By Anna Ing
Recently on a trip to Los Angeles, I got to try out some new places. First was a stop to 85°C Bakery Café in Old Town Pasadena, which opened this past fall. It is an international chain from Taiwan established in 2004 with more than 800 locations. The name is derived from the perfect temperature for coffee. The founder wanted to have quality and delicious baked goods for affordable prices. Locals say the bread is better in the States and the brand in Taiwan is not the most popular. One interesting savory item is its Calamari Sticks, which are actually round black squid ink colored bread stuffed with mozzarella cheese and topped with garlic spread. I was intrigued and actually enjoyed the garlic, cheese and light airy texture of the bread.
Its egg tarts ($1.50) are decent with a nice flaky crust and sweet egg custard filling based on the Portuguese version popular from Macau. I am used the ones in Hong Kong style bakeries and these were decent. The Mocha Bread ($2.20) are big football-shaped pastries with a dark brown stripe with a nice balance of coffee and chocolate but the chocolate and walnut filling hit the right notes of crunch, and sweetness. I wanted more!
I had to visit LA’s famous Korea Town. We stopped at School Food Blooming Mari in Madang Courtyard (third level), which has been there since 2010. It is another international chain from South Korea, which I sampled on a trip to Korea. It serves Korean street food with a twist. The service button a la South Korean restaurants was welcome to summon our server to our table. We started off with the $13.99 Combo Tok-Su-nee — fried dumpling, broiled egg, topokki (Sweet spicy rice cakes), soondae (Korean style sausage).
The soondae was delicious and I could not stop eating it. The topokki was overly spicy for me and kept a burning sensation on my tongue. (Overly spicy foods are hard to handle for me.) I admit the cheese on top was an interesting touch. The pan-fried dumplings were filled with meat. We had a few kim bap but overall they were expensive, a bit dry and not that memorable, except for the special roll with three choices of anchovy, teriyaki beef or garlic bacon ($8.99).
Because a lot of things were unexpectedly spicy, we got a beef fried rice ($8.99) which surprisingly was a little on the sweet side and the portion was small.
Unlike my love for the one in Seoul, this was expensive.
In the same Madang Courtyard Shopping area, we visited another franchise originally from South Korea that opened last fall, Sul & Beans. We were in the mood to share a pat bing soo (aka red bean shaved ice), which was more of green tea bing soo. These are pricy (under $10) but large enough to share. A small shot of condensed milk came along, which we did not need. The fluffy shaved ice is wonderful. It had great texture with, dduck (rice cake), red bean, dried jujube, nuts and green tea powder. It was not overly bitter from the green tea or sweet from the condensed milk. It struck the right balance for me.
My love for “pai gu fan” (pork chop rice) came from my close Taiwanese friend. When I heard about King Chop, a famous Taiwanese place in business since 1961, I had to go. Newly open, it is in Irvine’s Little Taiwan in a cozy spot. The Pork Chop bento ($9.15) is way overpriced for what you get.
The pork chop is on the smaller size, with crispy light breading that is juicy and flavorful. The pork meat sauce on a big scoop of rice and braised egg were all right. The boiled broccoli and tofu gan were OK, but I would have preferred the traditional pickled vegetables. There was a small serving of pickled cucumbers. The tofu and preserved egg ($4.50) is delicious and simple. The dark-colored preserved eggs can be off-putting to first-timers, but it is delicious. The soft and custardy silken tofu is plain but contrasts well with the hoisin-like sauce.
During a Monday lunch hour, it was packed with people.
LA has an enviable variety of ethnic food. I enjoyed a few fun days tasting many new things.
School Food Blooming Mari: 621 South Western Avenue, Third Floor, LA. (213) 380-3663
Sul and Bean, 621 South Western Avenue, Madang, LA.
85°C Bakery Cafe, 61 South Fair Oaks Avenue, Old Town Pasadena.
King Chop. 15435 Jeffrey Road #117, Irvine. (949) 303-5344.
This post is also available in: Chinese