Juicy, Crispy Japanese Fried Chicken Made with Love and Care - Pikunico - Grand Opening [Thoughts + Pics]


#1

Over the last few years we’ve probably heard of far too many stories of Chefs leaving their post to start a new endeavor, making a “chef-ified” version of [insert popular food item]. Sometimes it’s a success (Chef Johnny Ray Zone and Howlin’ Ray’s, or Chef Wes Avila reinventing the Taco at Guerilla Tacos), but many times it ends in failure (like the $85 Hainan Chicken Rice).

Fried Chicken seems to be going through a renaissance right now (thanks in no small part to Howlin’ Ray’s), so when it was announced earlier this year (via Eater LA) that Chef Kuniko Yagi (of Sona, Comme Ca and Hinoki & The Bird fame) was finally going to open up a new eatery based around Japanese Fried Chicken, we were at once excited but also feeling a tad weary of yet another Fried Chicken restaurant opening up.

Still, with Chef Yagi’s refined and delicious cooking at Hinoki & The Bird, and the fact that it was Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken) that she was focusing on, we were hopeful her new restaurant would be different from the flurry of Fried Chicken joints that’ve opened up in the past year or so.

Pikunico (a portmanteau of the Japanese word for “Picnic” (Pi-ku-ni-ku) + “Kuniko” (Chef Kuniko’s name)) has opened up in the slowly-gaining-white-hot-momentum food venue known as ROW DTLA (home of the amazing Kaiseki restaurant that is Hayato, and home to the Sunday outdoor foodfest known as Smorgasburg).

Directions (since it is quite confusing (the numbering system at ROW DTLA):

From exiting the parking structure, you’ll see the main courtyard and giant singular tree (above). Take an immediate RIGHT down the first row of storefronts and you’ll see this long passage:

Proceed to walk all the way down to the end and you’ll find Pikunico:

Walking inside, you’re greeted by a mellow, relaxing soundtrack, reminiscent of something from KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. The interior is warm and inviting. :slight_smile:

And you’ll find a large common picnic table inside and a few picnic tables outside as well.

This is a casual spot, ordering at the counter and then taking a seat, a departure from the fine dining background that Chef Kuniko Yagi has been doing her whole culinary career. But it’s fine, considering the relaxing “Picnic” angle she’s going for.

Seaweed & Cucumber Salad (Wakame, Cucumber, Watermelon Radish, Arugula, Ponzu Vinaigrette):

From the very first bite, it is apparent that this isn’t just some afterthought or quick buck project: This Seaweed & Cucumber Salad is simply delicious! :slight_smile: It starts with the very fresh, bright ingredients. The Cucumbers and Watermelon Radish are crisp and snappy and bright. Then you taste the flavors exuding from every bite: It’s thankfully not the typical over-vinegared Cucumber Salads found at too many places around town. We loved the balance of Ponzu Vinaigrette (not too tart, some savory) and the Wakame (Seaweed) added a real umami element. The aromatic Sesame Oil elevated it even more. The Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese 7 Spices Mix) gave a little heat as well. An excellent starter and a nice balance later to the Fried Chicken. :blush:

Sweet Potato Salad (Sweet Potato, Broccolini, Ume Creme, Pumpkin Seeds, Lemon Vinaigrette):

First, the Broccolini was fantastic! :slight_smile: No joke, the care and flavors infused into the Broccolini (it tasted perhaps flash sauteed perhaps) really imparted a pleasing, savory angle.

The Sweet Potato Salad was too sweet though. Not from additional Sugar or anything, but the natural flavor of Sweet Potatoes shone through (great), but when you mentally think “Potato Salad” your brain starts to anticipate a creamy, salty mound of goodness, so when that Sweet Potato flavor hits you instead? It threw us off. It wasn’t “bad” at all, but it was a bit strange, tasting a slightly creamy sweetness, when you’re thinking of the usual savory Potato Salad angle.

Housemade Yuzu-ade:

I love Yuzu! The Japanese Citrus makes for a gorgeous beverage that stands out from the usual Lemonade or Limeade drinks. Chef Kuniko’s Yuzu-ade is so fragrant and aromatic and refreshing. :heart:

Pikunico Slaw (Cabbage, Kale, Red Onion, Seasonal Vegetable, Sesame Vinaigrette):

And the star of the Salads section might very well be the most simply named one: Do not sleep on the Pikunico Slaw. Coleslaw seems like a typical offering for Fried Chicken places, but Chef Kuniko’s version tastes like nothing we’ve had before for “Coleslaw.”

The menu makes it sound pretty simple, but the ultimate flavor combination is nothing short of magic: Sure there’s Shredded Cabbage, Kale, Red Onions, and Seasonal Vegetables, but something about Chef Kuniko’s Sesame Vinaigrette mixed with fresh, bright ingredients just causes it to all meld together and shine. If you ever wanted to know what “umami” might taste like, this might be a good case for the term. Wonderful! :blush:

The centerpiece of the menu is Chef Kuniko’s take on Japanese Fried Chicken, in a variety of angles. Speaking with Chef Kuniko, she mentioned that for this new restaurant, she drew on her childhood memories of her Obaachan (Grandma) taking her to Takashimaya Department Store in Japan, and they would go and enjoy Karaage together every week. She didn’t have the recipe, but those memories helped inform her own version of Karaage for this restaurant.

All of their Fried Chicken (and pretty much everything on the menu except 2 items) are Gluten-Free, Free Range, and Locally Farmed. There are 3 types of Fried Chicken she’s offering, so we started with:

Classic (Fried Chicken) (3 Pieces of Thigh):

Taking a bite…

Crispy, Piping Hot, Juicy Fried Chicken! :heart:

A thought fluttered across my mind, but it seemed ridiculous, so I took another bite. Perfectly seasoned, not overly salty, there’s a delicate additional seasoning in each bite. It’s subtle, but pleasing. It’s more than just the typical Salt & Pepper (we later find out Chef Kuniko has a seasoning blend, but one of the standouts might be a type of Seaweed Salt from Japan).

The pleasing quality pervades my palate and mind. From the crispy batter (not crunchy, but crispy), to the fresh, juicy, vibrant Chicken flavors in every bite (the perfect frying), the thought finally lands front and center:

This might very well be the best Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken) in L.A. :heart: :blush: It is that good!

(@bulavinaka @PorkyBelly @J_L @ipsedixit @TheCookie @paranoidgarliclover @Ns1 @A5KOBE @attran99 @beefnoguy and others, don’t miss out on this.)

Even the Housemade Pickles that are included feel like they are made with love and care. Excellent and bright.

Fingerling Fries (with Negi Salt):

Each Basket of Fried Chicken comes with 1 Free Side, so we ordered the Fingerling Fries with this one. When they arrive, it is a beautiful but surprising color splash of green and gold, the green color coming from the Negi (Green Onion) and Nori (Seaweed) Salt.

The little Fingerling Potato halves make for crispy Fries and they were some of our favorite items today. :blush:

Mix (Fried Chicken) (1 Thigh, 2 Tenders, 1 Whole Wing):

So besides the traditional Japanese Fried Chicken (Karaage Thigh pieces), Pikunico also offers Chicken Tenders (made from Chicken Breast meat) and Chicken Wings. The “Mix” basket allows you to try all 3.

Fried Chicken Tenders:

While looking a little pale, taking a bite, these are surprisingly moist, tender pieces of Free-Range Chicken Breast meat. They aren’t the giant hefty pieces you see traditionally for “Fried Chicken Tenders,” but they are tasty in this rendition, and it looks like it was Breast meat deboned from the Chicken (rather than some non-descript mashup of “Chicken meat” in breading for many versions found elsewhere).

They were fine on their own, but what really elevated the Fried Chicken Tenders were the Housemade Sauces:

Daikon Ponzu Oroshi, Parsley & Sesame Sauce, Lemon Aioli:

The Daikon Ponzu Oroshi was excellent with all 3 types of Fried Chicken, but with the simplicity of the Chicken Tenders it worked really well here.

The Parsley & Sesame Sauce worked best with the Chicken Tenders (for us), really giving it a nice aromatic, herbal edge. :slight_smile: The Lemon Aioli also works, probably a nod to all the Kewpie fanatics out there. :wink:

The Classic Karaage (Fried Chicken Thigh) piece here was as juicy and crispy as the previous order. Perfectly fried, not greasy at all, and wonderfully balanced.

It was so good that we devoured our Karaage Thighs before trying any of the Sauces last order. Here, we were able to sample all 3 Sauces, and my favorite was probably the Daikon Ponzo Oroshi. :slight_smile:

Wing (Fried Chicken):

Thankfully, unlike the mediocrity that is Karayama (Little Tokyo), Pikunico offers a whole Chicken Wing (like Howlin’ Ray’s), with the Drumette included, although it is smaller than Howlin’ Ray’s version. The batter is crispy like the Karaage, and the Wing isn’t overcooked, still juicy and flavorful on the bone. :slight_smile:

Ginger Onigiri (Seasoned Steamed Rice Ball, Soy Sauce, Ginger, Garlic):

Their Ginger Onigiri (Rice Ball) is nicely seasoned. Nothing overly salty, but there’s a depth of flavor beyond just the usual Steamed Rice in most Rice Balls.The Ginger flavor was there, but nothing overpowering (for those worried about that), and I loved the Shoyu (Soy Sauce) flavor coming through (delicately). The Nori (Seaweed) wrapper was sadly, soft, but overall it was a nice Onigiri. :slight_smile:

Chicken & Ginger Rice Bowl (Gently Roasted Chicken Breast, Soy Glaze, Ginger Rice, Housemade Assorted Pickles):

Perhaps the one weak spot on the menu might be the Chicken & Ginger Rice Bowl: It features Roasted Chicken Breast slices with a Soy Glaze on top of their delicious Ginger Rice (used for the Rice Balls). The problem is that the Roasted Chicken is just OK. Chicken Breast meat is still moist (not dried out), which is good, but there isn’t that much flavor except the Soy Glaze. It feels like it’s meant to be a healthier alternative to the Fried Chicken offerings (which is fine). Hopefully over time Chef Kuniko can iterate on this recipe to add more depth of flavor here.

Golden Chicken Sandwich (Fried Chicken on Golden Turmeric Bun, Pickled Daikon, Watercress, Alfalfa Sprouts, Lemon Aioli, Jalepeno, and Miso Jam):

This starts leaning more into Chef Kuniko’s fine dining background, as the inclusion of Pickled Daikon, Watercress, Alfalfa Sprouts and (Pickled) Jalapeno Chilies with Miso Jam is nothing short of brilliant and it works. :blush:

The Fried Chicken used here in the Sandwich are the Karaage Fried Chicken Thigh pieces (so it’s not one large whole piece), but it works. It’s still crispy and juicy, but you get that wonderful Watercress vegetal note, the Alfalfa Sprouts giving it an open field aspect, almost Spring-like, and the Pickled Jalapenos give it some heat and piquant (along with the Pickle Daikon). There’s creaminess from the Lemon Aioli as well.

The Turmeric Bun is OK. It looks beautiful in a shocking golden color, and the Bread stands up to the Fried Chicken and ingredients (never disintegrating like some Buns), but it might be a bit too sturdy and hefty.

Chicken Egg Drop Soup (Housemade Chicken Broth, Chicken, Egg, Green Onion):

The hidden, surprise star of the day was their Chicken Egg Drop Soup. The unfortunately named soup made us think of some weird… bad Chinese Take-Out dish (“Egg Drop Soup”), however nothing could be further from the truth: Taking a sip…

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! WOW! :grin:

This is soulful, heart-warming outstanding Chicken Soup! It conjures up warm fuzzy feelings of eating your Grandma’s most delicious Chicken Soup at home on a chilly evening. It is pure, made with such clarity and care. It was like you could taste the love and attention that was put into it! :heart:

This could be the basis of the best Zosui (Japanese Porridge or Rice Soup made from a savory Broth) in L.A. right now, that’s how amazing it was! :blush:

Special Hack / Tip: Scoop some of the Ginger Rice from your Chicken Bowl (or the Ginger Rice Onigiri (Rice Ball)) and mix it into the Chicken Drop Soup! A facsimile of Zosui, not perfect, but SO GOOD already! :heart:

This was pretty much the entire menu (they have Matcha Ice Cream from Sweet Rose Creamery), and service was fine and casual, which fit the style of restaurant. Prices range from $3 - $13 (with the Fried Chicken offerings (including 1 Free Side) in the $12 - $13 range).

And if the words “Downtown L.A.” and “Parking” causes immediate traumatic reactions (@bulavinaka @TheCookie and others), Pikunico thankfully has this:

A 9 story parking structure for ROW DTLA. There were ~1,800 parking spots available when we went for lunch today. :wink: (And it’s 2 Hours Free Parking with Validation.)

Pikunico starts off with a bang: This is how a chef-driven restaurant should be like, with flavorful, well-executed dishes that are more than just the ingredients. Chef Kuniko Yagi gets it, in terms of flavors. She can show off farmers market, fresh produce, and some hints of her fine dining background in the excellent Salads (that Pikunico Slaw is now my favorite Slaw in L.A.).

But she also brings the classic Japanese tastes to the forefront in the juicy, crispy, light Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken Thigh Pieces), that were savory, and flavorful, nicely seasoned without being a salt bomb like too many places these days. For those that want more flavors, try her 3 Housemade Sauces like the Daikon Oroshi Ponzu, or the Parsley & Sesame Sauce, or Lemon Aioli which all work well with the Fried Chicken. :slight_smile:

If Chef Kuniko is able to continue to personally cook (like she did today), or train staff that maintains the same level of quality as her grand opening, then Pikunico might soon become the best Karaage specialist in L.A.

Pikunico
767 S. Alameda Street, Suite 122
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Tel: (213) 278-0407

http://www.pikunico.com/

Update 1:

We suddenly felt an urge for more crispy Japanese Fried Chicken so off we went… :wink:

Walking in, Chef Kuniko Yagi was still in the house, cooking and prepping along with her staff.

Housemade Yuzu-ade:

Wonderful. Same as before: Japanese Yuzu CItrus imparts such a distinct lightly floral, aromatic note to each sip. So refreshing. :slight_smile:

(Fried Chicken) Wing Basket (3 Whole Wings):

For this follow-up visit, the batter on the Fried Chicken Wings were noticeably crunchier (nice!), with the Chicken Wing interior still moist and cooked just through. It was a touch more savory than before, which was still spot-on and delicious. :blush:

Daikon Ponzu Oroshi, Parsley & Sesame Sauce, Lemon Aioli:

The 3 Housemade Sauces are still excellent, adding an additional layer of flavor and really changing up how the Fried Chicken Wings turn out. We liked all 3 Sauces this time, but our favorite might be the Parsley & Sesame Sauce. :slight_smile:

Ginger Onigiri (Seasoned Steamed Rice Ball, Soy Sauce, Ginger, Garlic):

The Ginger Onigiri still had the soft Nori (Seaweed) wrapper, unfortunate, but the actual Seasoned Ginger Rice was delicate, with a subtle Ginger note and savoriness.

Pikunico Slaw (Cabbage, Kale, Red Onion, Seasonal Vegetable, Sesame Vinaigrette):

Their Pikunico Slaw was even more savory and tasty than before! :open_mouth: :blush: I don’t know what magic Chef Kuniko is doing here, but she somehow makes all of those simple ingredients combine together into something far greater than the individual parts.

Outstanding Coleslaw, tasting nothing like the usual renditions. :slight_smile:

Classic (Fried Chicken) (3 Pieces of Thigh):

Chef Kuniko has been adjusting the batter on her Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken). During the Grand Opening, it was all crispiness, with no crunch, which was fine. Taking a bite on this visit, there’s a noticeable crunch and crispiness! :blush:

Also, perhaps taking feedback from aaqjr or others, her Karaage today was slightly more savory (but not overly salty (not even close), and still quite delicious! :blush: It was still so juicy, with a more robust flavor coming through that it could be enjoyed on its own, without the 3 Housemade Sauces.

And all 3 Sauces worked quite well as well: The Lemon Aioli might’ve finally hooked me, definitely conjuring up memories of eating Karaage with Kewpie. :smile:

Taking another bite, they are just so satisfying and well prepared and flavored, they are our favorite Karaage in L.A. right now! So good! :heart:

Fingerling Fries (with Negi Salt):

Deeply earthy, tasting of real Potato flavor (sometimes you get those Fries that just taste like salt and crunch (which isn’t bad), but here, it tastes like you’re enjoying a hybrid of a Baked Potato and French Fry in some ways. I love her Negi Salt. :slight_smile:

(Secret Menu) Zosui (Housemade Chicken Rice Soup)(!!!):

It finally happened! We had mentioned to Chef Kuniko how amazing her Chicken Egg Drop Soup might be if it was the basis of a Zosui (Japanese Rice Porridge / Soup), and she said multiple customers asked her about this, and on this visit, she was making Zosui as a secret menu item! Woo hoo!

Taking a sip: SERIOUSLY.

That perfectly balanced, soulful, heartwarming Housemade Chicken Broth with tender chunks of Free-Range Chicken, Egg, Green Onions and then cooked down with her Ginger Rice.

It is OUTSTANDING! :heart: :heart: :heart:

Definitely the best Zosui we have right now in L.A., and Chef Kuniko was just doing this on the side. (@bulavinaka @J_L @PorkyBelly and others don’t miss out on this.) :blush:

We’re glad the Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken) is still excellent at Pikunico. Chef Kuniko seems to be iterating on her Grand Opening batter and seasoning, with a slightly more crunchy (but still crispy) exterior, and more savoriness in the meat, while still delivering juicy, tasty Karaage that stands out from the competition.

Add in the excellent, more refined (and better tasting) Pikunico Slaw and that Zosui (if it’s not available, don’t miss out on her Chicken Drop Soup instead), and you have the makings of a new rising star in L.A.

Pikunico
767 S. Alameda Street, Suite 122
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Tel: (213) 278-0407

http://www.pikunico.com/


#2

Howlin’ Rays finally has some real competition.


#3

I’ve got some free time the next few weeks. Looks like I’m going to have to bang-bang with Howlin’ soon. Thanks for your amazing work, @Chowseeker1999!


#4

Nice!!

No alcoholic beverage license yet? Or is that coming soon?

Lots of great and fun opportunity for dry/super dry Junmai sake to pair here!!


#5

Hi @attran99,

Thanks. :slight_smile: Is it going to be your first time trying Howlin’ Ray’s? :open_mouth:


#6

It will be! Super excited for a fried chicken blowout. I’m not an avid spice fan so the level 2 may be where I draw my line in the sand.


#7

Thanks for the great report @Chowseeker1999, this will be my first bang before my dinner at hayato.


#8

Pikuniko, then Hayato, then Rappahannock


#10

#gangsta #OG


#11

then APL Ribs at Majordomo for dessert? :stuck_out_tongue:


#12

Hi @beefnoguy,

I’m not sure if they have a liquor license planned. I’ll have to find out (yah it would be nice to have some kind of pairing). :slight_smile:


#13

Per Eater L.A., it looks like a liquor license (beer & wine) is pending on the copy of the menu.


#14

Looks like in the near future I am going to bang bang Hayato bento with kaarage and that soup!!!

Not bad for lunch huh?

Maybe top it off with some oysters or some coffee/pastry?


#15

Thanks @attran99! I just looked at my photo of the menu and see…

“Beer & Wine Coming Soon”

So @beefnoguy looks like some alcohol in the future then. :slight_smile:


#16

Hi @attran99,

Nice! For your first time, definitely try something with Level 1 “Country” (No Heat), so you get a classic Fried Chicken taste (it’s so good as is), and then something else at Level 2 “Mild” to get a little bit of heat. :wink:


#17

Great reporting - as always!


#18

Thanks @CiaoBob. Hope you get to try it soon. :slight_smile:


#19

Hi @PorkyBelly,

Nice! Looking forward to your report on Hayato and Pikunico. :slight_smile:


#20

Make sure you bring a snack for the wait in line! :wink:


#21

Going try going when it opens on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. But I will heed your sage advice…thanks, @paranoidgarliclover!