Sunday, 30 November 2008

Kampuchea (Cambodian) Restaurant

Ox tail stew is a balance of cooked and fresh food. (Nadia Ghattas/The Epoch Times)

By Nadia Ghattas
Epoch Times Staff

In the Lower East Side of Manhattan there lies a hidden gem that is slowly but surely etching its mark into the culinary world.

Ratha Chau, the owner and chef of Kampuchea (the old name for Cambodia) told me that it has no relationship to the communist organization that was formed in 1970.

Chau initially immigrated to America to study psychology but found himself being drawn to food. He wanted to create something unique and enjoyable for New Yorkers as a tribute to the street food of his native country.

The menu is based on traditional flavors and classic Cambodian cooking techniques, and then takes it a step further with respect to culture and flavors. Chau explained that everything must be fresh because Kampuchea’s food is a combination of cooked and raw ingredients. The menu is not fusion; it is novella. This reflects what Chau experienced and tasted growing up in Cambodia.

Menu items reflect the tastes of southern Cambodia combined with other regional influences.

Although Kampuchea is small and cozy, the atmosphere is lively and upbeat. It is rustic yet modern with Asian oak communal tables, stools-only seating, tin ceilings, and steel fans—all of which serve to create a comfortable atmosphere for your dining experience.

Cambodia is one of the few countries in South East Asia that is underpopulated. It is a peninsula surrounded by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the South China Sea. About half of the country is a tropical forest. The country overall is rich with produce and seafood which is portrayed in the country’s cuisine.

Chef Chau (ex Blue Water Grill, Asia de Cuba, and Fleur de Sel) decided to take the plunge to open this Cambodian restaurant without realizing that he would create an incredible interest for diverse diners, who would travel distances to experience Kampuchea. The menu is original and creative. It was originally developed by Chef Chau and Scott Burnett, Chau’s partner and executive chef. The menu is comprised of five sections—from small Cambodian plates, crepes, Num Pang (Cambodian sandwiches), grilled items, and Katieve or noodle dishes. This diverse, eclectic menu is a delight to the epicure, as it awakens every taste bud of the palate.

The grilled sweet corn is a recommended starter—grilled corn smothered with chili mayo and coconut flakes. It’s very light. It could have a South America touch, but the bottom line is that it’s delicious.

The Lyche martini is another excellent way to start out. It is very subtle, and not too sweet or boozy, making it a nice compliment to the flavorful and spicy food.

DELICIOUS NAM PANG: Three in one (Nadia Ghattas/The Epoch Times)

My friend and I decided to share some of the signature dishes, including the Mussels, Tamarind Baby Back Ribs, and the Num Pan sandwich tastings. The Oxtail Soup is something that should not be overlooked on a cold day either. All were rich with very distinct and wonderful flavors. The mussels were cooked to perfection and combined with tomatillos, hot peppers, and raw vegetables with cilantro—providing a contrast of sour and spicy. The dish also comes with a semi-thick gravy to dip your bread in. The baby back ribs were comprised of an outstanding combination of special ingredients—Doruc pig, known as red pig, is poached for four hours in apple cider vinegar and smothered with tamarind sauce complemented with pickled vegetables with different contrasting flavors—sour, salty and hot.

New Yorkers are so lucky to have the world cook for them in their backyards. All of the proteins are made from naturally raised animals. Kampuchea does not serve desserts, but with such a wonderful variety of eclectic foods who needs dessert?

The oxtail stew with tamarind, green papaya, and raw vegetables was my friend’s favorite. The sandwiches were also up there as they made for a very nice close to the dinner, leaving one feeling warm, happy, and healthy. Not too heavy with a pleasant aftertaste reminding you that you just had a stellar meal.

The Verdict: I quote my friend who said, “A brilliant little find that should be kept a secret. I would come here alone or with friends again and again.”

Price per plate ranges from $9.00 to $ 17.00

Kampuchea Restaurant 78 Rivington Street (corner Allen Street), New York, NY 10002, (212) 529-3901 Lunch: Friday through Sunday 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.Dinner: Tuesday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday and Sunday 5:30 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Sunday 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

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