You know, not all Hainan Chicken dishes are the same. There are Thai versions, Taiwanese versions, Malaysian versions, Vietnamese, etc. The list goes on and on. At Side Chick, a tiny fast casual eatery located at the Westfield Santa Anita Mall, there’s a Chef-driven version. Yes, a Chef-driven version that got me madly curious. I finally had some free time to visit this eatery the other day.
A few storm clouds sidelined the weekend traffic, which made it a breeze to get to the city of Arcadia from the West Los Angeles area. Arcadia is one of many cities that make up the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles otherwise known as SGV to the locals. In the Los Angeles area, particularly the SGV, finding a good Asian restaurant is easy as there is an overabundance of them. The Westfield Santa Anita Mall is the only mall in the area that houses a plethora of Asian restaurants in what is called Hawker Alley; a sort of Asian Food Court. One can find the stateside branches of popular overseas restaurants like Din Tai Fung from Taiwan and Hai Di Lao from China plus others. LA-based establishments that round off Hawker Alley tend to be more specialty focused like, for instance, EMC Seafood that centers around a Raw Bar, sushi, sashimi, and a selection of seafood dishes like their infamous Uni Pasta (a dish that I always gravitate to). Side Chick is one such establishment that specializes in Hainan Chicken and other chicken delicacies.
I think among all of the restaurants at the mall, the LA-based Side Chick has more humble beginnings. This brainy idea of Chef Johnny Lee is seemingly a passion for making simple Asian dishes into perfect culinary works of art. Having tasted the food, I can attest that his methodology to cooking does transform the lowly Hainan Chicken dish into one that’s worthy of a gourmand’s palate.
I admit that I’ve never tasted a more refined Hainan Chicken dish than the one at Side Chick. Other versions around town are decent and perhaps, a little too simple to remember and to write about. At Side Chick, I ordered the white meat just to taste the texture of it. Heck, I figured that if the chef is using his culinary skills, then the white meat would be uniquely tender. My hunch was true after taking the first bite. The meat had a nice plumpness kind of like the meat was cooked enough to break down the collagen and the fat, but rather than cooking it all off, just enough of the stuff was left inside the meat to soften it. Overall, the meat was neither dry nor stringy. Certain parts underneath the wing joint were pink yet cooked through. I could easily taste the gelatinous flesh and yes, it was tender, very tender, as soft as a marshmallow. As for the taste, it had a more robust chickeny taste as it was fresh and clean. This is one smooth Hainan Chicken.
It made sense to get a side order of the Bone Broth to taste its purity and to drizzle the liquid over the chicken and Garlic Rice. Hainan Chicken dishes that I’ve had at other restaurants often have a clear, colorless chicken broth with very little flavor and scallions made up for the color. Side Chick’s broth is something to admire. Supposedly, it involves a 24-hour preparation of boiling chicken bones. I reckon that this technique is to extract the bone marrow deep inside the bones as well as the gelatin, which adds to the rich flavor of the broth and perhaps its deep yellow color. The technique is similar to making the pork broth for ramen.
The HK Chicken Noodle Soup is one such dish that incorporates the bone broth. At first glance, one can say that it resembles a Fried Chicken Ramen Noodle Soup, at least, that what I thought. What’s not to like about this combination? Fried Chicken and noodles in a bowl heaping with a luscious 24-hour Bone Broth is an endearing thing to eat. The Fried Chicken was juicy with the most crispy skin ever. The chicken was neither dusted with flour or battered. It is sheer culinary techniques to get it into its ideal crispness. (By the way, I admit that I peeled off the chicken skin and set it aside so I can enjoy it like it was dessert.) The noodles have a nice texture and the greens are steamed just right. Everything that encompasses this bowl of soup is quite lovely and it tastes as sophisticated as it looks.
I am more than satisfied with my visit to dine at Side Chick. I get that the small, unpretentious menu selections were meant to keep things simple, almost as pure to the simpleness of the dishes they serve. The big surprise is when you taste the final product, it’s obvious of the amount of care taken into making each dish. Yup, only an obsessed chef’s knowledge can create a Masterpiece Hainan Chicken. For me, the food at Side Chick truly was something worth appreciating.
400 S. Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
$. Cash and credit cards accepted. Save the long walk through the mall, Side Chick and the Hawker Alley at the Westfield Santa Anita Mall can be easily accessed from the parking lot at Nordstroms.