Aug 2009

Cham Korean Bistro – Pasadena

Pasadena is a lovely place to call home, but I must admit that the dining options aren’t very inspiring. With the exception of Pie ‘n Burger and Euro Pane, restaurants within walking distance are mostly soulless chains—Chipotle, Panda Express, Corner Bakery, and the like. Even though I live and work in this city, I usually spend my dining dollars elsewhere to avoid mediocrity.

Cham Korean Bistro is a breath of fresh air and a welcome addition to the South Lake Avenue business district. The woman behind this stylish new eatery is Kimmy Song, CEO of !iT Jeans. After experiencing enormous success with her denim fashion line, Ms. Song sought a new challenge that would give back to the community. A portion of Cham’s profits will be donated to developing countries.

With Chef E.J. Jeong, formerly of BOA and A.O.C., heading up the kitchen, Cham cooks up fresh and healthful Korean food that is “globally inspired, yet true to its heritage.” At the tail end of last month, The Astronomer, Rosalind (The Astronomer’s lil’ sister), and I attended a low-key preview to sample Cham’s menu, offer our thoughts, and chat with Ms. Song.

We started off the tasting with a selection of tofu pockets ($1.50 each)—arugula with red radish, pickled seaweed, marinated fresh crab meat, and spicy tuna with pea shoots. Each of the pockets were stuffed with warm, slightly vinegary brown rice in addition to the specified filling. I am accustomed to eating sweet fried tofu skin a la inari sushi, so I was impressed by how tastily these unorthodox innards melded with it. The crab and spicy tuna were my two personal favorites, although the seaweed and arugula weren’t too far behind.

Whereas traditional bibimbap usually entails a hearty bowlful of rice, Cham’s version is more like a salad with a smattering of brown rice. The spicy tuna bibimbap ($10) in red pepper aioli was a little too true to its name; all three of us were reaching for our water glasses with each bite. Spiciness aside, the colorful selection of julienned vegetables were wonderfully fresh and beautifully presented.

Next, we tried the beef bulgogi Ssam Garden Platter ($11). According to the menu, ‘ssam’ means to “wrap and eat heartily” in Korean. The sizzling plate of thinly sliced beef arrived in a cast iron grill with a neat platter of butter lettuce, sesame leaves, cilantro, and cool bibim noodles on the side. We were instructed to make little parcels containing a bit of everything using the sturdy butter lettuce cups.

Korean barbecue, especially of the all-you-can-eat variety, has a sort of brash charm to it. Cham has managed to refine the art of tableside grilling without losing any bit of flavor.

My favorite dish of the afternoon were the crispy rice cakes with mushrooms, broccoli, and minced beef sauteed in a sweet soy sauce. The individually-made rice cakes had the most wonderful texture and pleasant chew—I’m a sucker for refined starches.

I left the tasting at Cham feeling giddy and excited. During our walk home, I thought to myself, “I’ve finally found an awesome dinner option that’s a stone’s throw away. Score!”

Cham Korean Bistro
851 Cordova Street
Pasadena, CA 91101
Phone: 626-792-2474

Cham Korean Bistro on Urbanspoon

Cham Korean Bistro in Los Angeles

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16 thoughts on “Cham Korean Bistro – Pasadena

  1. Ugh that’s like a boulder’s throw away from me! But I still might have to come check it out. I like me some refined starches too!

  2. Rivers – Stay in K-town for the real deal, but head to Cham for a fresh take on Korean food. It’s perfect for a light and tasty lunch if you happen to be in the area.

  3. gAstronomer, yours is a fav foodie blog, although I don’t have much time to trek through the vast blogosphere.

    I wanna call this place Charm. 1st impression: Better than the Seoul Bros?, One of the best non-KTown joints? I think a Korean friend & I might ck this new joint out this week.

    Btw, I would edit your second line of this posting to delete de Pie Burger: not very inspiring…very disappointing.

    Keep on Bloggin in de Free World!

  4. I’m surprised that Pasadena doesn’t have more food options, but glad you have found such a great looking restaurant. While I love the fiery spicy volcanic stonepot dishes, the food here looks refined and elegant and on the light side. And I just love those chewy rice cakes.

  5. Oh, if only I had a longer lunch (had to decline the tasting at Cham!) but it looks uniquely delish and I’m a huge sucker for rice cakes!

  6. cham nah girl! i love the idea of this place. fried tofu skins are my favorites! as is rice cakes. yum in my tum. and since when is panda express a soulless chain? i call it heaven on earth.

  7. I heard about the place from my collegue at the office. I really did not know what to expect, thinking how different it could be from all readily accessible choices & options in L.A. and Pasadena area, right? Wrong,guys. It is truly worthy of trying. It is very fresh, light, yet very flavorable and filling, but I feel just right.
    Clean, crisp, and healthy for the mind and the body are a few things that cross my mind. Try it.

  8. To answer my own questions after cking it out: Yes & Yes.

    “Stay in K-town for the real deal, but head to Cham for a fresh take on Korean food. It’s perfect for a light and tasty lunch if you happen to be in the area.”

  9. Had dinner at “Cham” last night with my 84 year old mother, my big chubby brother, and our Korean friend. We all left with a big smile, full stomach, and felt fortified with healthy eating. “Cham” appears to be a good place for casual hangout (reasonable prices and comfortable setting) or for “fine” dining (beautiful presentation, healthy food). Most delightful was that I got to try the spicy fried rice cake that was already shown as a popular street food in Korean Dramas. Aside from having to go to the counter to order food, service was actually quite impeccable. I look forward to chow there again, especially when wine is stocked up.

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