Were there a vote for the city’s freakiest dish, I’d nominate the bonito fries at Chik’n & Mi (2319 Brownsboro Rd.) Not because of the lashing of black garlic aioli and togarashi spice. Those are clever and truly delicious twists. It’s the sprinkling of bonito flakes atop the crisply fried spuds that wriggle as if alive when moved by waves of steam rising from the dish.
“People call them crazy fries and psychedelic fries when they see them do that,” said Jason McCollum, chef and co-owner at Chik’n & Mi. He and wife Aenith McCollum opened the restaurant quietly almost two weeks ago. “We think it’s fun. It’s kind of a show.”
Culinary school-trained chefs, the McCollums share a geographically diverse résumé showing work in restaurants in Manhattan, Southern California, Louisville and elsewhere. Nearly three years ago, Jason was sous chef at La Coop, where he worked for Bobby Benjamin, now at Butchertown Grocery. The couple later moved to Nashville, where Jason cooked at Union Common (owned by Falls City Hospitality Group) before moving to Seattle. They returned to Louisville last year.
“We saw the city as a really good place to start something of our own,” he said. “Seattle is a real estate nightmare for what we’re trying to do.”
The couple wanted to create a restaurant that served dishes they craved at hole-in-the-wall Asian joints, “dishes we search for and will go out of our way to find,” McCollum said. Struggling to condense their idea into a theme, he called it Asian comfort food. “Asian fried chicken and noodles, which pretty much covers it.”
The fried chicken is delicious, though not at all Southern ($7 for three pieces, $12 for five pieces, or an equal number of chicken strips for the same prices). Dusted in tapioca flour, the fried crust is but a crispy scrim. Choose from three sauces—sweet soy, hot and pepper corn ranch—for tossing, or go naked. I got the hot, which is a traditional Laotian sweet and spicy pepper paste called jaew bong. Worry ye not, it’s mild, even for a non-heat seeker such as me. But it’s delicious, especially when contrasted with bits of pickled radish sprinkled on. (So good, in fact, that I neglected to photograph it before I tore into it.)
McCollum shared a terrific cherry ginger salad ($8) of mixed greens, squash ribbons, carrot, radish and a cherry-ginger vinaigrette, that’s ideally portioned to serve as a shared side for two and perhaps three. I eat salad, but it doesn’t often thrill me enough to recommend one. This is an exception to that rule.
Of the three ramen dishes on offer, McCollum brought me the garlic miso ramen ($14) with pork belly, pig-foot terrine and ham jam. Bathed in a rich pork and chicken dashi stock, it is a complex and solid dish.
In case you’re wondering about the name, ‘mi” means noodles in Lao, which is Aenith McCollum’s native tongue. When her family emigrated to the U.S., they landed in Bowling Green. He’s from San Angelo, Texas, and they met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
Jason McCollum said they originally considered fast-casual service at the 80-seat restaurant, but the shape of the space necessitated full-service. They also wanted a full bar, which only reinforced the need for servers.
When renovations began last December, they removed all the old drop ceilings and replaced them with corrugated tin sheets and Edison lights. A bar was built and an opening into the kitchen was made to let guests get a peek at the action.
So far, McCollum said, people love the food, and that at least one guest has visited three nights in a row.
“We’ve had a lot of chefs in here, as well as people who just love food,” he said.
“We actually got on a small wait this past Saturday, which was a good test,” Aenith McCollum added.
For now, Chik’n & Mi is open Tuesday-Thursday, 4-9 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 4-10 p.m. Jason McCollum said lunch isn’t coming soon, but that they may extend dinner hours, “because that’s when people are coming in.”