Thursday, February 08, 2007

Champa Laos

I have to disclose a major bias here before I proceed. Though I'm promiscuous when it comes to national and regional cuisines, I should should be up front about my biases. My favorite national cuisines are, in order of preference, Japanese, Thai and Italian. That's not to say that I am don't both love and crave foods from India, France, China, etc.; but if frequency of consumption is any indicator, you now know my Big Three.

Now that that is on the table, that may help to clarify just why I am so enthusiastic about the restaurant Champa Laos in Cherry Hill New Jersey. My only criticism is that it takes far too long for the web site to load, so I've left off the restaurant link. You'll have to take my word that it is the best -- hands down, far and away -- Thai style cuisine in the area. (Laos is adjacent to Thailand, the people speak a dialect of thai, and the food can be thought of as a regional variant on the Thai food most Americans are familiar with.)

I had a banana flower salad, which used the banana flower to hold shrimp, chicken, toasted coconut and curry, among other things. The effect was delicate and the tastes together were subtle: sweet, a bit of toast and the accent on a mild curry. The best part is the texture of the dish, including the banana flower itself.

My main course was a green curry, to which I have been dedicated since living across the street from a Thai restaurant in Denver Colorado as a young man. This intriguing dish was made with dried beef that was evidently reconstituted in the curry sauce. I had visions of grinding my teeth on a hard, jerky like substance when I ordered: I was completely wrong. The meet was tenderized in the cooking process, with a bit of tooth to it, and the curry complemented and penetrated the beef with flavoring. The curry had enough heat to make my head sweat a bit, but it was not so hot as to effect the enjoyability of the dish. I'd order this again next time, except I there are too many other dishes I want to try first.

For dessert, I had mango with sticky rice, another perennial favorite of mine. The mango was reasonably fresh and sweet (you're not in central america or southeast asia here), the rice was perfect, and the presentation was quite something.

Dinner was paired with a Zind Humbrecht 2003 Riesling, a great match if I do say so myself. New Jersey restaurants are often BYOB, Champa Laos being no exception. Take advantage of it to select an appropriate Alsatian to go with the meal.

I've been racking my brain to come up with something critical to say to balance out the review. Best I can do is that there was a small stain on the table cloth. The food was, and I hesitate to say it, perfect. A must-visit location for New Jersey and Philadelphia residents.

Greg Pavlik


At 3:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laos is definitely adjacent to Thailand, however Lao language is not a dialect of Thai. Northeastern Thais in the Issan region are actually speaking a dialect of the Lao language. A majority of the people in northeast Thailand are ethnic Laotians and, therefore, Issan cuisine is actually Lao cuisine.


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