Tom Yum Paste, what's not to love about it? It truly combines some of my favorite flavors together in one lovely paste: fragrant lemongrass, spicy red chilis, tangy Kaffir lime leaves & lime juice, savory fish sauce with the aromatics of crushed garlic, shallots and galangal. For you vegetarians out there, Vegetarian Tom Yum Paste is readily available as well - I've done a taste test and it's definitely comparable.
With my failed expectation of Tom Yum Fried Rice at Champa Garden, reviewed here, I decided to give it a go. My biggest criticism for their version was that it didn't have enough Tom Yum flavor, so I made sure I added tons of tom yum paste in mine.
The Key to Good Fried Rice: Fried rice should ALWAYS be made with leftover day-old rice. If you don't have any, try to cook it a few hours before hand, let it sit in the rice cooker unplugged before cooking. This helps take a bit of moisture away from the rice and helps you get individual grains instead of clumps, giving it extra restaurant-made quality.
My version of Tom Yum Fried Rice, notice all the carmelized Tom Yum paste on the shrimp? Cooking all the ingredients separately allows for the rice to really develop the Tom Yum taste while not having the eggs get overcooked.
Champa Garden is a living example of how Yelp.com has helped small businesses grow. Living just a few blocks away from this gem, I have seen restaurant after restaurant fail at this location. When Champa first opened, I simply wondered how long it would be before it became a donut shop again. So, imagine my surprise when I hear all the buzz about Champa on Yelp! Still, despite the positive feedback, my skepticism kept me at bay. It actually took me another year before I finally decided to give the place a try. Trust me, its predecessors did give me more than enough reasons to stay away.
To be honest, it took a Restaurant.com coupon to give me that final push to go, and I'm so glad that it did. I purchased a $25 gift certificate for only $2 - tip: look out for sales at the end of the month, just Google "restaurant.com coupon codes". The restriction for this coupon is that you have to go during dinner and have to have a minimum of $35, including alcohol. A 18% tip will also be added to your check.
As I walked into the restaurant, the overall environment definitely exceeded my expectations. While the restaurant had no more than 15 tables, its was decor was simple yet perfect for the space. Dim lights helped set the mood: first-date material or perfect to unwind after a long day. Now, on to the good part: the food! My overall impression of Champa is that while everything on the menu was a hit or miss for me, the few stars of the menu will keep you coming back for more.