I went to a dinner gathering at CALI Kitchen hosted by ROKeats, My Memoirs, and PinStory. CALI Kitchen is a place in my neighbourhood, but I hadn’t heard of it until I browsed through PinStory’s site. Luckily, though, getting there was easy enough from Noksapyeong, but it may be tricky if you’re not familiar with the neighbourhood!
The first thing I noticed about their interiors is that I felt like I’d enter some bizarre Baby Blue World. The tables were white, and the chairs were like hard wooden boxes that looked like 2-D gift boxes. There were also chandelier lights hanging from the ceilings. Let’s just say that I was not enamoured by the interior design because it didn’t fit the California theme I had pictured in my mind. I found out later that the design came from the previous business, a Pakistani/Indian restaurant, and the CALI Kitchen owners decided to keep it for now.
We gathered in the big “party” room, and I discovered that the acoustic in the room wasn’t very good. There were at least about 18 people in this gathering, and when we were all conversing, the whole room became super loud. It made conversations difficult to hear, and when we all began to arrange the tables to make one long table, it began to feel a bit cramped.
As for the food, I found it to be so-so. I tried the single patty Cali Burger with fries and a drink. The burger came with lettuce, onion, tomato, American cheese, and Chuck’s special sauce. The sauce made the burger taste good, but it also made the burger quite soggy and drippy. I could tell that the patty was home-made and not like the store-bought ones, so I enjoyed the quality of the patty more than other burger places I’ve tried. The fries were also made by them, and I liked their fries compared to other places with thick-cut fries. Hilariously, though, the highlight of my meal was their chipotle ketchup. Seriously, I was in love with that ketchup. Who would have thought chipotle and ketchup would be an awesome combination? I know I would have never thought of it. Oh, and the drink I chose — the Californian Lemonade — tasted odd; for something called lemonade, it sure lacked the lemon flavour!
One thing to note about this restaurant — they emphasise on self-service. The customers are responsible for getting their own water, napkins, soda, and utensils. The customers are also responsible for throwing everything away, too. In fact, like Little Baja, they serve the food on disposable plates and containers. Again, like at Little Baja, I found that weird, but it was not something I minded much.
From the general consensus of the gathering, some people found CALI Kitchen to be very solid. Others felt like the way I did. I ended up having a very mediocre experience here, but I haven’t tried any of their other dishes yet, so I would like to come back and give them another try. I also heard that their chili is quite popular, so that’s what I’ll try next. I’ll even try and bring a couple of my friends who lived in California themselves just to hear their perspective.
Days later, I decided to try their carnitas burrito bowl, and I was actually really impressed with that. The rice, lentils, tomatoes, onions, cheese, corn, sour cream, pico de gallo, and the carnitas made for an amazing burrito salad minus the tortilla wrap. I devoured it. The texture and the flavour were amazing. I would definitely get this again! I also gave their chili a try, and I was super impressed by it. The meat and the beans went well with the sauce. I am not big on chili, but I really like theirs. It’s so thick and hearty. I even brought one of my friends, and he was impressed with Cali Kitchen.
Bottom line, my first visit hadn’t impressed me, but all my subsequent visits afterwards were great. The owner, Chuck, is so accommodating, too. When I told my him that my dad doesn’t like spicy, he substituted his special burger sauce with something else. My dad was super pleased by that option, and I was happy that Chuck was willing to work with his customers. I do recommend Cali Kitchen for their burrito bowls and chili, so give them a try!
5, Hoenamu-Ro 12-Gil, Yongsan-Gu, Seoul, Korea
서울특별시 용산구 회나무로12길 5
From Noksapyeong Station, go out of exit 2 and keep going straight until you reach the underpass. Go under, cross, and go out the left exit. From there, follow the sidewalk up the street, bypassing the big church. Keep going straight, passing by Paris Baguette and Well-Being Mart. A little bit past the Well-Being Mart, there is a side street on the right. Go up the street past Maloney’s, and CALI Kitchen will be in the alleyway on the left, next to The Seoul Honey Company.
7,000 ~ 15,000+ won budget per person