Had lunch with friends from work - one of my (Khmer-speaking) friends pre-ordered (including some home-style Cambodian dishes that are not on the menu), and half of my party was ethnic Cambodian, so I feel pretty confident that I didn't get food that was tweaked to Western or Chinese tastes.
The main difference between the food I had here and the food I've had in other Cambodian restaurants (Chev Sovan in Campbell, Angkor Borei in SF, and a couple of tourist-friendly places in Siem Riep) were the much heavier use of lime juice (to the point of mouth-puckering sourness, so that it was the dominant flavor), and the omnipresent funkiness of fermented fish paste.
Stir-fried catfish and bamboo shoots, with a mild red lemongrass sauce
Banana blossom soup with catfish
Frog legs stir fried with bell pepper and green beans
Thuk Krung - a dip made of ground grilled fermented fish, garlic, chilis, fresh fish, and lime juice, served with vegetables (mostly raw cucumbers and eggplant, and steamed broccoli) for dipping
Prahuk Kthis - a dip made of ground pork, cocounut milk, fermented fish, lemongrass and chili, served with the same vegetables as the Thuk Krung
Fried bananas with coconut ice cream
Both stir-fries were pleasant but not memorable - the frog leg one, had it not been made with frog legs, could have passed for a run-of-the-mill Chinese-American stir-fry. Both are on the regular menu (although the bamboo shoot stir fry is offered only with chicken, beef, or pork. Note - there was a lot more bamboo than protein)
The banana blossom soup (the version on the menu comes with salmon) - I have a feeling this one gets toned down for non-Cambodian diners - the intense sourness of the lime juice, plus the funkiness of the fish paste, reminded me of something unpleasant, which embarasses me, because I'd like to think I can appreciate food the way it's supposed to be. Unfortunately, my Western/Chinese palate didn't get this one.
Thuk Krung (off menu)- while this dish also prominently featured fish paste and lime juice, the ratio was much more heavily weighted towards the fish paste, and I loved it. The initial impression is of intense umami - actually, it tastes remarkably like Parmesan cheese - which then gets obliterated by spiciness and sourness. I don't have a high tolerance for spice, but I kept reaching for more because of the remarkable evolution of flavors in each bite.
Prahuk Kthis (I was told this was on the menu, but I can't find it on either the online menu or the takeout menu) - this flavor profile (sweet from coconut milk, mild funkiness from fermented fish, tang from lemongrass, and a more approachable level of heat for me) was the most familiar to me from other Cambodian restaurants - similar to amok, but spicy. This was delicious.
Finally, I usually avoid cooked bananas in any form, but the fried bananas were perfectly fried, and slightly underripe (which is the only way I can tolerate cooked bananas), and while the coconut ice cream would have been unremarkable on its own, I enjoyed it with the banana.
An aside - I had originally asked to have the lunch at Phnom Phenh House - I've seen the lukewarm reviews here but I thought I would have a better shot at getting a good meal if I had had my friends with me - but the general consensus is that it's "too expensive, and not really Cambodian".
850 Broadway St
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