It's hard, when thinking about leaving Pasadena, to over-emphasize how important Yujean Kang's was in my appreciation of food. There was a time, 20 years ago or so, when I would not go to a restaurant unless they had fried cheese on the menu. I am not exaggerating. The concept of eating something called "tiny dumplings with hot chili oil" was so foreign to me it might as well have been Sanskrit. Or girls.
But then, in my early teens, I finally tried those dumplings. You had to work for them - those little things are hard for me to pick up with chopsticks now; believe me when I say it was next to impossible then. But when you finally did get one, the payoff was remarkable: juicy, spicy, chewy... I just had no idea non-fried-cheese could be so delicious.
Maybe something else would have come along and kick-started my inquisitiveness for other cuisines, but it happened how it happened. Without those tiny dumplings it's safe to say I would not have tried any Chinese food besides orange chicken. Certainly I would not have discovered dim sum, which in turn would probably have meant no sushi or Thai food or banh mi.
"Our house Riesling," the waiter offered.
"Okay," I said, not wanting to put any more effort into the ordering.
It was a very fruity, even more so than I was anticipating. But we drank the whole bottle.
I don't eat at Yujean Kang's nearly as much as I used to - it had been more than a year since my previous visit. But I am certainly going to miss it and I'm glad we made it back for one last meal.