Roosterspin in New Brunswick is fun, largely thanks to its justifiably popular double-fried Korean chicken (wings and drumsticks), the crackly skin so delicate, its soy-garlic glaze is brushed on by hand. It’s cooked to order, but the 25-minute wait is eased by the quality of Roosterspin’s faster dishes and its cocktails.
Pharmacist-turned-restaurateur Mihae Cho, 45, who opened the original Roosterspin next to the Westfield train station in 2014, opened this spinoff across from the New Brunswick station in July. It has one attraction the Westfield location lacks: a bar. The cocktails, by Pamela Wiznitzer, national president of the U.S. Bartender’s Guild, and Luis Hernandez, the much-touted mixologist at Seamstress in Manhattan, are worth a detour on their own. Welsummer, a gin-based combo of St. Germain, cucumber, lime and yuzu, is plucky and potent; Rooftop Mule delivers its kick via chili peppers and ginger.
The large space sparkles with constellations of Edison bulbs, racks of empty glass jugs of the type used for fermenting kimchi, and more racks holding 7,000 vinyl records from Cho’s collection, which a deejay spins on weekends.
Unofficial history traces Korean double-fried chicken to the 1970s, when it was supposedly introduced in a department store in Seoul. Since then, it’s become a beloved national dish and a favorite export. Cho says she and her then husband began serving it in New York at Bonchon in 2006, and in 2010 at Mono + Mono, which her ex still owns.
Cho says she owns the trademark, “Always double-fried!” At Roosterspin, the pieces can be ordered mild or (unabashedly) hot. Many customers get a half-and-half platter, which comes with crunchy Korean radishes pickled with curry and vinegar.
In July, Cho and her staff served double-fried chicken (along with Roosterspin’s gluten-free waffles) to some 2,000 guests who attended a tasting at the private Legends Suite Club at Yankee Stadium. It was the fourth year she was invited to showcase the dish.
The best non-chicken dishes include pillowy bulgogi buns, filled with marinated beef, arugula and house-made pickles. Jap Chae, a richly savory vegetable stew with slices of bulgogi, is distinguished by noodles made from sweet potato flour and stir-fried rather than boiled, making them extra stretchy and fun to play with.
The pork-belly appetizer is marred by dry, tough pork, but the meat’s delicate Boston lettuce wrappers sparkle in a nutty scallion vinaigrette. The yuzu salad features sprightly greens and surprises like kabocha squash and sweet Korean crunch melon. Even better is the sliced mango salad, with its greens, pine nuts, and joyous pile of deep-fried, shredded beets and sweet potatoes.
Roosterspin’s bibimbap is notable for the gingery tang of the brisket and the deliciously crisp layer of seared rice (in paella, known as socarrat) lining the bottom of the hot stone bowl. Skip the dull kimchi fries with their bland cheese sauce and the dishes featuring raw but tasteless tuna.
Instead of mochi or the commercially prepared desserts, go for the gluten-free rice-flour waffle, crisper and lighter than the American kind. Some diners pair it with the chicken, but as dessert, especially because its pineapple syrup isn’t treacly, it satisfies.
In the three decades since Cho came to America from her native Seoul, she says she has seen Korean restaurants serve more fusion or Korean-American dishes, including fries, raw tuna and fresh green salads.
“We want to be more appealing to American diners,” she says. Given the quality of Roosterspin’s food and drink, she has a good chance of realizing that ambition.Click here to leave a comment
Dinner for two:
Lunch and dinner, daily.
Ambience:Young, hip, retro-techno
Service:Varies from professional to less so
Wine list:Exceptional cocktails; robust beers; sakes and Korean sojus