We’ve have had our eye on Chef Kuniko Yagi since 2010 when we met her at a Star Chefs event where she was being honored as a Rising Star for her work at David Meyer’s restaurant, Sona. She served a Foie Gras that had been seared on a BBQ with Okinawa Black Sugar, Green Tea Mochi, and the tiniest of strawberries.
Our paths crossed again when she was the executive chef at Myer’s Hiroki and the Bird, which she left when David Myers did. Whether upscale foie gras or the simple döner kabob, we have always loved her complex flavor combinations.
So as soon as we heard about Pikunico, her casual fried chicken spot that opened last December in the quickly developing ROW complex downtown, we couldn’t wait to check it out. The name is a combination of “picnic” and the chef’s name, Kuniko, and it is a light airy room with tall windows, white walls, plants, and a few nautical touches.
The fast-casual restaurant focuses on Japanese fried chicken called karaage, which you may have had at sushi bars. Pikunico‘s chicken is locally farmed and encased in a batter that is made with rice flour and potato starch, so it is naturally gluten-free. The menu is simple, offering chicken in the form of tenders, wings, thighs, a sandwich and a bowl.
The Golden Chicken Sandwich shows off one of Chef Yagi’s greatest skills—balancing sweet, sour, bitter, sweet and umami flavors. She matches dark meat chicken with pickled daikon, watercress, alfalfa sprouts, lemon aioli, jalapeno and miso jam on a turmeric bun to create the perfect taste. The Chicken and Rice Bowl layers roasted chicken breast with a soy glaze on ginger rice and accompanies it with intense and addictive house-made pickles.
In addition there are several small salads, egg drop soup, fingerling potatoes and a nice ginger ongiri (rice ball) wrapped in seaweed. There are two desserts, we were enchanted by the Matcha Ice Cream from Sweet Rose Creamery with yuzu-daidai granite (ice), and black sugar jelly.
Pikunico was created in partnership with Kaizen Dining Group (Kabuki, Tengoku Ramen Bar). A liquor license is in process, and it is currently open from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. with a special snack menu Monday – Friday from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.