The number 168 sounds a little like a phrase meaning "fortune forever" when you say it in Mandarin, which is why the San Gabriel Valley is littered with establishments named things like 168 Market and 168 Garden. In Old Town Pasadena, 168 is a fusion restaurant in the patio where Villa Sorriso used to be, which is to say it serves populist, if routine, takes on California rolls, gyoza, kurobuta ramen, miso cod and Thai fried rice, accompanied by imaginative, if watery, soju-based cocktails.
The patio is nice, but there is no shortage of fusion restaurants in the immediate area – Pasadena is currently experiencing a shortage of neither pad Thai nor Flash-intensive restaurant websites; chicken sesame noodles nor chill lounges.
But the odd thing in this Chinese-named restaurant run by a Japanese chef is that the specialty of the kitchen seems to be the Korean dish bossam – a combination plate of boiled pork belly, spicy turnip kimchi and fermented tiny fish, which you wrap into a leaf of cabbage. And while there is also no shortage of Los Angeles dining rooms serving authentic bossam, including at least one restaurant that serves nothing but bossam and pig's feet, what we really don't have is one like this -- based on the party version made famous at David Chang's Ssam Bar in New York's East Village, which features a whole, crackle-skinned pork shoulder instead of the sliced boiled belly. It's not what you find in Seoul, but it can be kind of delicious, and conducive to oceans of cold beer.
We all like Kogi in Los Angeles. Korean fusion is fine with us.
And 168's bossam is all party, all the time, 4 pounds of sugar-glazed, slow-roasted pork shoulder served in a single slab, pulled into juicy shreds by the waiter, and served with little bowls of pureed kimchi, the chile paste gochujang, and shredded scallions, ready to be wrapped up in as many fresh leaves of lettuce as you can stand.
168's bossam is a lot of food, even if you order the half-shoulder, which is always available, instead of the whole shoulder, which you can pre-order. It was ample enough in our case to feed three, fill sandwiches the day after that and finally to star in a dinner of pork-shoulder hash, tossed with sauteed onions, gochujang and steamed Weiser peewee potatoes, then sizzled until crusty and fragrant in a big cast-iron pan.
As dinner, 168's bossam was trashy but delicious. As leftovers, it was superb.
168, 168 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 793-8008.