Swimming to Cambodia


Kampuchea | 78 Rivington St. (at Allen St.) | 212.529.3901 | www.kampucheanyc.com

IT HAS BEEN miserably hot in New York for the last couple of weeks, oppressive to the point of being not just a physical burden but a mental one as well. The air sweats for you, and I was drenched as I suffered walking the few blocks to the train station (then going back home and returning to the same station once I discovered I didn’t have my credit card), the exponentially Hades-like climate of the subway platforms, and the expediated walk across E. Houston to Allen Street.

I was late to meet my perennial PHUDE partner, “Trixie”, at the well-received Cambodian restaurant on Rivington Street called Kampuchea, and she marveled at the high level of moisture my shirt showcased as unintentional art when I finally arrived and met her at their bar.

I looked like I had just swam there, so I immediately cooled off my body with a tall glass of ice water, their frigid air conditioning, and several bar napkins, then cooled down my temperament with a shot of Patron silver and a “hands-only” hug from Trixie (who was coolly dry and stunningly beautiful, as usual), and took a few pictures of the space as we were directed from the Norry section of the space and sat at our table by our waitress, the very professional and impossibly pretty Anna.




I had perused their menu online earlier in the day, and was looking very much forward to having sweetbreads for the very first time (long overdue) and following that up with their mackerel platter.

Alas, Anna had to inform that sweetbreads were no longer on the menu (next time!), and as Trixie ordered a side of the grilled corn and one of their shrimp numpang (Cambodian sandwiches) with coconut milk, coconut flakes, chili mayo, cucumber, and cilantro, I decided to sample their small plate of fried chicken with basil, flavored salt, and lemon, and grilled mackerel that sat on top of a sald of fennel, cucumbers, roasted peppers, Vietnamese mint chili, and a fish sauce vinaigrette.

The whole room smelled of wonderful food, so it was a great relief when the starters arrived in a quick time. The grilled corn was had great, sweet bites to it, with a hint of chili, some bright lime juices, and some playful coconut flakes.




The fried chicken was surprisingly light and tender, the skin dutifully crispy, and tastes broadened by the various seasonings in the salt.




Our “mains” soon followed. Trixie’s shrimp sandwich had plump, flavorful shrimp were complimented by bright, crispy veggies, with the hits of heat and acid from its dressings pleasantly countered by the cooling sweetness of coconut.




Amazingly, after forkfuls and handfuls of these bold flavors, the mackerel dish succeeded in showcasing the inherently more nuanced properties of the warm and light, flaky fish and its crisp, slightly seasoned skin, topping a melange of a colder salad that stood well on their firm textures and naturally clean and earthy aromatics.




The extremely well-traveled Trixie complemented the restaurant on elevating the quality of Combodian cuisine, in comparison to the meals she’s actually had in Cambodia, which she said ran far more bland. I have nothing else to compare it to besides other restaurants, and Kampuchea has a lot to be proud of.

It’s a hot restaurant with a cool vibe, with dishes that successfully marry the concepts of cool and hot in flavors as well as temperatures. By meal’s end, my shirt had returned to its original color, and even though I had arrived a little “hot under the collar” literally and figuratively, thanks to this enjoyable meal—and the company of my cool, hot friend, Trixie—I wound up, literally and figuratively, a very cool customer.




Bun Apple Tea!

.kac.

Kampuchea Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Kampuchea | 78 Rivington St. (at Allen St.) | 212.529.3901 | www.kampucheanyc.com



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2 Comments

  1. Food Gal NYC

    I pass this place all the time and have read good things. I’ll have to stop in now that you also say it’s great. The chicken looks really terrific and so does that shrimp sandwich. Thanks, Kerry!