Sunday, January 03, 2010

Cham Korean Bistro: Pasadena's clean New Year's eating

Korean rice cakes are starchy, but accompanied with cruciferous vegetables -- "colon's little brooms," says Mario Batali.

At the start of the year, it seems like everyone is suddenly vowing to start "eating clean," posting Facebook resolutions to give up sugar and twittering ambitious exercise plans.
Here's one place to start: Cham Korean Bistro, a five month-old Korean fusion spot. The clean-lined space is just off Lake St., so it qualifies for the cardinal rule of Pasadena eating: Try to get out of Old Town.
Order dishes like bibimbap or a ssam garden bbq platter with beef, chicken, pork or tuna at the counter, then choose a booth made from minimalist laquered plywood. I tried toppoki ($6), a fat cylindrical rice cake that's like a chewy Korean gnocchi, slicked with a sweet teriyaki-type sauce and mixed with either beef or vegetables. Several dishes have a unusual touch, like the big crab claw trying to climb out of my cup of miso soup ($3). Miles' bibimbap (above, $10) and Colleen's short rib Korean stew ($12) were fresh and colorful, but maybe a little more plain and healthy-tasting than in a typical Koreatown joint. Like many places in Pasadena, Cham seems a touch more pricey than it needs to be, but in this case at least there's a good reason: The owner, a garment business entrepreneur, runs the restaurant as a non-profit and donates most of the proceeds to developing countries. After our lunch, the server delivered a bonus slice of creme fraiche cheesecake with a really nice milky tang to it -- not particularly healthy, but worth the indulgence. Sure, you can eat cheaper in Koreatown, but this is clean, healthy food -- perfect for ushering in a vegetable-intensive 2010.
Cham Korean Bistro
851 Cordova St.
(626) 792-2474

Cham Korean Bistro on Urbanspoon


DailyChef said...

Wow, great find! I know I'll feel better about paying inflated Pasadena prices knowing that the restaurant is actually run as a nonprofit.

Also, Korean food that is a little lighter sounds like a good thing sometimes. Much as I adore Korean, it usually isn't light.

Happy New Year!

Gastronomer said...

My favorite restaurant in chain-ridden Pasadena. Holla at me the next time you're in the mood for healthy Korean fare ;-)

Dave -nibbleanibble said...

Selfless businesses for the win.

Diana said...

I love your analogy likening rice cakes to gnocchi - never thought of it like that!

Looks great - I could use some clean eating right about now!

a fan said...

dduk boki. dduk = rice cake; boki = pan fry action