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April 25th, 2010 by Peter Dills
Even a restaurant critic must sometimes use their radar to navigate as they fly, and that is what I did this week. For, I blindly landed in the Cham Korean Bistro off Lake Avenue. When I hear Korean Food and Bistro, a few circuits and a couple transistors fry. This is not the traditional marriage that the Koreans have repeatedly announced. After the fog finally cleared, my eyes feasted upon a Bistro/Korean restaurant. It was only then that I discovered a tranquil and tidy restaurant setting. The dinning area was Southerners dream, as the upscale wood tables and wood chairs hinted at the beauty of a backyard picnic.
Though the seating was modest and understated, I was soon to be greeted with some of the restaurants more tangible attributes. The first is the Menu, you don’t need your reading glasses for this, in fact, it very easy to read, just lookup, and there a giant menu challenges your appetite. The casual character of this restaurant is further enhanced as you order and then find a seat and the food is brought directly to your table.
Let me start by saying, I had a lot of questions about Korean food. The only experience I had with Korean food was at the same location when it was Seoul Brothers. It is fitting that one Korean restaurant fell and another one was there to carry the flag. Make no mistakes, the former and the latter are the difference between black and white and color pictures. I was fortunate; for I had the opportunity to have a sit down with one of managers, Jerry, and he helped me navigate through the menu. Lucky for you that he was there. It was intriguing to learn about the food and Jerry is definitely a passionate teacher. It is obvious that they care about their customers. The Koreans must be renowned for their kindness because this restaurant serves a large plate of that.
I opened my meal with an incredible and delicious Tofu pocket, topped with succulent Blue Crab ($1.50). A great beginning! This may have been the best buck fifty that I have spent since the Carter Presidency. Another winner was the Bulgogi with glass noodles in a pot. Yes, a real pot for ($12), this is coupled with a small salad. It was soon after this dish that I discovered my favorite; on my first visit too, the Garden Platter. You have a choice of meat, fish, or tofu. I selected the Spice Ahi Tuna at ($11). This reminds me of the refreshing lettuce wraps that you would find at a Chinese restaurant. Here they deposit before you a bounty of fresh butter lettuce, ahi tuna, cabbage pickles, sesame leaves and sweet potato noodles. The Korean taco!
Koreans have a real love for the potato and it shows. Let’s not confront the Irish with this reality. For dessert I had the Sweet Potato Cheesecake for ($3), a great price and a fantastic dessert. Cham offers a revolving list of delicious desserts. During the Joseon Period, the structure of thinking about the way people interact with others evolved. Through a series of invasions and the movement of agricultural innovations, a distinct shift in thinking occurred that allowed the potato to be introduced. Trade expanded to other countries during this period for the inhabitants of what is now Korea, found to their delight that the potato is a robust vegetable and can grow on most terrains. It was a farmers dream!
I asked Jerry for a little history on comfort foods. I know that in Japan, Curry is considered a comfort food; much like meat loaf and mashed potatoes is for Americans. So what is Korean Comfort Food? Jerry tells me, that it is Korean Rice Cakes “Topokki” ($7), but not all Korean restaurants serve this item.
The prices are reasonably here and this a dining experience unlike any you have encountered. You will not leave here with cologne of Korean Barbeque. Here they focus on healthy dining, and organic items with a unique Korean flair. Cham Korean Restaurant may be the perfect cure for the rut of boring lunches. I know I’ll be back for the Korean Stew (JJHIM) ($12), Short Rib Stew.
Cham Korean Bistro 851 Cordova. Pasadena (626)792-2474
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