At Ma'Ono Fried Chicken & Whisky, the subject of this week's review, the fried chicken is fantastic. But -- and this is no fault of chef Fuller and his capable crew -- the dark meat's better than the white meat. White-meat partisans undoubtedly feel the opposite way.
Looking at a box of breasts that was my souvenir of a Ma'Ono meal enjoyed with fellow thigh and drumstick fans, I wondered whether I could have ordered an all-dark meat platter. (A restaurant that puts fresh oysters in its kimchi and Beecher's cheese in its grits is just asking for diners to start thinking they can have it all.)
Nope, manager Richard Gonzales told me when I called. And I was apparently the first customer who had the temerity to broach a topic that every fried chicken chain has been forced to address. It's not uncommon for patrons of KFC, Popeye's, Church's and Bojangles' to request a white meat "upgrade." In deference to a nation of eaters that prefers white meat by a 2-to-1 margin, KFC recently released its boneless variety bucket, featuring "white meat chicken served three deliciously kid-pleasing ways" to "please even the pickiest eaters."
I'd wager children aren't the only ones buying KFC's combo of strips, nuggets and boneless wings: People are notoriously inflexible in their chicken preferences. "I'm going to be the one to say what nearly every person in the culinary world thinks: We all hate chicken breasts," Time's Josh Ozersky ranted after Russia refused to keep buying the U.S.'s cast-off dark meat "Hate them. I speak for every chef, food writer and butcher in America here. There's not one of us that has the slightest interest or respect for the chicken breast, at least compared with the dark meat."
But Seattle's colorblind eaters are defying the odds at Ma'Ono, affably accepting whatever double-fried parts Fuller decides to serve. He sells his chicken as a whole bird, which probably has a holistic appeal. Or maybe the crust is so good that customers don't care what lies beneath it: As they say on Broadway, he could batter the phone book and folks would eat it.
"I've never had anybody ask," Gonzales says, conceding a server could have had a meat selection conversation with a table that wasn't reported back to him. "It's 10 pieces, and usually they're pretty happy."