Calbi BBQ's Delicious Pirateria--But it Can Still (and Will) Improve
A quesadilla of near-perfection
Fifth entry in our series where we promise to review, for better or worse, every "high-end" roach coach that visits the Weekly's world headquarters. Soho visits us next Monday--when will YOUR mobile food truck come? Inquire with Jessica Ford at email@example.com!
Maybe it's the Mexican in me, but I love knockoffs of established behemoths. Going to New York City and seeing the multiple plays on Papaya King--King Papaya, Papaya's King, Gray's Papaya, Papaya Dog and so forth--shows the beautiful competition of the restaurant industry. Seeing non-Mexicans offer Korean tacos ala Kogi shows that Kogi is no longer an up-and-comer but an institution--and that's a good thing.
That said, the knock-offs rarely trump the original, and rarely are even memorable enough to last long (witness the many rip-offs of Flaming Moe's at the end of that hilarious Simpsons episode when Moe nearly became rich off a cocktail). That wasn't been the case with Calbi Fusion Tacos & Burritos
My apologies to Calbi for the unfocused taco--no disrespect meant!
I love the name, a simultaneous pun and portmanteau on California AND kalbi. And the menu ist straightforward Kogi rip-off, too: tacos, burritos, and quesadillas filled with Korean-style meats and other ingredients. Their pork tacos, sprinkled with sesame seeds, spiced and grilled nicely, worked, with the romaine lettuce freshly cut to add a refreshing aftertaste. But the cheese was an afterthought, as is the case whenever someone uses the shredded yellow-white "Mexican" cheese you can buy in big bags at Fresh 'n' Easy. Ditch the cheese, stick with the meats, and let the Mexis come forth.
I liked the quesadillas better, yet this was the dish I found more problematic. The Calbi guys cooked the quesadilla the way I make them--grilled so the flour tortilla burns long enough to produce black spots, but short enough so that golden-brown streaks dominate. But Calbi's quesadilla needs more: more cheese, more seasoning on the tofu, a stronger kimchi.
I have faith, however, that Calbi can correct these minor oversights, and it's because of their secret sauce, some citrus miracle spiked with ginger (for sure) and God-knows-what else. Now that I think of it, it tastes like the creation of another delicious portmanteau, Cambinos in Cypress (I hear Kogi has its own secret sauce, but I've never tasted it). Shine on, you crazy culinary pirates!
Follow Calbi at www.calbi.com
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.