Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gettin' Chummy with Cham Korean Bistro -- and My Incompatible Dining Companion

When I met Cathy of Gastronomy Blog at a dinner hosted by FoodDigger at Ludo Bites 2.0 in June of 2009, I knew immediately that we would become friends. I practically tackled the poor girl with the self-professed “huge appetite” when she walked in the door, and as we “oohed” and “aahed” over Ludo’s whimsical creations that evening, we discovered we had a lot more in common than an appreciation for food.

It was a fortunate finding – before our feast began we also discovered that our answers to a FoodDigger flavor profile quiz made us completely incompatible when it came to our restaurant preferences. We were sadly at opposite ends of the dining spectrum, so would need to find unity over other topics of interest – namely, running, sarcastic humor and our cameras.

Despite our disparate palates, over the past year and a half, Cathy and I have overcome "the odds" to become close friends. While I still prefer cooked fish to raw and she will always favor hers unblemished by heat, our tight friendship has helped us to break down some of the food barriers that once stood between us. Our shared love for carbohydrates and noodles has also been instrumental in that process.

This past Saturday night, Cathy and I came one step closer to dining compatibility when she introduced me to her favorite restaurant in Pasadena, Cham Korean Bistro. The casual, neatly groomed eatery on Cordova Street specializes in healthy, contemporary Korean food that incorporates fresh, local ingredients into its substantial menu of globally-inspired eats. In other words, it’s the perfect meeting ground for Cathy and me.

After I secured a glass of Pomello Sauvignon Blanc ($8.50), we started our meal with a trio of the restaurant’s playful tofu pockets composed of fried tofu skins stuffed with seasoned rice and various savories like pickled seaweed,. arugula & radish, and blue crab. At Cathy’s urging, I opted for the spicy tuna version ($1.50) – her self-proclaimed favorite. It quickly became apparent to me why she is so fond of the hand sushi roll-like vessels. I loved the brightness of the tuna that punched my mouth with a stab of satisfying heat, and the pliable tofu envelope and slick, sesame-flavored rice added welcome girth to the already substantial bite.

For my main course, I requested the Sizzling Hot Bibimbap with brown rice, vegetables, a fried egg, and seared tofu ($10) – a healthfully portioned plate that is healthfully composed without the assertive flavors of oil and other additives. Cathy and her husband Vern decided to split orders of the Beef Bulgogi Bibimbap and the Beef Bulgogi Rice Cakes sautéed with bell peppers, broccoli, button mushrooms, and sweet soy sauce ($8) that they insisted I also partake in.

While I loved the generous medley of fresh vegetables – sautéed kale, carrots, bean sprouts, and zucchini – and the crusty lumps of rice that get nicely toasted in the hot cast iron skillet, once I’d tasted the rice cakes (topokki), I had a hard time keeping my chopsticks on my side of the table. The dense cylinders of glutinous rice flour are like a cross between gnocchi and mochi, and the chewy carbohydrate pillows have an intensely satisfying and craveable texture that I am still dreaming about four days later.

In the past, I’ve only experienced topokki that’s been bathed in a sweet and spicy red sauce – a treatment that can be a bit cloying and intense for my tastes, so was pleased with Cham’s reinterpretation that is slightly reminiscent of broccoli beef. Cham does, however, offer a crispy version of the rice cakes that comes with the more traditional sauce.

After Cathy, Vern and I had maxed out on carbohydrates for the night, we floated back to their home nearby to continue our conversation. As Cathy showed me her newest cookbook – America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook – and filled me in on all the vegetable-heavy dishes she and Vern had made for dinner that week, I smiled thinking about how far we’ve come in a year and a half.

2011 is sure to bring us even closer. By the end of the year she may even be gorging on quinoa, and I may even be the one asking her to come with me to Chego in Culver City for a pork belly rice bowl.

And if not, we’ll always, always have noodles – and, now, rice cakes at Cham.

Cham Korean Bistro
851 Cordova Street,
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 792-2474


Gastronomer said...

I'm thrilled that you love the rice cakes as much as I do, and am excited like you wouldn't believe to go eat at Chego. We're going to be 98.76% compatible after that adventure, I'm sure of it.

Esi said...

I think I would dig the beef bulgogi bibimbap, but your mention of Chego has me craving that pork belly again.

KrisDub said...

Dol sot bibimbap is one of my absolute fave Korean dishes. Glad to see you like to too!

H. C. said...

I too love the veggie-centricity (yes I made that up) of Cham's food... worlds away from the KBBQ I usually let myself get dragged into.

And amazing that Cathy got you to the Pasadena to eat! Let me know next time you're in our hood!

Diana said...

Cathy - I think we both need to retake the FoodDigger test after Chego. Our compatability will be off the charts!

Esi - I'll let you know if Cathy and I go!

Kris - It was great - love all the vegetables in this version... made me feel like I was being healthy. Even if the portion was large and in charge.

HC - I'd travel all over LA for good food! Especially when there are good friends involved!

Fritos and Foie Gras said...

that bibimbap looks soooo delicious! when you visit nyc, i have a few fantastic korean places to suggest!

Anna A. said...

You runners know how to eat! Plus, I would have tackled Cathy too (no offense Cathy)... she's kinda easy to tackle coming from a TALF.

Burp and Slurp~! said...

Interesting place...I wonder what is the "correct" way to spell tokpokki. I spell it "tteokbokki". but there are so many ways to spell that.

That's basically the way my mom makes tteokbokki sometimes...a mild soy sauce dressing. Apparently there are more ways to make tteokbokki than the red ones too!

Monet said...

Noodles and carbs can always bring people together! This was so fun to read...and you guys did a great job at this restaurant. So much yummy food! Thank you for sharing your night and thoughts with me. I hope you have a great weekend. I'm so glad Friday is almost here!

Daily Gluttony said...

I was at Cham the same night you guys went! But we were on toddler time, so we were out of there before 7.

I really like Cham--it's so in line with my eat-healthy-but-tasty-foods goal. Let me know if you guys go back...I wanna go with! :)

Kung Food Panda said...

Healthy Korean cooking. You can't find brown rice in K Town (Though you can find black rice there, which is also healthy). Glad u came out to our neck of the woods D!

Diana said...

Sarah - I'd love it! I'm totally consulting you before my next NYC trip - maybe we can even grab a meal together!

Anna - She's very tackable! Her butt is pretty smackable too.

Burp & Slurp - Thanks for the info! I had only seen rice cakes served with the red sauce before, but I do admit I like it better with the soy version. Yum!

Monet - Carbs are definitely the way to my heart. All a man needs to do to sweep me off my feet is feed me bread and noodles. ;)

Pam - I'm so bummed we missed you! I saw your check-in on Twitter and was hoping we'd catch you! Next time!

Danny - We had black rice at Don Dae Gam - really liked it!

Marie said...

I keep seeing Cham everywhere online, yet I still haven't been. I will make it there in 2011, yes I will. You girls are so cute. :)