Fusebox KFC (Korean fried chicken). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Kusshi oysters with yuzu kosho mignonette, kiwi, and Pink Lady apple kimchi. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Fried housemade tofu. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Housemade banchan and nori party. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Korean beignets (made with mochi) and chai cream. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The front patio. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
My friends had just returned from their Hawaiian vacation and wanted somewhere easygoing to dine at: “Marcia, we can’t handle anything too crazy or chaotic.” In order to maintain their mahalo vibe, it seemed dinner at ~FUSEBOX~ would be the right call. I had no idea how spot-on that was going to be—I love it when things work out.
This quirky West Oakland spot is on a desolate street that’s just off W. Grand Avenue—hello, easy parking. It has a front patio where you can hang out at a communal table, a chill spot for us to drink our Almanac honey saisons and enjoy our amuse of mushroom consommé and popcorn before our table was ready. (Let’s hear it for 510 balmy evenings.) And since Fusebox is open for lunch, this is where you’ll want to park your heinie as you scarf your torta, or for happy hour (Thu-Fri 3pm-6pm, Sat 2:30pm-5:30pm).
The Korean-American menu from chef Sunhui Chang is similar to an izakaya format (it’s a kkochi-gui pub/sojubang—kkochi-gui is Korean for grilled skewers). Dishes are affordable and varied, from an array of skewers—“chicken oyster” (if you know what that is, you’re a happy human), eggplant, shishito, and the like—on the specials board (which will get dragged to your table at some point) to tasty plates like exquisite housemade fried tofu ($4.50) and smoky bacon mochi ($2.50), both of which were some of the better executions I’ve ever had. How can you say no to Kusshi oysters ($2.50) with a yuzu kosho mignonette, kiwi, and Pink Lady apple kimchi? You don’t.
And then there’s the KFC (Korean fried chicken), which will blow your goddamn mind, man. The exterior is brilliant and shattering, and the wings are the picture of juicy. Our server told us chef brushes the sauce on the wings so it’s the perfect distribution. I’d say his entire technique is magic (let’s hear it for frying with rice flour); he has these wings down. For $5.50 you get four pieces, so just trust me and double down.
What especially rocked me was the awesome banchan here, ranging from soy-pickled items like the haunting tsukudani (pickled nori) the color of prunes to vinegar-pickled items like cauliflower and some killer kimchis, like Japanese cucumber, stinging nettles, apple, and traditional napa cabbage. They even make their own gochujang (chile paste)—you can read this piece about Chang’s impressive housemade pickle program and more here. If you order one of the bap sets (we enjoyed the air-dried rainbow trout with ao nori, $16), they come with rice and a selection of banchan. All the plates feature many flavorful details and flourishes—so much thought goes into the food here, you’ll note it immediately.
The spare space is teeny-tiny inside, about 20 seats, and the staff (which spans all kinds of ages and ethnicities and languages) will quickly treat you like a friend, which helps smooth over any scattered service moments. Love the eclectic crowd: you’ll see a Korean family with grandma in tow at one table, and a group of Instagram-happy gourmands at another. It’s a total Oakland mash-up, and I fully dug it.
There are plenty of local beers on the menu, and the French assistant manager will be happy to tell you about some wines too, oui. Be sure to try the housemade roasted corn tea (hot or cold, $1.50), and if you want something to put a little more hair on your chest, go for the barrel-aged soju ($4). When all was said and done, we had a total abbondanza for $42 each (tax and tip included)—even my friend with the hollow leg was stuffed. And totally charmed. Mission accomplished.
Additional notes: The Saturday hours can be a little squirrelly—the owners (they are husband and wife) will close for their daughter’s soccer tournaments (awww), so be sure to check their Facebook page or call before you head over. And if you fall in love with their kimchis or pickles (which you assuredly will), you can talk to your server about buying some to bring home. Again, awwww.