When Cham Korean Bistro opened its doors a little more than a year ago, Korean food had already been catapulted to mainstream dining culture, thanks to a roaming LA food truck that made kimchi tacos a national sensation.
But Kimmy Song, owner of successful denim company !iT Jeans, had a vision of introducing to Pasadena the traditional healthy Korean food she provides daily to her employees in downtown LA. Her idea evolved into Cham, which translates to “meal for the workers,” a healthy fast-casual eatery that takes traditional Korean food and turns it into seasonally driven tasty tapas, stews and ssam (barbecue and garden platters).)
“We wanted to bring K-Town to Pasadena, but we wanted it to be contemporary modern Korean food” Song says. “But it is not fusion. It’s just approachable and friendly… we try to focus on fresh and healthy, but still authentic.”
Cham has been open since August 2009, and it has gone through the typical growing pains of all new businesses. But with head chef EJ Jeong always on the hunt for innovative ideas and a growing base of neighborhood regulars, Cham has come into its own and is now having a little fun stretching its culinary legs.
It obtained a beer and wine license over the summer and picked craft beers and boutique wines that pair with the spicy and bold flavors of the food. For the diehards, who remain faithful to Korean beer, Hite is on the menu. They’ve also created its first Chamtail—made with Korean rice wine, fresh pineapple and agave syrup.
On Thursday nights, Cham now has a chef’s tasting menu. And Chef Jeong is ramping up the dessert menu during the holiday season, with a purple sweet potato pie and Christmas snowball cookies.
Chef Jeong has also started to teach the art (and history) of kimchi for private and public events, teaching her own traditional recipe as well as a hyperseasonal version—last month it was persimmon. For more information on upcoming classes or tasting menus, log on to chamkoreanbistro.com
Cham Korean Bistro, 851 Cordova St., Pasadena, 626.792.2474, chamkoreanbistro.com