With KFC outlets closing across Canada, you might be wondering where your next bucket of fried chicken is coming from. No? Well, let me tell you where it should be coming from.
The Korean fried chicken at Lee House, a little 40-seat gem on Calgary Trail, has a following of its own. “About 70 per cent of the people order it,” says Philip Lee, 30, the eldest son in the family restaurant.
The chicken comes heaping in a curvilinear plate. No wonder, it’s a $28 whole chicken that’s been broken into 20-or-so pieces, lightly battered, fried in a kettle, slathered in a sweet sauce, fried again until it’s perfectly crispy and then sprinkled with sesame seeds.
What’s in the sauce is patriarch and chef John Lee’s best-kept secret. He brought it to the 15-year-old restaurant after noticing the trend of Korean fried chicken during a trip home in 2007. He hasn’t even shared the recipe with his chef-in-training, son Eunsa Lee — not even after the youngest son got his Red Seal certification. “He only gets the pre-mixed sauce in the bottle,” says Philip. “We keep it in an old Heinz ketchup bottles. A lot of people think it’s ketchup we’re adding.”
Whatever it is, Philip says they could expand a restaurant on the concept of his dad’s fried chicken alone. And, in fact, he’s thinking about it. But, for now, they’re planning on opening a second south-side location in the fall with the same menu. “The second location will be a duplicate of the current restaurant but bigger.”
Whether here or there, there’s a lot of great items on the menu, including special chicken balls, which used to be No. 1 before the fried chicken came along.
It’s not your typical Western Chinese food appetizer. John has experimented with the recipe over the 13 years it’s been on the menu, so there’s a lot of care in these battered and fried chicken breast balls mixed in a bold blend of vinegar, sugar, chilli and spices.
These may sound like Canadian-ized foods, but they’re not. “Our cuisine is very traditional Korean,” says Philip.
Dol sot bibimbab, $12.95, a rice bowl of over easy egg, seaweed, steamed vegetables, bean sprouts and chives.
Bulgogi fans will love Lee House Restaurant’s slightly sweet recipe served on steamed rice with mushroom, broccoli and chives, but do try the dol sot bibimbab, a delicious rice bowl of overeasy egg, seaweed, steamed vegetables, bean sprouts and chives. Don’t fork and knife this. Stab the egg in the centre, squeeze the homemade hot sauce and thoroughly mix it until the yolk and sauce coat the ingredients.
How much of the pasty, peanut-y hot sauce should you apply? Well, according to Philip’s mother, Duk Ja Lee (but all the customers just call her “Missus Lee”), it’s a lot. Maybe it’s because it’s the matriarch’s recipe.
And you better eat it all up or take it home with you to finish. Philip says Missus Lee has chased people down in the parking lot if they didn’t take the rest of their whole fried chicken home. I find that hard to believe. I mean, who in their right minds would leave it behind?