I was skeptical of CHAM at first. Whenever there’s a contemporary take on Asian food, I wince a little. Not because I’m against the idea, per se, but because such a feat is usually poorly executed. Not so at CHAM, which offers a mix of traditional Korean dishes, such as bulgogi and japchae, and Korean-inspired dishes, including a persimmon salad and fried calamari tacos. OK, so the execution is decidedly for American palates, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Actually, CHAM’s food would be a great introduction to Korean food for those not familiar with it.
My favorite dish of the night was actually a non-traditional one. The watermelon salad with arugula, watermelon, feta cheese, figs, mint and a mint vinaigrette was refreshing and all kinds of delicious. My only complaint was the large watermelon cubes, which made it a bit hard to eat, but the combination of the juicy fruit with the other juicy fruit of figs, along with the saltiness of the feta and spiciness of the arugula, made me overlook that. This is a must-order salad.
I also enjoyed the calamari mini tacos topped with kimchi and a spicy aioli. They were kind of hard to eat — I ended up abandoning the taco vessel and eating the contents with a fork — but they were tasty nonetheless. As our server said, this is definitely not date-night food!
The topokki fried rice cakes, which are a traditional Korean dish, are served at CHAM with sauteed with bell peppers, broccoli and button mushrooms tossed in a sweet and spicy red chili sauce. While this version wasn’t as spicy as I’m used to, my friend liked this dish a lot, so I would deem it a good intro-to-Korean-food dish.
Bibimbap is one of my favorite Korean meals, and CHAM’s sizzling hot bibimbap with brown rice, veggies and beef bulgogi was pretty darn good. It was even served in a cast-iron dish, which made the rice nice and crispy on the bottom. That’s key for this dish! The portion is huge, too, which makes its $10 price tag more palatable.
Next time I’m in Pasadena, I would definitely stop by CHAM again. The service was prompt and friendly, too.
Note: This meal was hosted.