When I was little, I used to love McDonald’s McChicken. Fried and slathered in mayonnaise, the McChicken seemed perfect, especially stuffed with a few french fries dipped in ketchup. Now that I’m older, the McChicken doesn’t hold the same wonderment it previously did. The white meat is pulverized beyond recognition and the chicken exterior is no longer crispy. Even still, once in a while, I crave something fried and unhealthy. This is how I found myself at Cafe Zaiya last week. Normally when I’m within the vicinity of the “Japanese Trinity” (Chiyoda Sushi, Yagura, and Cafe Zaiya), I’ll go to Chiyoda Sushi for some rolls and to Cafe Zaiya for a Mentaiko Onigiri (pollack roe onigiri). The Mentaiko Onigiri is better than the ones at Chiyoda Sushi since the seaweed, nori in Japanese and gim (김) in Korean, is not wrapped directly onto the rice. I don’t like soggy nori. However, that day, I had fried chicken on the brain, and when I saw them bring out a tray of freshly made Spicy Chicken Sandwiches I grabbed one immediately.
The Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($4.25) is basically a fried chicken cutlet on a burkie roll (a softer Kaiser roll with no poppy or sesame seeds) with lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cabbage, and a spicy mayonnaise-based sauce. It was hot and wrapped in cellophane, so I was worried it would get soggy by the time I got back to the office, but four avenues later, my sandwich was still hot and crispy. You know how in movies they add the crunch sound effect whenever a person takes a bite of something that is supposed to be crispy, well while I was eating this sandwich, I felt like there was an extra audio track playing the entire time. In addition, the meat was very moist and when I took a bite, the chicken actually looked like chicken inside. No recomposited chicken over here. This a grown-up version of the McChicken. The sauce was also good. The spicy tanginess went well with the fried chicken, and the lettuce, tomatoes, and cabbage added some freshness.
The next day I left the office planning to get another chicken sandwich, but it was freezing and the wind was whipping right though me, so I decided to go to the newer Cafe Zaiya closer to me on top of Kinokuniya. When I got there, I saw they had the Spicy Chicken Sandwiches but I got distracted by the Tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) Sandwiches ($4.25). Unfortunately, the Tonkatsu Sandwiches had too much tonkatsu sauce making them very salty. Also, because of the sauce, and the fact that Cafe Zaiya at Kinokuniya is not the madhouse the 41st Street cafe is, the fried pork was soggy. They probably get a shipment from the 41st Street location only a few times a day. I think I’ll stick to the Spicy Chicken Sandwich at the original Cafe Zaiya.
Kinokuniya is very cool Japanese bookstore though. In addition to books, they also have cute Japanese T-Shirts and a wicked mural painted by manga artist Takehiko Inoue. However, if its food you want, eat a sandwich at the 41st Street Cafe Zaiya and come back to Kinokuniya to quietly digest.
Cafe Zaiya @ 41st St
18E 41st St (betw 5th & Madison Ave)
Cafe Zaiya @ Kinokuniya
1073 Ave of the Americas (betw 40th & 41st St)