Beijing gets to taste food fads, too – they just tend to arrive at a more leisurely pace. So although Korean-Mexican fusion has long whet forward-thinking appetites via food trucks in the US, in Beijing it’s something of a novelty. And, in typical Beijing fashion, it’s actually in a cute little hutong space – just north of the Drum Tower.
The decor channels sunny Los Angeles, where the unusual marriage of kimchi and tacos was first proposed, according to owner Michael Tsai. Tsai claims the City of Angels as his hometown, but he’s since had stints as the FnB director at the Hilton Beijing and opened the Gongti Spanish bistro Puerta 20.
Glossy photos of California landmarks and the latest indie-electro hits provide a fittingly sun-kissed backdrop. The package will certainly get Angelinos giddy, but if you’re new to the Kor-Mex street food idea, Palms provides a decent introduction in a laid-back setting.
Mixing Korean and Mexican means more than just kimchi stuffed into unexpected wrappers. But there is a lot of that – particularly in the dinner-plate sized kimchi quesadilla (48RMB), where the pickled cabbage melds with cheddar cheese in a tortilla drizzled with spicy Sriracha chilli sauce-blended sour cream. The loaded fries (45RMB) use kimchi to supplement the refried pork and a mix of sauces to enliven the potatoes. Or you can eat the stuff in fluffy kimchi fritters (25RMB), which also benefit from a dip in more of that punchy sour cream.
Palms offers tacos with a choice of meats like spicy chicken or marinated short ribs, decorated with the same few sauces for colour. Tender grilled pork (38RMB) is accompanied by a little cabbage and a splash of the Sriracha cream. The brittle shell falls apart after the first bite – pick the softer flour tortilla to keep it together. Or better yet, try a burrito (52RMB): the roll-up option with kimchi rice, coleslaw and a cheesy lining makes a better-value meal. It’s no tree log-sized wrap, but it’s filling enough.
The baked bibimbap (48RMB) has the same choice of meats, but nestles your choice of protein under a thick blanket of cheese and spiced white rice. Combined with a gooey egg on top, this dish has some serious rib-sticking heft, but we could only faintly discern the beefy strips of kalbi buried within.
Alternatively, avoid the fusion concept altogether. Palms’ sandwiches are great; fluffy ciabatta envelops good-quality steak (55RMB) with plenty of crisp veg and an avocado cream dressing. The attempt at Korean fried chicken (42RMB) isn’t as satisfying, though. With barely a hint of tangy sauce, the weak, boneless bites disappoint.
It’ll be the novel concept that draws curious patrons through the door, but the top cocktails will keep them there. Our El Imigrante (40RMB) gently refreshed our mouths with a champagne flute of grassy yerba mate-infused vodka and Sprite (don’t judge – it tastes awesome). The potent, slightly medicinal take on a Long Island (40RMB) makes us happy it’s summer again. Which, to be fair, seems to be what Palms is going for.
By Sean Silbert