Much to my dismay, I realized that Cambodian restaurants are a rarity in the city. This is rather puzzling, as restaurants serving the cuisine of its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam are ubiquitous. I became conscious of this fact after getting a craving for some fish amok, the signature aromatic coconut curry-based dish usually served wrapped in banana leaves or inside a coconut shell (pictured). Almost every meal during my week-long trip to Cambodia included either of these two dishes. As if reading my mind, this article On the East Side, Cambodian Two Ways appeared in the New York Times, and intrepreting that as a sign from above, I dragged a couple of equally curious friends over to the newish, somewhat blandly-named Cambodian Cuisine to see how the food was.
What we found was a spacious restaurant that felt a bit too big and oddly-shaped - perhaps it was a retail establishment before. Adorning the walls were paintings of Cambodian countryside scenery which were somewhat garish, but the real gems were the framed photographs of Angkor Wat and the Bayon lining the narrow staircase leading downstairs to the brilliantly-laid out unisex bathroom area. On to the food - the menu included typical Cambodian dishes, but the fish amok was not among them. Instead, chicken amok was offered, and M. took the bait at my urging - when it arrived I could only stare mouth with agape at the omelette-like concoction on the plate (pictured), never could I have imagined chicken amok to morph into this saucer-like shape - however, as M. allowed me to sample a piece of his "omelette", it was in fact quite tasty and transported me back to Phnom Penh for an instant.
S., on the other hand, opted for a hearty soup-based dish called "samlor Mchoo Krocurng", described as "your choice of meat together with celery and sweet basil cooked in a lemon grass flavored soup base". I had the same soup as an appetizer and despite an aversion to celery, thoroughly enjoyed the interplay of its flavor and the lemongrass, and managed to finish all of it. S. seemingly felt the same, as not a drop of the samlor was left in sight, but I suspect she was assisted by M. whose belly was not filled up by the chicken amok "omelette". Not that I blame him. (On the right is a picture of Cambodian seafood soup as prepared at Friends, a non-profit tapas restaurant/training school for street children in Phnom Penh).
As for me, I ordered the beef loc lac and though it was pretty ordinary the portion size was substantial. Despite some initial negative feedback on the level of service at Cambodian Cuisine, the wait staff were helpful and answered our questions knowledgeably. There was only one thing missing, really, and on the way out I inquired of the manager, "Are you going to offer Angkor beer anytime soon?". She smiled knowingly and replied, "A few customers have asked that. We're working with the distributor, so maybe sometime soon". That and fish amok would be enough reason for a return visit.
G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v. 22): CALDERON COCINA TAPAS Y BESIDAS - I had heard some buzz of late regarding the newly-opened CALDERON Spanish tapas resto in San Juan, and was keen to check it out. Subsequently, i made...