Why am I perpetually disappointed by Southeast Asian restaurants that aren't Thai? It's not just Cambodian like Chez Sovan either - I've also been burned by Burmese and maligned by Malaysian. (One exception: Battambang, the Cambodian restaurant in Downtown Oakland).
I'd heard a lot of good things about Chez Sovan, despite it's location in a rough patch on the edge of downtown San Jose. Well that location isn't open for dinner (plus, I want to live), so we checked out their location in Campbell.
We started with Sach Ang (Shish Kabob). For $2 you get a very substantial stick o' meat. The beef was chewy but was nicely flavored and much better than the chicken which was dark meat and had texture issues.
There are two portion sizes for almost all entrees, with small entrees priced at $7.95 and large at $10.95. Small is still huge. We ordered one app (everyone had one huge skewer) and three entrees for four people and we still had leftovers. (Mostly that was the Amok but I'll get to that.) We shared three entrees:
Samlaw Curry Moin. This reminded us of Thai yellow curry chicken since it included coconut milk, potatoes, and carrots.
Cha Kroeng Moin. This was a stir fried chicken dish with bell peppers, onions, and carrots. Both this and the yellow curry were fine but not special. Also, the chicken was dark meat.
Amok with Chicken. Huge mistake. HUGE MISTAKE. People on Yelp and Chowhound rave about this dish (the catfish version), which is also Chez Sovan's specialty. It must be an acquired taste. Basically chicken, spinach, coconut milk, and spices are steamed in a banana leaf until it's one big pyramid-shaped pile of mush. I wouldn't even know the ingredients (because who can see through a pyramid of slop?) except that I looked them up on their menu. You could taste the spices and see a couple pieces of chicken here and there among the Amok mush, but it was for the most part Amok run amok.
I just looked up Amok in the dictionary, and I shit you not, this was the definition: 1. (among members of certain Southeast Asian cultures) a psychic disturbance characterized by depression followed by a manic urge to murder.
That's right - A MANIC URGE TO MURDER. That's probably because they just ate Amok.
Seriously, apparently "running amok" is derived from the Malay/Indonesian/Filipino word amuk, meaning "mad with rage" (uncontrollable rage).
We also decided that although foods steamed in a banana leaf always sound good, they ALWAYS turn out disappointing. ALWAYS.
We were some of the last diners there and after we ordered dessert we discovered that the chefs had already left.
When we arrived, Chez Sovan was practically empty but the parking lot was full. We discovered that was because the Coach Lounge shared the lot. That must be SOME bar, because the scariest dude ever passed us on the way to our car. He had a long greyish beard and long stringy tails of hair on each side of his head. We each sketched him after the fact - doesn't everyone do that? If you combine all our drawings he apparently was sporting an anchor tattoo, Rambo style headband, and the hot look of overalls and no shirt, all the while encircled by flies and an everpresent booze smell. Also, according to one person he was a hobo and Coach Lounge was offering half price hobo night. Doesn't this make you want to check out Coach Lounge?
P.S. I just heard from someone who thought the amok tasted like curried cat food. I thought that was the PURRRRRFECT description.
2425 S Bascom Ave, Campbell, CA 95008