3471 Mission St. (at Cortland)
dinner 5:00 - 10:00 nightly
take out/ delivery available
Last Wednesday we attended a Chowhound event at Angkor Borei, a Cambodian Restaurant located in San Franciscos Outer Mission. There were fourteen Chowhounds enjoying conversation and lots of dishes. Thanks to the organizers Melissa Pamer and Melanie Wong and thanks to Joanne and Spencer for assisting me (Suzy) with this report.
Cambodian cuisine is not well known, so here are a few facts to put the food into context. Cambodia is best known to tourists as the home of Angkor Wat. Its capital is Phnom Penh and its languages are Khmer, French and English. As the country borders the Gulf of Thailand, the ingredients and flavors of Cambodia are similar to its neighbors Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
The dinner was organized to highlight the specialties of the restaurant. We chose collectively and ordered two plates of each so we could all taste everything.
Appetizers: Fresh Spinach Leaves, Ground Pork, Beef Salad, Nhoam Lahon (Shredded Papaya), Chicken Salad, Crispy Cambodian Crepe, Squid Salad, and Crispy Rice Chips.
Entrees: Stewed Ground Pork, Prawn Baked in Foil, Ahmonk (Curry Fish Mousse), Pan Fried Fillet with Garlic Fish Sauce, Clay Pot Duck/
Desserts: Fried Banana with Coconut Ice Cream, Mango with Black Sticky Rice
We started with the Fresh Spinach Leaves. This appetizer consists of fresh uncooked spinach leaves on a plate with little glass bowls of condiments, allowing each to make a wrap. The bowls contained chopped ginger, peanuts, lime, red onion, chili, dried miniature shrimp, toasted coconut, and a sauce similar to the sweet brown sauce served with Pho at many Vietnamese restaurants (a cross between oyster sauce and Chinese plum sauce). The red onion, crunchiness of the peanuts and the zing of the lime married well with the sweet sauce. Interestingly, the lime was cut into small pieces with the peel. The zest of the lime left a nice lingering aftertaste. A few of the Chowhounds identified this appetizer as a standout.
Next came a series of salads: Ground Pork, Chicken Salad, Squid Salad, and Beef Salad. The strong flavor of the lime overpowered many of the ingredients making many of the salads taste the same.
In the Ground Pork salad, mung bean noodles (a.k.a. cellophane/glass noodles) tempered the strength of the lime. The texture of the soft noodles nicely melded with the ground pork, onions, peanuts, carrots and bell peppers.
The Chicken Salad was light and tasty, with rich chicken and an exotic combination of mints, cabbage, red onions, bean sprouts, and peanuts.
The squid had a nice chewiness and paired nicely with the accompanying vegetables and spices, particularly the spearmint and the lemongrass.
The Nhoam Lahong was made with shredded green papaya, carrots, tomatoes, dried shrimp, mint and whole peanuts in a lime dressing. Nothing special here, it was the same as you would find in a Thai or Laotian papaya salad. This version was over salted overpowering the elements of papaya and tomato.
Just when I had begun to think that there were no ingredients to stand up to the lime dressing, the Beef Salad arrived. Yes, a mixture of mint, bean sprouts, cucumber, and thick tender strips of beef cooked medium stood up to and even balanced the citrus dressing. The sprouts and cucumber gave the salad a lightness and left a more mellow aftertaste instead of the sour of the lime. Of the salads, the Beef Salad was my favorite because of the balanced flavors.
After the round of salads, we dug into a Crispy Cambodian Crepe. A yellow colored crepe folded over a filling of shrimp, ground pork, tofu, coconut, bean sprouts, ground peanut and a lemon-garlic sauce. The thin crispy Cambodian crepe was neither spongy nor oily, but difficult to keep together with the filling. As I bit into the crepe, first a crunch with a hint of coconut, then the taste of the thin dry crepe meeting juicy pork and garlic. A good combination of savory flavors.
The last of the appetizers was the Crispy Rice Chips. Potato Chip sized pieces of puffed rice (similar to a rice cake) accompanied by a thick light brown dipping sauce of shrimp and pork with a coconut and tamarind flavor. While these were tasty, they did not stand up to the rich flavor combinations of the more complex salads.
On to the main course, first came the Pan Fried Fillet with Garlic Fish Sauce. The fish, probably cod, was battered and fried to a golden crisp. The batter was light, but maintained its crunchiness in its bath of sweet garlic sauce. Although the sauce was called fish sauce, it did not have the strong smell of Vietnamese Nuoc Mam fish sauce. This dish was a solid success.
The meal was getting progressively better as they brought out the Stewed Ground Pork (Prahok), A deep dish of warm light brown chunky stew surrounded by fresh sliced cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, celery, hot peppers. As the server put in on the table she announced that this was Cambodian finger food and welcomed us to dip the sides into the sauce. The sauce was based on coconut milk base, with chunks of ground pork, and many difficult-to-identify spices, including peanut, and Cambodian anchovies. This was one of my favorites of the night.
Next came a clay pot dish of Mock Duck. The sauce was creamy and had some spicy zing, and the cellophane noodles and cooked spinach complemented the sauce, but the Mock Duck itself was a bit dry. This dish was popular with a majority of the Chowhounds .
The highlight of the meal was the Ahmonk (Curry Fish Mousse). Sitting in a banana leaf bowl this excellent mixture of fish chunks and fish mousse hit the spot. The top layer of fish mousse had a creamy smooth curry and fish flavor blanketing a blend of small fish chunks and spices. Each spoon full was a bite of soft mousse and more solid pieces of fish with the flavor and smell of a lemongrass curry. The dish was rich and a little tangy, with tell-tale signs of natural fresh ingredients.
The Prawns Baked in Foil was an aluminum foil basket of large baked and butterflied prawns accompanied by a sweet tamarind sauce.
For desert, we shared Fried Banana with Coconut Ice Cream; and Mango with Black Sticky Rice. I like black rice, but I felt that the grainy texture and afterchew of the husk did not match well with the chunks of sweet fresh mango. The coconut ice cream was rich and delicious, a little overpowering the bland fried bananas.
The service was very warm, the server announced each dish with a smile and appeared genuinely interested in introducing us to Cambodian food. I enjoyed the feel of a family run neighborhood establishment where you can get a good value and feel that they take pride in their food. There were some hits and even the less notable dishes were fair to good. The menu is extensive and offers an additional menu of vegetarian selections. I will return to explore it.
Written by Suzy and Joanne
Edited by Spencer
Also in Attendance: