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Aug 24, 2006 12:45 AM

Champa Gardens chowdown

Met a few hounds today for a sampling of the huge menu at Champa Gardens. First of all, thanks to whomever ever found this spot ~ I never would have run accross it on my own.

Guided by previous mentions and posts, we ordered the rice salad and sausage plate. The rice salad (#3) was great, chewy warm rice, distinct flavors of each ingredient and nice texture;like great fried rice. Wrapped in lettuce packets, I really liked this. The sausages were grilled and served in thin slices. They had a lemony taste, smooth texture and were not greasy at all. These were pleasant, but I found them boring after a slice or two.

They did not have the rice porridge we were looking for so we ordered spring rolls (#1). I'm glad we did, these are a winner. Crisp, light and delicious wrapped in fresh mint leaves and dunked in the clear, sweet sauce. Very similar to Vietnamese imperial rolls but with a lighter, less brittle shell.

Squid salad with mint and red onions was good. Excellent texture on the calamari and the dish seemed light and herby. I wasn't as fond of the green papaya salad, a little too spicy and one dimensional for me.

Two entrees, one a shrimp and mango with coconut milk curry was very tasty with soft, hot sweet mango chunks, lightly cooked shrimp, some crisp vegetables and lots of flavorful curry for scooping over rice. We also had catfish which was ok but seemed pale and wan next to the shrimp dish. Finished with excellent sweet sticky rice and mango.

A nice selection of presentations and flavors at a bargain price of $11 a person. I am sure others will fill in what I have forgotten. For the Friday lunch, I would suggest double orders of #1 and #3 to munch while you persue the menu. Nice folks, good lunch, thanks for the invite!

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  1. Wasn't there for the Chowdown, but our family has been there the past two weekends for lunch. The first time, we were also very impressed by that shrimp and mango curry, rice ball salad, and a great rice noodles with chicken and soy sauce. All three were fantastic!

    This past Sunday, we had larb (chicken) with northern-style sticky rice, fried sweet potatoes, and shrimp pad thai for my son. Larb and sticky rice (served in a little wicker basket like in SE Asia) reminded me of having the same in Chaing Mai -- quite good. The sweet potatoes were OK -- very well fried but kind of starchy and one-dimensional. I wouldn't order the pad thai again -- very sweet, and far inferior to the other noodles.

    The soup at surrounding tables looked fantastic as well, as did some of the stir fried dishes...

    1. I was delighted to join the Chowdown; equal parts new faces and old. I too really enjoyed the rice salad. As someone said today, "it's like how you wished fried rice would taste." Strange comment, but perfectly right on. I found the squid salad light and refreshing, a nice counterpoint to the rich shrimp and catfish dishes. The shrimp were perfectly cooked but I thought the catfish was rather mushy. The sticky rice and mango made a nice ending but I was more interested in the "green dessert" the waiter described. Evidently, it runs out right away, but the Friday group will have two portions reserved for them. Please report back! As usual, the company was great. Thanks again to the organizers.

      1. (sorry for the dupe post, I removed mine)

        I really loved the spring rolls. Good on their own, but wrapped in lettuce with a bit of mint and cilantro, then dipped, was awesome.

        The curries were also excellent, and I would have rated them both equally were it not for the succulent mango -- I have never had mango in curry before, but will definitely do so in the future. I did like the crunch of the catfish in the catfish curry, but it's true that the sauce was a bit bland. Perhaps ordering that one spicy would help. ;-)

        The sausage was good, but it did get boring towards the end. Perhaps on Friday, just one order shared between the two tables (yes, you'll be at two tables) would be good. I would do the same with the Laotian papaya salad: it just has to be tried once, but a lot of it was leftover at the end. The first bite seemed "eh, tastes like salad".. then the intense fish flavor hits.. then the spiciness kicks in. Quite an experience -- once.

        They had a panang catfish as a special, and it's too bad we did not try that instead of the curry catfish, but I'm sure it will be offered again. Maybe Friday's crowd can try it out...?

        Oh, and there's no parking lot, but tons and tons of street parking. The 62 bus goes there from the Lake Merritt BART station, so it's also accessible to the car-free folks.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Marc Wallace

          Yeah, the Penang catfish is definitely the way to go. I had it again when I went back with my Mom, and it was just as good. It seems to be a "regular" special. And I bet even if it isn't on the board, they would make it for you, since they have all the ingredients.

          Oh, for JT, the address:

          Champa Garden
          2102 8th Ave. (corner of 8th Ave. and East 21st)

          It's tucked away in a residential neighborhood just east of Park Blvd. and north of International -- a place you would never stumble across on your own!

        2. Sounds nice. Care to share where this place is? Or better yet an address?

          1. I will admit that I am a total skeptic when it comes to curries and yet there I was, licking my fingers! Yum yum yummy mango and shrimp. Go figure. While the Laotian Papaya Salad was not to my liking (way way too spicy for me), everything else was wonderful, that along with the great table companions. I wish I could go to Friday's lunch. Alas, I'l be travelling that great cullinary wasteland of I-5 to Los Angeles. Happy chowing all!