The Weekly Eater
Nadine Kam

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Owner Hyon Suk Yi prepares some Choon Chun Chicken Stir Fry at the table, above.

At Choon Chun,
it’s all about the bird

At the office we field a lot of calls from mainlanders who, this time of year, inevitably ask about the weather, with sighs of longing when we answer that it's downright freezing at 65 degrees.

We're such wimps that any 10-degree drop in the weather is followed by a spate of chills and ills, with entire establishments taken out by microscopic bugs.

Moms' arsenal of cures for the common cold include some form of chicken soup, and the National Institute of Health confirmed a helpful, if not purely medicinal, quality to this basic food. The organization reports on its Web site: "Steam from chicken soup may open up congested noses and throats. Soup also provides fluid, which is important for fighting infection. Some researchers suggest that substances in chicken soup reduce the inflammation associated with the common cold, thus providing some relief of symptoms. Although researchers have not been able to prove that chicken soup helps cure the common cold or other illnesses, you may want to take advantage of these apparent healing properties."

So next time the foul weather catches you feeling low, try staving off a case of the sniffles by heading to fowl central, Choon Chun Chicken B.B.Q., where the menu's all chicken all the time.

The restaurant's site, at 1269 S. King St., has been a sort of Bermuda Triangle of lost restaurants, but I feel good about this place. Open since fall, it has a grounded vibe that I didn't feel with its predecessors.

The ingredients for the stir fry look like it may be too much for a few people to eat, but after cooking down, the dish isn't so intimidating.

This isn't the first time a Korean restaurant has tried to focus on one bird. I have fond memories of Chosun Duck Restaurant and its elegant clay-pot roast duck, stuffed with mochi rice, chopped figs, dates, chestnuts, raisins and herbs. Slivers of deer horn were tossed into the mix, too, for those in need of a virility boost.

Alas, that restaurant didn't fly. Apparently, man cannot live on duck alone. Somehow, the odds seem better for Choon Chun because chicken is a lot more mainstream and people are accustomed to eating it daily, rather than treating it as a special occasion dish.

DINING AT Choon Chun isn't the typical appetizer-main course-dessert affair. There are two approaches to the menu. Come for dinner of a colossal stir-fry; or chomp on various forms of chicken feet, gizzards, drumsticks or skewered meat with your beer. The honey-BBQ fried chicken ($13.95) is a particularly good beer accompaniment.

Lunch plates of rice and the likes of barbecued and honey-BBQ fried chicken are available for $5.95 and $6.95.

In the evening, meals start with panchan, about five simple side dishes of kim chee, salted and sweet daikon, zucchini and tofu. I know, I know, it does seem a little skimpy compared to other similar-sized Korean restaurants, but you haven't seen the main course.

If you're really hungry, you might start with a couple of chicken skewers, simply grilled or fiery red. You get two skewers for $4.95 and if you're not sure which to choose, they'll let you order one of each. After trying both I couldn't decide which is best. Both have their merits, so I'd probably make it a habit to order one of each every time. Variety is good.

Dinner guests have a choice of the Choon Chun chicken stir-fry ($23.95 medium/$32.95 large), spicy kimchee chicken stir-fry ($19.95/$32.95), or if you're trying to stave off illness, get the mix in soup form ($17.95/$25.95). If anything will toughen you up, it's downing Korean food, with its potent blend of garlic, salt and lots and lots of chili pepper.

The spicy kim chee stir-fry sounded dangerous so we opted for the basic version, which was plenty spicy on its own, even though we ordered it at "medium hot." I was very grateful for the chilled daikon panchan after a few mouthfuls.

The stir-fry arrives in a shallow dish the size of a large pizza, about 16 inches across, that's full of cabbage, onions, Korean greens, zucchini, carrots, sweet potato and, of course, chicken chopped into bite-size pieces. The feast is cooked at your table on top of a burner. Don't worry, the greens cook down quite a bit, so it isn't as much as it seems. Even so, depending on appetite, it will feed three to four people. Whole families show up to gather 'round the dish.

After this, you really won't be hungry, but we inquired about dessert anyway. There is none, although they will bring a refreshing yogurt drink in a mini plastic bottle, not to fill you up, but to cool your burning palate.


1269 S. King St. / 593-4499

Food Star Star Star

Service Star Star Star

Ambience Star Star 1/2

Value Star Star Star Star

Hours: Lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily

Cost: Less than $10 per person for lunch; about $30 to $40 for four for dinner

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to nkam@starbulletin.com

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