Fried chicken gets caviar treatment at Naegi


A karaage fried chicken sandwich topped with sturgeon caviar

Nicknames elaborated with green and black graffiti float like crumpled leaves across a landscape of darkened peaks, pink cherry blossoms, and blue waterfalls. The vibrant mural covers the wide, flat side wall of the freestanding storefront, one block west of the Coast Highway (626 South Tremont Street, Oceanside). The product of a recent live art performance, its most colorful elements were added out of respect for the building’s imminent future as a Japanese gourmet restaurant, Matsu.

Current Naegi Fried Chicken Pop-Up Site; will soon be the home of the upscale dining establishment Matsu (with some modifications to the mural and storefront).

But first, this summer only it’s a fried chicken pop-up restaurant called Naegi. And not only does Naegi have the best fried chicken sandwich in the county (for $ 8) – for an additional $ 20, you can make this the most forgiving chicken sandwich in the county, thanks to the ability to add caviar from sturgeon.

The Matsu and Naegi concepts are both the work of Oceanside chef William Eick, last seen a year ago, delivering fried chicken meals to food insecure residents from his kitchen station at the Mission Avenue Grill. This is where a growing interest in Japanese cuisine prompted Eick to introduce the Matsu concept, as a fixed-price pop-up restaurant charging $ 120 per person.

Two years later, the high-end Matsu (what the Japanese call a pine) is awaiting a liquor license and will open in late August or September. In the meantime, Eick will use his kitchen to run Naegi (for Japanese: sapling).

While Naegi is only temporarily at this property, Eick has broader plans for the laid-back concept and is actively researching multiple locations around San Diego (although the proud local is determined to launch in Oceanside first). The objective of the restaurant is karaage, better known as the Japanese fried chicken familiar to many ramen and sushi menus.

At Naegi, that means marinating the chicken in a shio mixture of koji and shoyu for up to three days, before frying it in a crispy potato starch crust. You can order a whole bird for $ 29, or order chicken pieces of your choice: a single breast ($ 8), or pairs of thighs ($ 7), thighs ($ 7) and wings (7 $).

The $ 8 famous karaage sando features a thigh, dressed in togarashi mayo and cabbage on a baked Hokkaido milk bun. If you don’t like chicken, the sandwiches also contain fried tofu ($ 7) and shrimp ($ 9). If you don’t feel fried, you can opt for an egg salad ($ 5) or kanikama (aka crab).

You can add caviar to any of them, but I can’t argue with sautéing the fried chicken. The meat inside is surprisingly succulent and tender, while the starchy exterior adds crunch and seasoning that delivers more complex umami notes than the styles of Southern Fried Chicken and Hot Nashville Chicken that currently dominate cravings. from San Diego.

As for the caviar, it adds an oceanic essence to the sandwich, increasing the salinity to create an unmistakably Japanese palate. Like caviar itself, it could easily become addictive. It turns out that Eick is the ambassador for Sterling Caviar, a Northern California brand. This will be a staple on Matsu’s menu, and he told me that the idea of ​​putting sturgeon roe on his Naegi sandwiches was primarily aimed at getting the Oceanside community to associate this building with a place where caviar is. served.

Caviar may or may not travel with future Naegi locations, but for now, the $ 20 add-on may be the cheapest way to experience the delicacy of fish roe. Sterling’s caviar starts at $ 90 an ounce, and when New York chef David Chang made caviar with fried chicken available at his restaurant, Momofuku, he charged $ 500.

By comparison, this sophisticated ingredient on a casual food mix looks too good to pass up at $ 28. Get it soon – it will be gone by the end of summer.

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