Chocolate-infused fried chicken. It's a difficult concept to wrap your mind around, let alone your taste buds. Even more problematic is the idea of pairing cocktails with such a curious culinary combination. But this was the very task given to Keith Previte, co-founder and spirits manager at ChocoChicken, which opened last night in downtown Los Angeles. ChocoChicken, just to remind you, is the unlikely new restaurant project from Adam Fleischman, the man who brought you Umami Burger and 800 Degrees.
First, a few words on the cocoa-battered bird: It's not just a gimmick. There is serious flavor in the batter, and a slightly bittersweet, pleasantly crisped skin counteracts the salty, juicy, poultry encased beneath in each bite. It likely will appeal more to fried chicken aficionados than to chocoholics, yet the latter still have something to celebrate, with an intimation of dark cacao clinging to the palate long after the meal is over.
"[Serving] fried chicken," Previte says, "we really wanted to be an American concept. Big, bold, passionate. So our drinks reflect that."
Robust, somewhat comical flavors such as these demand cocktails with correspondingly strong ingredients. Anything subtle would be washed away in a torrent of chocolate-studded ketchup. So the drinks here rely on heavy-handed, somewhat playful adulterants: cayenne pepper, crème de cacao, egg whites, even espresso.
Too much sweetness can be cloying, particularly when paired with dishes offering more of the same. And with a few of these drinks, it feels as though they just wanted to dump chocolate in a glass and call it a day.
Stick with the spicy and smoky liquids to counterbalance the saccharine fare. The Angie After 11PM - a blend of tequila, mezcal and Ancho Reyes chili liqueur - is armed and able. An added dash of cayenne emboldens the accompanying Mexican spirits, delivering a kick like a mule - more than enough to combat the complexities of chocolate-battered chicken.
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The Angry Cock is a drink as unapologetic as its name. An unholy matrimony of bourbon with white crème de cacao, finished with root beer, walnut bitters and egg whites, it was obviously designed with the food menu in mind. Rather than being overly sweet, the oakiness of the bourbon comes through, playing well with the mad array of sauces adorning the chicken. Brace for sensory bombardment.
"We wanted to do everything we could to make our American classics the best out there," Previte says, "Nobody has done a drinks menu with fried chicken, and since our chicken touches on not only sweet and savory but different levels of flavor, we wanted our drinks to reflect that as well."