserie Chicken for $4.99?! That's pretty hard to beat.
In terms of actual taste, both samplings were held quickly after purchase (my SGV Hound that volunteered lives extremely close to the Costco, within minutes), so all of us got to sample it while it was "fresh."
I had low expectations for their Chicken, but surprisingly, both times we tried it, most of us agreed that it was well-seasoned. The white meat was overcooked, but still retained some moisture, and the dark meat was still juicy / fatty. The Skin was a travesty, however, being sealed in those plastic containers (really off-putting for me, personally), the Skin is essentially "steamed" and flabby, but the rest of the Chicken turned out to be decent.
It's not something we'd go out of our way for, but given the value and flavor, it needs to be part of the conversation.
Rating: 5.7 (out of 10)
2207 West Commonwealth Ave.
Alhambra, CA 91803
Tel: (626) 289-7164
Hours: Mon - Fri, 10:00 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Sat, 9:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Sun, 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
* 14th Place *
Pollos El Brasero (Pico Blvd., L.A. Branch)
Advertising that they cook their Chicken using firewood, Pollos El Brasero was one of the places I was looking forward to the most. During the first visit, we order their:
1 Pollo Solo (1 Whole Roast Chicken)
Price: $10.67 (Combinations with various Sides available as well)
Includes: No Sides.
There's a light smokiness present in each bite, which is appealing. And a predominant Salt and Pepper flavor coming through. There's something off about the Chicken (for me), that the other Hounds aren't noticing, but we continue on and finish the meal. It's probably the Monosodium Glutamate, in combination with their Cumin, Salt and Pepper spice rub.
The white meat is overcooked and a touch dry. The Chicken Wing is completely overcooked and inedible (i.e., totally dried out). The dark meat is the most flavorful portion (as expected), but overall, it just didn't grab any of us. Another visit yielded similar results (Breast overcooked, Wings overcooked, etc.).
Rating: 6.0 (out of 10)
Pollos El Brasero
2281 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Tel: (213) 381-6060
Hours: Tues - Sun, 10:00 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
* 13th Place *
Super Pollo (Van Nuys)
Thanks to a tip from some veteran Hounds in an old thread, we couldn't wait to give this place a try. Using a variety of "mixed firewood," according to the manager, they have a limited amount of Chickens they roast each day. We quickly placed our order for:
Rotisserie Chicken (1/2)
Includes: 2 Sides
There's a good Garlic and Salt flavor pervading each bite. A light smokiness is also evident, adding a welcome facet to their Chicken. The white meat is overcooked, but generally moist, with the dark meat being the most enjoyable aspect of this dish with a gentle Garlic and Salt wave hitting you with each bite. The Skin is limp and flabby, but at least most of the fat has been rendered out of it.
Super Pollo represents a respectable, well-seasoned, smoky Roast Chicken. A good, middle-of-the-road Peruvian-style Chicken that's worth a try if you're in the neighborhood.
Rating: 6.1 (out of 10)
14519 Sherman Way
Van Nuys, CA 91405
Tel: (818) 785-6991
Hours: Mon - Sat, 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
* 12th Place *
California Chicken Cafe (Santa Monica)
Thanks to quite a few recommendations from various Hounds and friends, we decided to try California Chicken Cafe (Santa Monica Branch). I still remember passing by their original Melrose location so many times in the past, always wondering if I should stop by and give it a try. Now, I was finally getting a chance. :)
The first big positive was apparent the moment we stepped inside: High volume turnover. The place was packed (and remained that way throughout our visits). With so many customers, we could see the kitchen working non-stop on making sure there were plenty of Chickens freshly roasting in the ovens.
Beyond that, it's a rather simple, "fast food-ish" type operation, walk up and order at the counter, and grab a table. Our order arrives about 10 minutes later:
Price: $19.50 (available ala carte for $10.50)
Includes: 2 Sides
There's a beautiful golden brown color on their Roast Chicken and we quickly dig in. The Chicken Breast is moist, but there's a slightly mealy texture that adds to a "dryish" feeling. The meat is lightly salted, but just enough to make it taste "well-seasoned, but light." A few Hounds really appreciated this aspect of California Chicken Cafe.
Their Chicken Wings are sadly overcooked to the point of being inedible (totally dried out). The Legs and Thighs are just right, retaining plenty of moisture and flavor. The one odd point about their seasonings however, was that despite the Chicken being flecked with finely chopped herbs, none of us could really taste any standouts: Mainly a clean, simple, Salt flavor coming through. And despite the wonderful golden color, the Skin was flaccid, lacking any crispness.
I can definitely see the appeal of California Chicken Cafe: It's a clean, easy-to-order operation, delivering a safe, straightforward, fresh-tasting Chicken with a variety of healthy sides (e.g., Chinese Cabbage Salad, Fresh Squash, Fresh Fruit, Broccoli Soup, etc.).
Rating: 6.3 (out of 10)
California Chicken Cafe (Santa Monica)
2401 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Tel: (310) 453-0477
Hours: Mon - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sat, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 10:00 p.m.
* 11th Place *
One of the restaurants I was most looking forward to during this food battle was Bonano's. I had never heard of it before, but after some strong recommendations, I gathered as many of my Hounds that were willing to make the drive and off we went. :) We ordered a few plates of their Peruvian-style Roast Chicken. Pictured here is an order of their:
Medio Pollo (1/2 Chicken)
Includes: 2 Sides
The first thing that hit all of us, was how disappointing the Skin was: Yet another restaurant with flimsy, limp Skin, but there was at least a good smokiness about it.
But then digging into the meat, we all noticed something off-tasting about it. It wasn't to the point of being inedible, but it wasn't bright; it didn't sing. The Chicken Breast is overcooked, with some edges totally dried out. The Leg was also disappointing, having an entire edge that was dried out (over-exposed to the heat). The highlight was their Thigh, being extremely moist and juicy, with their spices seemingly concentrated into that area.
And thankfully, their Wing wasn't overcooked like too many other places, with a nice concentration of Chicken essence and smokiness all in a tiny bite.
A special note about their Fries: If you're looking for a crispy style of Fry, you should avoid Bonano's version, unless you enjoy soft, hefty, Potato chunks (that taste more like slabs of Baked Potato with no crispiness at all). There's nothing wrong with this style, just be prepared if you're ordering it.
2 more meals to Bonano's revealed the same experience. During the 3rd meal there, the Breast was completely overcooked, to the point of being really dry. There's an intense smoke pungency that goes all the way down to the core of the bone. I enjoy good smoky BBQ, but the smokiness here got to the point that it was beyond distracting (all of the Hounds who sampled it agreed).
Rating: 6.4 (out of 10)
8363 Reseda Blvd., Suite 13
Northridge, CA 91324
Tel: (818) 775-1373
Hours: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Sat - Sun, 9:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
* 10th Place *
Le Petit Jardin
Thanks to the enthusiastic reviews from NickSt, ak, and a few other Hounds, we made our way over to the oddest of the Roast Chicken restaurants in this battle: Le Petit Jardin. It's "odd" because Le Petit Jardin happens to be a Flower Shop (cute! :), and a Restaurant, at the same time.
We sit down and place our order for their:
Roasted Chicken (1/2)
Includes: Pommes Frites
Le Petit Jardin's kitchen begins with seasoning the bird with Herbes de Provence, Garlic, Salt, Pepper and Olive Oil and partially cooking the Chicken. They then finish roasting the Chicken when orders are placed by customers.
The white meat is overcooked, but still succulent enough to be enjoyable. The dark meat fares much better, still fatty and tender. The Wing makes it through, 100% intact, without being dried out. But it's the delicate, fragrant notes of Thyme and Fennel in the Herbes de Provence, and the slightly crisped Skin (finally, a contender that achieved this :), that make this stand out from the earlier entries.
Rating: 6.7 (out of 10)
Le Petit Jardin
1456 South Robertson Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Tel: (310) 278-5294
Hours: [Lunch] Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
[Dinner] Mon - Fri, 5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
* 9th Place *
Lola's Chicken Pollo A La Brasa (Van Nuys)
Given how large the lettering is for "Pollo A La Brasa" on their sign, it almost feels like they were trying to cash in on the popularity of the most-talked about eatery of that name in Downtown L.A. We enter and I note that they have a stack of firewood, ready to cook their Chickens with; always a good sign. :)
On the first visit, we order:
1/2 Pollo Dos Acompanamientos (Half Chicken with 2 Items)
Includes: 2 Sides.
On the first visit, their Chicken Breast is extremely juicy, with strong notes of Black Pepper and Salt, and just a touch too salty. The Wing is bit overcooked, but still edible, and the Chicken Leg is also a bit overcooked. The Thigh is the lushest portion, and seasoned just right (so their seasoning overall was extremely uneven).
On another visit, the Chicken Breast is slightly overcooked and a bit on the dry side, but it still tastes fresh and bright. The dark meat is more flavorful, but the Skin is just as flabby as the first time. Sadly, during both visits, even though they use firewood to cook the Chicken, there is no perceptible smoke flavor. Odd.
Rating: 6.8 (out of 10)
Lola's Chicken Pollo A La Brasa
14851 Victory Blvd. #C
Van Nuys, CA 91411
Tel: (818) 988-2181
Hours: Sun - Thu, 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
* 8th Place *
Gourmet Grill Masters
My first experience with Gourmet Grill Masters was years ago, at the Hollywood Farmers Market. I remember seeing their grill truck, with a row of tantalizing Chickens, slowly roasting. Gourmet Grill Masters is a mobile / catering business, and their Chickens appear at a variety of Farmers Markets across Southern California each week (their website lists a full schedule of where they'll be appearing).
Combo 4 (1/2 Chicken)
Price: $10 (1 Whole Chicken only, $11)
Includes: Roasted Garlic Potatoes, Pita Bread, Drink
What's unique about Gourmet Grill Masters is that they use an infrared cooking apparatus, with No Oils and No Butter to roast their Chicken. We're all pretty excited to see how much of a difference their cooking style makes on a classic Roast Chicken. The end result?
It's a pretty clean, non-oily Chicken dish. There are some nice hints of herbs, especially the Rosemary, used in combination with Garlic, Thyme, Oregano, Cumin, Salt and Pepper. This is the first Chicken (so far) to get a genuine, subtle herbal penetration into the Chicken meat itself (and not just a surface flavor).
While the Chicken Breast is overcooked (more dry than moist), the Chicken Skin is slightly crisp, which is a huge positive. The Chicken Leg is generally delicious, but there's one edge that's dried out and overcooked (exposed to too much heat). The Chicken Thigh is bursting with flavor, with a firm, but supple chew, and some good notes of Oregano and Rosemary coming through.
Gourmet Grill Masters also makes their own version of a Garlic Dip, and it's quite fragrant and tastes freshly made, but after a few bites, there's just too much of a Mayo taste and it begins to feel too heavy.
Their Roasted Garlic Potatoes, which use the fat drippings from their Rotisserie Chicken(!), sound decadent, but have been sitting on the flattop too long, crisped on one side, and too overcooked on another side.
Rating: 7.0 (out of 10)
Gourmet Grill Masters
Appearing at the Hollywood, Manhattan Beach, West Hollywood, Long Beach, Westchester, South Pasadena, and other Farmers Markets every week. See website for more details.
* 7th Place *
Zankou Chicken (West L.A. Branch)
When a restaurant expands to more than 1 location, and they begin to build a brand, as a customer, you always hope that the experience you get at any of restaurant's locations would be the same, regardless of where you dine at. Sadly, in the case of Zankou Chicken it's not the case, but happily they have at least one location that shines above some of their other branches: Zankou Chicken (West L.A.), on Sepulveda Blvd.
While I've passed by this Zankou location many times, I had never bothered to stop by since my initial exposure to "Zankou Chicken" was from visiting my friends and trying their Anaheim and Pasadena locations. Underwhelmed, I never felt the urge to try any other locales. But for this Roast Chicken Battle, after hearing so many Hounds pour out their love of Zankou, I wanted to try another location, and we chose their West Los Angeles branch, on Sepulveda Blvd. What a difference a different kitchen staff makes!
Includes: Garlic Spread, Pita Bread
During each of my visits to the West L.A. location, there's always a big crowd, meaning high turnover and a good chance you'll get a freshly cooked Chicken. Our Chicken arrives, and the skin is slightly crisped, lightly salted (excellent), with the white meat being overcooked, a little dry, but still retaining good moisture. Half of the Chicken Wings (on each side) are dried out unfortunately, but the dark meat is flavorful, slightly fatty and delicious.
Follow-up visits, yield similar results at this location: The kitchen staff has a much more deft hand at seasoning than the Pasadena and Anaheim locations. The Rotisserie Chicken has always been lightly seasoned, and tastes like a solid, basic Roast Chicken.
A special mention of Zankou's famous and popular Garlic Spread. According to our server, it's Vegetarian and Dairy-Free. There's a real burst of Garlic flavors coming through, and it doesn't taste oily at all. If you take the Roast Chicken *with* their Garlic Spread, it's a winning combination and quite addictive. :) But we're evaluating the Chicken on its own at this point (but be sure to enjoy their Chicken with the Garlic Spread if you happen to go). :)
I think Noah summed it up best, when he said, "I'd be perfectly happy having their Chicken on a lunch break." Zankou Chicken (West L.A.) is fairly priced for their Rotisserie Chickens, in a clean setting, and their light hand in the kitchen helps make a consistently, basic, solid Roast Chicken that serves as a good baseline. It's not something I'd drive across town for, but if I'm in the area, I'd be fine stopping in for their Chicken.
Rating: 7.1 (out of 10)
Zankou Chicken (West L.A.)
1716 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: (310) 444-0550
Hours: 7 Days A Week, 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
* 6th Place *
Thanks to veteran Hound David Kahn for yet another great recommendation :), Marouch is located in a tiny strip mall in a quieter section of Hollywood. Once inside, you're treated to a relaxed, comfortable setting, with warm browns and yellows, and glass top tables.
One note: Marouch's Roast Chicken requires a 2 Hour Advanced Notice, since they cook it, specifically for your order.
Having ordered their Chicken ahead of time, we sit down and after a few minutes, the Chicken arrives:
Farrouj (incorrectly translated as "Barbecued Whole Chicken" on the menu) (Whole, Rotisserie Young Chicken)
Includes: Homemade Pickles, Markouk ("Extremely thin bread"), Homemade Garlic Sauce, Riz-b-chayrieh (romanization courtesy of the Marouch staff) (Homemade Chicken Stock Rice with Angel Hair Noodles).
Having been open for over 29 years(!), Marouch preps their Young Chicken with an overnight marinade of Salt, Lemon, Pepper and Garlic. They then roast each Chicken only upon advanced order. The result is a custom-cooked Roast Chicken, *just for you.* And you can taste the difference:
The highlight of their Chicken is the positively lovely crackling, crisp Chicken Skin. YES! (^_^)v The fat has been rendered out, and all that's left is this golden, brittle, wonderful Chicken Skin that's missing in so many Roast Chickens around town. It needs to be said again: It's crackling, crisp and just awesome. :)
After breaking through the stunning, crispy Chicken Skin, we find that the white meat is sadly overcooked. It's not completely dry or "bad," but it's overcooked like ~99% of the Roast Chicken dishes we sampled around town, still exhibiting some moisture, but a few minutes less in the oven, and the white meat would be perfect.
The Leg and Thigh are much better, with the crispy Skin and juicy Thigh meat being the ultimate highlight for this dish. During my 2nd visit, a portion of the Leg was way overcooked (really dried out), but otherwise, it was fine.
The only other knock on Marouch is that their Chicken tastes a bit bland. The Salt, Lemon notes are the only things that really come through, and even then, they don't really permeate deep into the meat itself.
But that can be alleviated with some of their Homemade Garlic Sauce. Using fresh Garlic, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Potatoes(!), they create their own version of a "Garlic Sauce" and the end result is a beautiful, creamy, delicate Garlic Sauce that tastes like a refined, haute-version of Zankou's Garlic Spread.
Marouch comes close to breaking into the upper echelon of great Roast Chickens, with an amazing crackling, crisp Chicken Skin, a custom-cooked Chicken made just for you, and a fantastic Homemade Garlic Sauce. Unfortunately, the very light seasoning and overcooked bird prevents it from reaching perfection. Still, one of the better Roast Chickens I've had around town. :)
Rating: 7.7 (out of 10)
4905 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Tel: (323) 662-9325
Hours: Tues - Sat, 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
* 4th Place (TIE) *
The latest collaboration with (in)famous Chef Roy Choi (of Kogi Tacos fame), A-Frame is a re-envisioning of the modern picnic scene, with shared tables, and lots of finger food. While we were able to sample a variety of items, the primary dish we were there for arrived a few minutes after we placed our order:
Cracklin Beer Can Chicken (Whole)
Includes: Kimchee, Century Egg, Sala Roja & Verde
Chef Roy Choi and staff marinate the Chicken overnight, then roasts the Chicken for 4 hours, before deep-frying the bird before serving it. The result is a Chicken that's true to its name: A crackling, crispy Skin that has echoes of Fried Chicken, but also retains its Roast Chicken basis. The Skin is definitely the highlight, being very well seasoned, with a fragrant mix of spices that goes beyond the standard typical "Roast Chicken" flavors you'd expect, all with a crispy crunch. :)
Sadly, after the wonderful Skin, the rest of the Chicken is overcooked. The Chicken Breast is dryish, with much of the flavor coming from the well-seasoned Skin mixing with the meat in your mouth as you chew. The dark meat is just fine, however, and makes for a satisfying meal overall.
The Century Egg is a travesty, however, tasting like an extremely overcooked Hard Boiled Egg; nothing like the more homely (and yet far superior) Tea Eggs or Stewed Eggs found in so many homes and convenience stores and restaurants across Asia.
And the Salsa Roja and Salsa Verde taste rather straightforward and pedestrian, interfering more with the Chicken than really augmenting the enjoyment of the dish.
While the Chicken meat itself was overcooked, the crispy, enticingly seasoned Chicken Skin really made this version stand out for all the Chicken Skin lovers out there. :)
Rating: 8.0 (out of 10)
12565 Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066
Tel: (310) 398-7700
Hours: 7 Days A Week, 5:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight
* 4th Place (TIE) *
Pollo Ala Brasa (Western)
One of the most popular, and most-talked about Roast Chicken places in L.A., Pollo Ala Brasa (Western), on the corner of Western Avenue and 8th Street in Koreatown was founded years ago by Jose Maekawa and his sister, Japanese-Peruvians, who moved to this country and opened their original location which stands to this day. (Note: There are a ton of "Pollo Ala Brasa"-named restaurants around L.A., but this is the only restaurant run by the Maekawas, and the one that's garnered the attention.)
Over the 7 visits to Pollo Ala Brasa, there's never been a time where I haven't been engaged the moment I stepped within a 2 block radius of the little eatery: The wonderful smell of Oak and Cherry Wood burning all day long to power their ovens immediately captures your senses. :)
Another important aspect that Pollo Ala Brasa has going for it is high volume: There are always customers in line, dining in, and waiting for an order of their famous Rotisserie Chicken, which really helps to ensure that you get a freshly-cooked Chicken for your order.
While they sell their Chickens in 1/4, 1/2 and whole portions, I usually end up ordering:
Whole Rotisserie Chicken
Price: $10.16 (there are a variety of Combinations with various Sides available.)
Includes: No Sides.
Over the course of 7 visits, 5 of the visits have yielded a generally succulent and moist Chicken, with the Chicken Breast only slightly overcooked, but mostly juicy. 2 of the visits have had Chicken that's overcooked a bit too much, with the Breast being too dry.
But what really makes Pollo Ala Brasa (Western)'s Chicken standout is their perfect *balance* of Oak and Cherry Wood smokiness that accentuates without overpowering (unlike Bonano's, for example), in combination with their Wine and spice marinade.
The Wine and spice marinade helps to keep the Chicken mostly moist, and adds tremendous depth of flavor that makes it stand out from most places around town.
And while the white meat isn't perfect, the dark meat has been great during each of my 7 visits. The Chicken Skin has been a mixed bag, however, with some visits yielding a slightly crisped Skin, and other visits having flabby Skin (but still quite flavorful).
For the Chili Heads out there, be sure to try their homemade Aji Sauce, which is a super-spicy, fragrant hot sauce, that delivers immediate incendiary heat to the palate. :) I find it a touch too overpowering for my Chicken, but 2 of my Hounds couldn't stop using it during a few of our visits. :)
Pollo Ala Brasa (Western) has gained a massive following for good reason: It delivers outstanding Peruvian-style Rotisserie Chicken, with a unique, smoky, well-seasoned flavor that's hard to beat. Recommended.
Rating: 8.0 (out of 10)
Pollo Ala Brasa (Western)
764 S. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Tel: (213) 387-1531
Hours: Wed - Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
* 3rd Place *
The darling of Abbot Kinney, Gjelina was one of the biggest surprises in this Roast Chicken Battle. I had enjoyed my first meal at Gjelina a while back and remembered that they served a "Roast Chicken" on their menu, so I rounded up my 'dachi Noah and off we went to try their:
Roasted Half Jidori Chicken
Includes: Braised Collard Greens, Cippolini & Fingerling Potatoes
The first thing that strikes us is that the Chicken Breast is well-cooked. While it's a *touch* overcooked, it's luscious, with a wonderful crisp Skin.
The Leg and Thigh are also excellent, encased in that crisp Skin and with a clean Salt & Pepper seasoning coming through.
Gjelina sources their Natural Poultry from Premier Meat Company, and from the crisped Skin, clean, fresh Salt and Pepper flavors, and juicy Chicken, you have all the makings of a "classic American Roast Chicken," well-executed.
Rating: 8.3 (out of 10)
1429 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice, CA 90291
Tel: (310) 450-1429
Hours: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight (they stop serving most plates between 3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.)
Sat - Sun, 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight
* 2nd Place *
One of the most celebrated restaurants in Los Angeles, winner of 2 Michelin Stars, helmed by Executive Chef / Owner Josiah Citrin and Chef de Cuisine Ken Takayama, I had to try Melisse's Roast Chicken based on the strong recommendation of trusted, veteran Hound J.L., who raved about their Chicken prepared tableside. :)
Despite growing up in So Cal, I've never gotten around to visiting Melisse, but finally found an opportunity to do so. :) Note that Melisse's Rotisserie Chicken is only available as a supplement to one of their Tasting Menus.
Rotisserie Chicken, Stuffed with Summer Truffles - For Two (Prepared Tableside)
Price: $30 supplement (as part of their Tasting Menu (starting at $105))
Includes: Morel Mushrooms, Farmers Market Root Vegetables, Sauce Albufera, Fresh Chicken Soup.
Melisse's Rotisserie Chicken preparation is brought out in beautiful copper-lined pots, and carved and served tableside, with the server meticulously carving and plating the Chicken Breast first, along with the Farmers Market Vegetables and Morel Mushrooms.
During my 1st visit, I brought along a dear friend (who also happened to be one of the most jaded and critical Hounds I know :P). After the wonderful plating, with absolutely spot-on service, I took a bite of the Chicken Breast without any of the Sauce Albufera:
PERFECTLY cooked Chicken Breast! Imagine a sliver of soft, delicate, juicy meat that's *just* cooked-through. It was more tender than most Sous-vide preparations I've had! And this was the Chicken *Breast*, not the Leg or Thigh (with a higher fat content). To this day it's BEST Chicken Breast I've ever had, anywhere. Hands down. Wow. (^_^)
It was so good, my jaded Hound and I both let out a slight moan. :)
It didn't hurt that they stuffed Summer Truffles under the Skin to add to the completely enthralling experience. :)
And then, Melisse did something no other restaurant in our Battle bothered to do: They took back the rest of the Whole Chicken (the dark meat portion) to finish cooking, since we all know that dark meat and white meat finish cooking at different times. Looking back in hindsight, it makes perfect sense why so many places have their Chicken Breast overcooked (to make sure the entire Chicken is cooked all the way through).
The Sauce Albufera is a combination of fresh Chicken Stock mixed with Truffles and reduced down into a completely decadent, outrageously delicious Sauce to dip your Chicken in (and to sop up with some good homemade Bread :).
The Morel Mushrooms are completely addictive, and the Farmers Market Root Vegetables are delightful, perfectly cooked, tender, yet still having some structure to them.
A few minutes later, the Chicken Leg appears, having been allowed to roast a bit longer to finish cooking. The Leg is just beautiful, not too fatty, with a clean, focused flavor in each bite.
And it's finished off with the remaining dark meat being incorporated into a Fresh Chicken Soup with Summer Truffles.
There's a deep, concentrated Chicken essence coming through with each sip. It's soul warming and perfect for the chilly evening. Excellent. :)
I was so blown away by this Roast Chicken that I had to make sure it wasn't a fluke. On my 2nd visit to Melisse, I rounded up Mr. Man Bites World, and off we went to try this amazing Tableside Chicken again.
Unfortunately, the 2nd time, the Chicken Breast was overcooked. :( It wasn't to the point of "horrible," but the Breast was cooked to the point that it was just like 99% of the other places we went to: Slightly dryish, mostly moist, but nothing like the perfect, just-cooked-through silky subtle masterpiece I had during my first visit. :(
Like a chain reaction, the dark meat also tasted a touch overcooked, slightly dry, but still quite good. It helped that the rest of the dish was just as outstanding as before (especially their decadent Sauce Albufera).
And this is one of the biggest regrets I have with this Battle: That I wasn't able to visit Melisse 4 - 5 times to ascertain if they generally cook this amazing Chicken just right (like my 1st visit), or if it's usually slightly overcooked (like my 2nd visit). I am unable to justify spending ~$800 - $1,200 to finish this Battle properly, and I ask my Hounds for forgiveness. I hope that with follow-up posts from Hounds that have tried this Chicken, that we can figure out how consistent Melisse is in this regard.
But as it stands, Melisse's Rotisserie Chicken during the 1st visit was the most amazing Chicken dish I had during this battle, and the best Roast Chicken I've ever had. Both visits' Chicken also exhibited a real, deep, Poultry funk. The Chicken *tasted* like the way Chicken should taste; not the generally mild, tasteless birds we find in most supermarkets these days, sadly. As it stands, even with the consistency issue, Melisse's Tableside Rotisserie Chicken for Two is simply amazing.
Rating: 8.9 (out of 10)
1104 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: (310) 395-0881
Hours: Tues - Thurs, 6:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Fri, 6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sat, 5:45 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Closed Sundays and Mondays.
* 1st Place *
Rustic Canyon has quickly surpassed any expectations I had for this lively little eatery along a quiet portion of Wilshire in Santa Monica. I had first tried out their Roast Chicken randomly, during a visit a few months earlier, and was positively elated!
Half Jidori Chicken
Includes: Variety of Farmers Market Fresh Vegetables (depending on the Season)
When it first arrives, like at Melisse, one of the noteworthy aspects of the Chicken is that it looks like a normal-sized Chicken. It doesn't have an excessively large Chicken Breast (like what most Chickens sold in the U.S. are like), which is a relief. But then with the first push of the fork and knife, I hear a sound that brings an immediate smile to my face:
* Crunch *
:). I take a bite and the crackle of beautifully crisp Chicken Skin combines with an ultra-juicy, perfectly cooked Chicken Breast. The white meat is positively singing and bright and pure.
The Leg and Thigh are even more luscious and juicy, with a delicate Salt and Pepper simplicity shining through. By itself, it's amazing already, but with the variety of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables from local farmers really adds the proverbial "cherry on top," with one visit having the sexy sweetness of marinated Black Mission Figs with the gorgeous Roast Chicken, or on another visit, Wild Mushrooms in a Marsala Sauce.
In each of the visits to Rustic Canyon, their Roasted Jidori Chicken has been consistently perfectly cooked, juicy, tender, and with an irresistible crispy Skin, all under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Evan Funke. Outstanding.
Rating: 9.0 (out of 10)
1119 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: (310) 393-7050
Hours: Sun - Thurs, 5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.
Final Thoughts: Roast Chicken is probably one of the most misunderstood dishes out there. It's at once extremely simple and straightforward, but at the same time, it's one of the hardest dishes to make right (with just-cooked-through, succulent Breast meat, while also having the Leg and Thigh be properly cooked, and having a wonderful crisped Skin).
There is no "rare" or "medium-rare" Chicken. In this country, Chicken is served well-done, so there's a much smaller window for a kitchen to nail the proper timing on a Roast Chicken. Add to that fact that there are no fine gradations for Chicken like there is Beef (i.e., there is no "Grade A5 Chicken" or "USDA Prime / Choice / Select Chicken"), and it becomes harder and harder to attain a great quality Roast Chicken, from both a chef and customer's point-of-view.
Here are some individual Awards in the course of this too-long, horrific Roast Chicken Battle:
* Most Unforgettable Roast Chicken: Melisse's Rotisserie Chicken, Stuffed with Summer Truffles - For Two (Prepared Tableside)
* Favorite Chicken (1/2) Under $10: Pollo Ala Brasa (Western)
* Favorite Crispy Chicken Skin: Rustic Canyon & Marouch
* Favorite Everyday Roast Chicken: Rustic Canyon & Pollo Ala Brasa (Western)
Looking back on this absurd undertaking, it really underscores the point of just how subjective food is. For one dear friend, having sexy, crisped Chicken Skin is tantamount in a great Roast Chicken. For some of my Hounds, they abhor Chicken Skin and peel it off immediately, happy to enjoy the meat itself. Others insist on enjoying the Roast Chicken with whatever condiments are provided (e.g., Zankou's Garlic Spread, or the homemade Aji Sauce at Pollo Ala Brasa). For each of them, there are different things that make up their ideal "Roast Chicken," which just incites more discussions and heated debates, and that's what makes food so fun. (^_~)
I hope this serves as another warning for what not to do. Like a bad movie sequel, how could I attempt something even more ludicrous and insane than the first time, and not learn from my mistakes?! My "friends" have disappeared again. Calls are going straight to voicemail. The last thing I heard from one of my OC Hounds was a sobbing, "You made me gain 3 pounds hanging out with you!!!" Yet more relationships destroyed all because of food! Perhaps I can get this post listed as a synonym for "foolishness." Or maybe, "absurdity." Or better yet, "stupidity." :)
I think I have to call it quits after this. Too much damage has been done.
But wait! I know! Maybe we can do a Salad Battle! They'd be willing to talk to me, then, right? Right? (^_^)
Friday, March 18, 2011
Tender, Juicy and Crisp? Roast Chicken Battle - Melisse, Costco, Pollo Ala Brasa, Rustic Canyon, Zankou, A Frame, Gjelina, Marouch, Lola's, and more!
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."