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COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Henny One-Note

November 02, 1995|JONATHAN GOLD

One of the cool things about small Japanese restaurants is the seemingly absurd level of specialization to which many aspire, focusing not just on Japanese noodles, say, but on cold buckwheat soba ; not just in pork, but in a certain cut of pork loin fried in a very specific way. One restaurant may serve only sweet curries; another, just eels; a third, only such dishes as may be coaxed out of a freshly slaughtered sea turtle.

Kokkekokko, a cafe in Little Tokyo, is famous for chicken parts grilled on skewers: grilled thigh meat, grilled gizzards, grilled liver, everything but grilled beaks, sort of a one-note samba played out on slender wooden sticks. When you happen to be in the mood for grilled chicken parts, almost nowhere else will do. But Kokkekokko opens for dinner only, and Japanese chicken tends to be, frankly, a lunchtime kind of thing.

But right around the corner, in a space vacated by a marginal ippin-ryori joint, is a newish branch of the chicken chain Furaibo, which is all but ubiquitous in Japan, and which has another, fancier location in a Gardena mini-mall. Furaibo specializes not just in chicken but in teba sake chicken wings: spicy, funny-looking appendages that are more or less to Buffalo wings what tempura is to the fried clams at HoJo's.

A teba sake chicken wing is not precisely a chicken wing, one is given to understand, including neither "drummette" nor vestigial tip, but is rather that spindly middle segment of the wing in which a couple of bones form sort of a frame protecting a sweet, if minuscule, oblate ellipse of meat.

If hens flew like eagles, this hollow, thumb-size segment might provide a lot of the lift, keeping the wing rigid and extended as noble chickens soared upward into the cool autumn wind. As it is, the part may be something of a chicken-eater's dream, seemingly made for deep-frying the way a chicken breast is for grilling, deeply absorbent of Furaibo's tart, spicy marinade, greaseless and practically all brittle, crunchy skin.

After the chef has dusted them with various white powders and heaped them on plates alongside scoops of shredded cabbage and mayo-intensive chicken salad, you could gnaw through a million of these "wings," sucking out the meat, seeking out the little hidden crunchy bits with your teeth, though you can supplement the wings with plates of commercial-tasting curry rice, somewhat overcooked pork cutlets, or fried fish.

A sign inside the door advertises Furaibo's late-afternoon "Happy Meal"--chicken wings and Bud. How could you go wrong?

They fry other parts here, which are listed on the menu in combinations named Tarzan, Jane and Chita. The non-wing pieces may be perforated with regularly spaced half-moon that resemble the cavities in sliced lotus root and allows a certain amount of the marinade seems to penetrate, but the breasts and thighs end up greasy and bland. It pays to specialize . . . you might as well stick to the wings.

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Where to Go

Furaibo, 368 E. Second St., Los Angeles, (213) 613-1854. Also at 1741 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, (310) 329-9441. Open Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sun., 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m to 10 p.m. Diners, MasterCard and Visa accepted. Beer and wine. Street parking. Lunch for two, food only, $9-$14.

What to Get

Teba sake chicken wings.

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