Cafe 101 reminds me of the Taiwanese/new-Chinese restaurants that opened up in Alhambra and Monterey Park, California, about ten years ago, catering to a young-ish late-night crowd with its contemporary decor, flat-screen TVs, impossibly long list of fashionable drinks and generally attractive young waitstaff.
When it opened a few years ago, it was a place for me to go with friends for drinks and a clean, well-presented meal. Most dishes are served on a tray and attractively assembled in sort of a bento-box pattern, with a bowl of rice, a flat plate, a small side salad and tiny dessert. The menu is extensive, with page after page of specialty items ranging from desserts to rice plates, sizzling entrées to fried noodle dishes.
After my first few visits, for some reason, Cafe 101 lost its luster for me, most probably because I didn't know what to order. That changed recently, when chef Kevin Naderi told me that he and Matt Marcus would go there just for the red wine pork chop. I knew, as he was describing it, that I had to give it a try.
The red, breaded pork cutlet is cut into strips and topped with a tonkatsu sauce. Served with a side bowl of white rice topped with a minced pork sauce, it usually comes with some sort of small vegetable or pickle plate, along with the daily mini-dessert.
The color of the pork chop is what's so remarkable. Its bright-red color is like that of annato seeds, and flavorwise it's hard to describe, other than "it's super tasty," with just barely a hint of red wine essence. It reminded me of the Japanese breaded pork cutlet, tonkatsu, but more hearty and rich in flavor. Whether it's the red wine or some magic marinade, there's an addictive quality to it that made me immediately crave more even as I was finishing the dish for the first time.
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The rice plate will only set you back $7.50, but you can also get it as an appetizer for $5.50. The first time I went by myself, I got the rice plate and a freshly squeezed strawberry juice. I liked it so much that I went back the same week with a friend, ordering the red wine pork chop rice plate, one of the cafe's signature iced milk drinks, an appetizer portion of tasty chicken wings, and a kim-chi fried udon.
I'm enjoying this rediscovery of Cafe 101. Not only are the prices ridiculously low (my first meal cost me $12, my second meal with my friend, just $28), but the food is consistent and tasty, the drinks are large and satisfying, and it's open until 2 a.m. every night -- every reason for me to go back, and often.