Food Journal, March 17 2019
March 17, 2019
Author: Bianca Yang
Today I want to tell everybody about the best ramen in Pasadena, ube desserts at Cafe 86, and A Ri Rang Tofu House. (I end up talking about more places, but you’ll have to read on to know which ones.)
Two days ago, I visited Again Cafe x Chibiscus Ramen for the 3rd time in the past month. I keep coming back to this place because their “hand-craft, low-fat, high-protein, hearty, 20-hour bone marrow & vegetable broth” is just that bloody amazing. I first stumbled upon this place two years ago, when I was still in a “ramen is the best food let’s eat it every day” phase. That’s why there’s so many ramen places on my Things in LA to Try Map. I didn’t think very highly of this place on my first trip. I ordered what I considered, at the time, to be the pinnacle of ramen varieties: hakata style tonkotsu ramen. My friend ordered the same, with some additional veggies and an egg. Why is it important to highlight the egg? Well, at that time, the menu was not very well organized. It was not clear that an egg was already included in the ramen so my friend ended up with two whole hard-boiled eggs in her soup. Needless to say, she left with a strange impression of the place. The ramen that day was average. It couldn’t beat Ramen Tatsunoya just a bit north.
If I thought so highly of Tatsunoya, why did I go back to Chibiscus? I went back because the line at Tatsunoya was too long. My friends and I circled around in Old Pas for a bit before finally resigning ourselves to go to Chibiscus. I was pleasantly surprised by the new menu. They added a bunch more ramen varieties, upgraded the documentation, came up with some new rice dishes and small plates, and got some desserts and drinks on the list.
I ordered tonkotsu and we got some spam musubi for the table. The ramen was delightful. It was nice and hot, the noodles al dente, the chashu tender and flavorful, and the toppings nicely portioned. The spam musubi was a bit small and the seaweed a bit tough but the flavor was definitely on point. We ended the evening with chibi brick toast. The chibi brick toast, which comes with chocolate sauce, maple syrup, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, assorted fruits, and butter, was the best brick toast I’ve ever had. The toast was crisp on top but exceedingly fluffy inside. It was not too sweet and just a bit salty from the butter on the toast. The fruits were fresh and the portion was just perfect for the three of us with stomachs full of ramen.
That experience at Chibiscus was lovely. I didn’t leave feeling like my stomach had too much acid in it (like I normally do after eating Tatsunoya) and I was so so delighted with the brick toast.
I went back maybe a week later, with another friend. The experience was just as good, though we only got dessert this time.
The third visit this month was two days ago, on Friday the 15th. The friend I was going with was very hungry. She ordered tonkotsu and I decided to break my routine and go for the spicy miso. She melted the moment she got some of the broth on her tongue. She devoured her bowl and almost asked for more noodles. She said that she normally can’t finish her food. This was a sure sign that this place would be going on her list of places to revisit. The spicy miso didn’t taste too much different from the tonkotsu. The broth is nice and creamy and just a tad more spicy than I expected. It’s a very oily spice, one that attacks your throat but that can be quickly cooled with a swig of cool water. The onsen egg was expertly cooked to the right consistency. My only suggestion would be to marinate the eggs in soy sauce or something similar. We ended the evening with an order of takoyaki, perhaps my least favorite Japanese food. Chibiscus’ takoyaki comes out piping hot, so be sure to bite carefully and blow generously before shoving the smooth, delicate batter into your mouth. The tako is sparse, but I suppose that’s how things are done around here.
After this third adventure to Chibiscus, we went to Cafe 86, which is just up the alley behind 85 C. Cafe 86 is a shop that specializes in ube, a purple yam popular in Filipino cuisine. We got there on a day where the truffles are the special. Friday and Saturday are the days to snag those puppies. She ordered three, ate one immediately, and saved the other two for breakfast. I ordered four truffles, one cupcake, and one bundt cake. The truffles are definitely the thing to go for. These truffles aren’t made of chocolate, so hold your tongues back if you were thinking of slathering all over some tannins. These truffles are cake truffles, which means they’re made of a rich, fattening mixture of cake crumbs, frosting, candy melts, and of course the secret ingredient ube. Think cake pops but larger, if you’ve had those. The cake pops are $2.25 a piece, but closer to $2.5 if you include the famous American sales tax that insidiously gets added to your bill in every state except Oregon. These truffles are so creamy, so decadent, so fattening, but not so sweet, you really would do well to serve them at your next afternoon tea. It’s hard for me to describe just how amazing these things are; you’ll have to come to Old Pas and get one for yourself. The other desserts were ok. The cupcake wasn’t much to speak of. The bundt cake has lots of chunks of ube in it, if you want to taste more of that. It tastes kind of like taro, especially taro pastes you’ll find in Chinese bakeries. But forget those. Go on Fri or Sat, pick up some truffles, and thank me later.
What’s next? A Ri Rang Tofu House. I went here today with a bunch of classmates from Ruddock House. It’s a pretty plain Korean restaurant that serves everything from tofu soups to bibimbap to bulgolgi on steaming cast iron plates to chap chae, etc. Why did I not link this place? I didn’t think it was that good. The combos are not bad price wise, but the flavors are lacking. You get a lot of banchan, with unlimited refills, so definitely chow those down if you can. The rice is mediocre, the bibimbap doesn’t come with enough meat and you have to pay $2 extra for the hot stone bowl. The kimchi isn’t spicy enough, the broccoli banchan was undercooked, etc. I’d give it a 3 stars. It’s not nearly as good as the Tofu House on Convoy, in San Diego.
Anything else? Sure, I can talk about Leberry Bakery, which is a new vegan donut and happy hour with desserts shop in Old Pas. I ordered two donuts from them last time, and both were average. Not sure if I’ll go back, honestly, which is why I didn’t link. Your mileage may vary.
Appendix: While I was writing this, I figured I’d circle back and write about a couple of other places in Old Pas I figure people should know about.
- Soh Grill House
- This is a kbbq place up next to Wheat Shop (see below). The biggest impression I had about this place was that the tables were to wide that my party had difficult hearing people from across the table. They had good service that day because the main server was showing a trainee how to serve customers. We got a lot of attention on our meats that day. The food was average tasting and probably somewhat expensive (I wasn’t paying that day). They do have some pretty unique sorbet desserts. They cut open lemons and peaches and fill them with lemon or peach sorbet, respectively. It’s a cool concept and the flavor isn’t bad. Overall, a 3.5 star restaurant.
- Bone Kettle
- This is an uber hyped “we cook soup with bones” (like how the **** else do you cook soup) Indonesian place in Old Pas. The ambience is nice and fancy but the food is underflavored. I ordered a quite expensive oxtail + noodles bowl (you can get it cheaper at [Borneo]).(https://www.yelp.com/biz/borneo-kalimantan-cuisine-alhambra-2) The broth tasted like nothing special. I was hoping for more flavor, for more punch. The oxtail was pretty tender, but I still think Borneo makes their even more “fall off the bone”. The uber expensive fancy organic carrots and onions and other vegetables were a nice touch and fit the scene, but I was underwhelmed by the rest so they didn’t make me feel any better at the time. The noodles were thin and tasty. Overall, I think I’m salty about this place not being salty or exotically flavored enough, like Borneo is. I won’t say it should be off your list, but unless it’s your special “spend money on food” day or you’re really craving soup or you just want somewhere fancy to go, I would recommend you look to Borneo for more crazy Indonesian flavors and comfort food. Also, if you do plan to go, try to make a reservation beforehand. It’ll save you something like a 30 min wait.
- Wheat Shop
- Yeah, the website is ugly, but the cream puffs are worth every dollar. The cream puffs come in chocolate, vanilla, matcha, and hazelnut. They don’t last very long, so the sooner you go from paying to shoving them (delicately) in your mouth, the more you will agree with my assessment of just how amazing they are. I haven’t tried the other food they sell, but the cream puffs are absoutely the kind of oversized dessert you want to get for yourself when you’re feeling down and want that food comfort. So, actually, why are the cream puffs that good? The outside is delightfully crispy and the inside has very fresh tasting cream. It’s not too sweet, and the outer layer will practically dissolve on your tongue as you bite into it.
Just one last shout out to Caltech’s pasty chef(s), who produce some amazing things like guava + cheese pastries, apple tarts, almond croissants, chocolate tarts, etc. every day. Stop by Hameetman for one of our flaky, buttery, bad for your health but irresistibly delicious taste experiences.