Entering Bantam King feels like entering the hip cafeteria you’d see in a BLACKPINK music video. Blue, yellow, and green trays line the back walls, Japanese comics paper the other walls, and community tables lit by Japanese lanterns offer any guest a seat at the table. Housed in what used to be a downtown Burger King, Bantam King’s interior is fast food reimagined. Wooden booths, tile floor, and an open kitchen pay homage to Bantam King’s predecessor while also reminding guests of its innovation — taking a classic dining experience and adding a new and exciting twist.
“It’s a fun little simple caviar service,” Fukushima says. “Cream cheese mousse with chives, kind of a play on sour cream and chives, with a well-priced caviar.”
The caviar comes from black lumpfish. Fukushima explained that the boxy black fish are native to the North Atlantic and they venture to the seas around Scandinavian countries to spawn. It’s there they are caught and processed just like more expensive sturgeon caviar would be: cleaned, cured, and canned. Since the lumpfish is more populous than the sturgeon, the caviar comes at a more affordable price.
“It’s something that goes well with fried chicken,” Fukushima says. “It’s salty, it’s oily, it’s fishy and holds up well with the fried chicken, as fried chicken can be kind of strong in flavor.”
Some of the best meals are those that offer a new taste in every bite. Plated on nice china with a delicate doily, the caviar rests in a glass dish surrounded by an ice bath next to the cream cheese mousse. Paired with their classic fried chicken, which includes a side of buttery rice with chicken drippings and a Kings Hawaiian roll, these ingredients can be used in whatever way you’d like; meaning each bite is a complete and satisfactory surprise.
“It’s fun and you can do different combinations,” Fukushima says and adds, “Treat yourself.”
I did treat myself and tried just about every method: caviar on the rice, caviar on the chicken, caviar on chicken, and the Kings Hawaiian roll. Ultimately, the best bite was the roll topped with the curry fried chicken (fried skin absolutely included), a bit of the onion that comes on the chicken, caviar, and the mousse. The multiple flavor combinations worked perfectly together, and differently in each bite, even when I used the same grouping twice in a row.
Unexpectedly, the caviar offered new flavors each time I tried it. Sometimes it was the added oil that stood out, other times, a buttery smooth sensation. And sometimes the fishy taste popped out more than others, but less like I was eating fish, and more like I was eating my chicken next to the ocean — a salty coastal breeze affecting the taste.
While the caviar paired perfectly with the curry chicken and the Nashville chicken, chef Fukushima plans to add new flavors in the near future. Expect a classic orange chicken and some adobo chicken.
“The theme is to change up the flavors of our fried chicken,” Fukushima says. “We keep it lively.”
The chicken is Halal and fried in a pressure fryer. It’s a more expensive machine, but creates some of the best fried chicken, and is often used in restaurants like Chick-fil-A, KFC, and Royal Farms. At first glance, it looks like a fryer you’d see in any restaurant — a wire basket that dips into hot, bubbly oil — but then the lid is lowered and latched, the scene reminiscent of closing a submarine door.
“It works under pressure, so it fries for less amount of time,” Fukushima says. “It cooks at a lower temperature, so the oil doesn’t burn. The pressure forces the moisture towards the center of the protein, keeping it juicy.”
Chef Fukushima won’t stop searching when there are always new things to discover. Even though dinner is surprising, delicious, and interesting all on its own, he’s got pastry chef Mary Mendoza creating new cakes and pies to add to the menu. Right now, you can get a sugar donut made with flour imported from Japan, giving the pastry a chewy, light texture. Or try a big fat cookie made with chicken fat byproduct along with butter — an inventive way to use all parts of the kitchen food giving it a roasted flavor.
The constant innovation keeps Bantam King fresh. And as Fukushima notes, “It adds a little swank.”