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May 14, 2001 11:19 PM

din din

  • r

okay little chowsters, it's 8:15, tell us what you've been up to...

melanie, thanks for the champagne run down, wine making is so very personal and interesting, who ever would have thot it could be calculated as well?

hope you had a great meal, do tell

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  1. Hi Rochelle, you missed a good one!

    Our chowhound gathering turned out to be a more intimate affair than planned...a note this morning from our no-show explained that she had discovered an unplanned water fountain display in her vegetable garden! But ever intrepid, we still ordered with abandon across a range of styles to unearth the treasures at Cha Am, Vallejo.

    My favorites were the two items we selected from the specials board which mostly included seafood dishes and a notable exception of the 20 oz. T-bone steak. The green mango salad was a new one for me - crunchy matchsticks of mango, roasted coconut strips, juicy grilled prawns, roasted chili pepper, red onions tossed with a piquant lime vinegrette. The other special was a homemade coconut milk red curry with plump scallops, prawns, green beans, tender eggplant and red bell peppers. Medium in heat with mid-palate warmth that harmonized well with the subtle blend of fresh flavors. Or maybe I'm just in love with anything flavored with coconut?

    The fried calamari had a thin crunchy batter with a honey dipping sauce. Sort of the McSquid interpretation of chicken nuggets but greaseless and much better. This was an opening for Brandon's betrothed, Tanya, to tell us that he had passed the all important calamari compatability quiz early on. (g)

    The larb gai salad (minced chicken with toasted rice powder) was intense and brilliant. So much going on in the mouth at once with a punch of mint, then a direct hit of lemon grass, followed by a squirt of clean and refreshing lime, yet all those haunting and elusive flavors that defy identification too. This dish really sparkled.

    The fried whole fish with tamarind sauce turned out to be two small Pompano. Not a good deal in the fish bone to edible yield, and we were lucky to have Gordon do the honors in deboning it. On the plus side, the tamarind sauce was light and not too sweet with lots of goodies --- baby corn, tree ears, peas (!) and grass mushrooms. But I thought it was overcooked and probably frozen, not fresh as indicated on the menu.

    The pad thai was a competent version, a tad on the sweet side for my tastes but not as candied as some. It was plated with a pile of ice cold bean sprouts on the side. When mixed together on your plate, this made an interesting contrast of cold and crunchy sprouts with the hot chewy rice noodles. Rather than dried shrimp, prawns were used and we noticed that straight tofu cubes were included rather than fried. Each of these touches lent an extra bit of freshness to a dish that I often find tired and neglected.

    I so wanted to order the mango and sticky rice dessert, but didn't save enough room. Tanya was a hold out for the fried bananas and avocado ice cream that we shared around the table. Good quality here too with ripe bananas encased in a light batter although the ice cream didn't scream "avocado" in flavor.

    The Billecart-Salmon Brut Reservee Champagne that I brought wove around some dishes and cleaned the palate for others. I'm becoming more fond of sparkling wines with capsicum. We'd also had Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling and Jade Mountain Viognier on ice but decided to save them for another time. Corkage charge is $7 for the first bottle, $5 ea. if you open two, and goes down to $4 ea. if you have three bottles.

    We noted the large serving sizes. There was enough food on the table to easily feed another person. With corkage, tax, and generous tip, it came out to $80 or $20 per person. There were plenty of left-overs to take home.

    All in all, great company, really good food - I hope we can do it again some time soon.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong
      Brandon Nelson

      What Fun!

      A great adventure! Cha Am provided some tasty dishes for an imtimate little get together.

      A must compliment Melanie, what a wonderful wine for the occasion. The mineral notes of the Billecart Salmon Brut played so nicely with the bright flavors of mint and lemongrass. The acidity managed to clear even the heat of the chilis and the rich coconut milk in the curry. Thumbs up.

      I really dug the salads at Cha Am. The Larb Gai and green papaya salads were my favorite dishes of the evening. These are the dishes that will get me back through their doors again. Bright complex and tasty! I particularly enjoyed all of the different crunchy textures of the lettuce, green mango, and coconut.

      The other high point of the meal was the curry off of the specials menue. This reminds me of a similar dish at Thep Lela in Strawberry (made with pork instead of seafood). It is the dish that makes Thep Lela a favorite destination for me. Cha Am does it equally well. Spicey enough to remind you it's curry without being a warm up for a fire eating act.

      The pad thai was good enough. Not a memorable dish in either grand sucess or failure. A solid offering that was on the sweet side, but not cloying or unpleasant. I still think this dish is too often the Thai version of "Jewish style Chinese". Far to often it tries to hook you by the sweet tooth. I would prefer a more savory approach.

      The calamari was pleasant. It was one of the times I have had fried calamari that wasn't the least bit greasy. The honey dipping sauce didn't do much for me though. I guess with all of the other dishes having such lively flavors the calamari kind of got lost on me. I must explain the calamari test. Any woman that does not love fried calamari and chocolate is not to be trusted. My own little Chowhound superstition:)

      The pompano was unspectacular .The tamarind sauce and veggies made for what could have been a great foundation to a stellar dish. The fish left me a little cold. Overcooked? Frozen? I can't say for sure. The end product was a little dry. Since we were working on smaller fish meat versus bones was an issue.

      I'm no great fan of fried banana, but the dessert was tasty. There was some suspiscion as to whether the ice cream was avocado, as advertised, or green tea. The color and flavor weren't quite rich enough to convince everyone at the table that we had avocado. Green tea perhaps, the ice cream certainly had the right spicey elements for that.

      Good food. When Cha Am hits its a home run. I'm already anticipating future cravings for the salads and the curry. The other dishes weren't failures, but there was room to improve.

      Great company. I look forward to seeing Melanie and Gordon again!


      1. re: Brandon Nelson

        Brandon, thanks so much for pulling this night together. Guess I misunderstood who was testing whom with the calamari trust factor. (g) I think I'd like to try that dish again with some chili sauce for a dip. And, aren't you curious about how Cha Am does with that t-bone?

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          thanks to you all for the blow by blow, melanies detailed descriptions had my mouth watering, esp. the piquant lime vin... and i do love green papaya/mango.

          as far as the test, i fear i wouldn't make it too far. calamari with both hands, but the choc...

          glad you had what sounds to be a great gustatory evening

          1. re: Rochelle

            Next time, YOU get to write the notes, Rochelle!

            I've had a chance to search my files, and came up with this message I'd sent to a friend who'd tasted neither house who was wondering whether to buy Feuillate or Gosset for Y2K. And, for the record, this gentleman is older, loves old Champers, and is not in the demographic sector that Feuillate is trying to sell to.

            A little more about the Feuillate house style. . .

            From: Melanie Wong/SF
            To: MICHAEL
            Topic: CHAMPAGNE

            Date: Sun, Sep 26, 1999, 1:24:34 PM

            I've had the opportunity to taste through the Nicolas Feuillatte line twice this year. This was a new one for me. My first sample was at a standup tasting --- I was stunned at how much fruit there was in the glass, enough to make these bubblies standout among a bevy of young ripe still wines. The second time was a tutored tasting by the US importer's rep (from Martin Sinkoff), sitting down, tasting from fresh pours in crystal flutes where I had more time to ponder the wines and think about them in context with other Champagnes.

            From what I know about your tastes, these are not wines I would recommend to you. There's nothing wrong with them but they are decidedly "modern" in style and emphasize this in their marketing, e.g., "not your Grandfather's champagne" or "no widows here". This is a relatively young house. Nicolas Feuillatte worked in the US as a young man and they've designed the wines for the American market and younger tastes. They are appealing to the new generation of wine drinkers who want less acidity, drink the wines on release (they tell you not to hold them) and new, different flavors. The wines are 100% ML, very forward, and much riper with oodles of fruit. And, they are extraordinarily popular in this market.

            Tom Stevenson is down on Feuillate, describing them as coarse and clumsy, I believe. I would agree that all but the top cuvee, 92 Palmes d'Or Brut, lack elegance, length and sophistication. Yet I would rate the NV 1er Cru Brut and 90 Cuvee Speciale as Very Good and the 94 Rose 1er Cru Brut and 92 Palmes d'Or as Excellent. They are unique for their concentrated fruit and creamy texture.

            The Rose was the most interesting to me, it truly tastes of red berries, not just the whisper of strawberry of other producers, and no minerality. The red wine added to the blend is fermented by carbonic maceration to enhance the berriness of fruity flavor.

            I don't know the price for the Palmes d'Or but suspect you'd be happier with other choices at that price point. In general I liked the Gosset lineup more, except for the entry level Brut Excellence. Far more complex, stylish and better balance, yet with plenty of power and richness too.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              i love these descriptions where i can taste with my eyes open! thanks for keeping the love alive...

          2. re: Melanie Wong
            Brandon Nelson

            Ahhhh yes, that T bone

            Seemed a little out of place on that menue didn't it? I always find the Curious George in me wanting to order just such a dish to why it's there. Is it something that ultimately fits the restaraunts theme, or is it an offering for the diner who begrudgingly tagged along with his chowhound friends. Something tamer than even pad thai, for a stodgy western diner? We must find out!


            1. re: Brandon Nelson

              I think you're right. Gotta keep Dad happy! I recall that it was offered with green onion salad and jasmine rice.

          3. re: Brandon Nelson

            It was a very nice evening at Cha Am...especially, the company. I also thought the salads were the hit of the evening. Enjoyed learning about the calamari and chocolate litmus test - not quite as much of a revelation as the Japanese vending machines that feature ladies' panties but you accept knowledge where you can get it.