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Jul 22, 2008 10:31 AM

Phnom Penh (Vancouver)

My girlfriend and I went to Phnom Penh a couple weeks ago. We ordered the amok, papaya salad, and the fried chicken wings.

I've only had amok in Cambodia, where I enjoyed it very much. The amok at Phnom Phenh was a bit too lemon-grassy for my taste. If they cut the lemon grass in half, I probably would have enjoyed it more, though I'm starting to think that maybe I actually don't like amok that much, and my experience eating it in Cambodia was only enjoyable since I was on holiday.

The papaya salad was huge -- definitely enough as a starter for 4 people. Maybe even 6 people at an upscale place. I assume they make it that big to justify the $14 price tag. It would have been nicer to see it at $8 at half the size. In any case, the salad was good, and had some really nice pieces of dried pork. There were also lots of shrimp, which were nothing special. I would've preferred less shrimp and more dried pork.

The fried chicken wings were very tasty, and were the highlight of our visit.

The service was horrible. 30 seconds after getting our menus, we were approached by a server asking us if we were ready to order, followed by 4 other servers asking us the same thing in the 3-4 minutes that followed. Each time I asked for another couple of minutes, the servers gave me a look of annoyance, and walked away.

With a menu as extensive as theirs, how can anybody make up their mind that quickly? I also noticed the same thing happening to other tables. Mid-meal, I tried to flag down a waitress for some more water, and as she walked by, she stuck her hand in my face and turned away (e.g "talk to the hand"). She did return shortly after to ask what I wanted though. I don't expect good service at places like this, and I usually don't mind bad service at cheap divey places. But the servers' miserable facial expressions and the downright rudeness were a bit much for me. I guess it works for them though, since they always seem to by packed.

To be fair, there was one young waiter who looked happy, and one waitress who I saw smiling (kind of) to customers a couple of times. Neither of them served us -- only the misery squad did.

If I go back, it'll be for the chicken wings, and I'll probably take it to go.

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  1. The food there is good. I have come in during lunchtime (when they are often overly busy) and have gotten that same surliness you experienced. I do think it is just one or two servers that have that attitude. One of the waiters (the young guy who is often in a baseball cap) is pretty friendly, though.

    Let me recommend the Fried Squid, Banh Xeo (really a Vietnamese dish), Squash Blossoms and the Butter Beef for next time you are there.

    BTW (I'm sure you have already surmised this) - that killer lime/pepper dip for their chicken wings is very easy to recreate - lime juice, salt, and black pepper. I make this this at home regularly.

    2 Replies
    1. re: fmed

      I will definitely go back for those dishes. I thought about the fried squid, but since we were ordering the fried chicken, we thought we'd vary it up a bit.

      I do wish I ordered the butter beef instead of the amok though.

      Thanks for the suggestions, and for the lime dip recipe!

      1. re: aburitoro

        The squid that I am referring to isn't deep fried. It's wok fried and very good.

    2. Having the wings to go is different. I have tried it a couple of times and it just wasn't as good. I think the heat must have created some water vapor in the takeout container and made the skin soft.

      11 Replies
      1. re: kwailan4

        Very true. Such is often the case with fried take-out. I guess that means I'll have to go back there. Maybe I'll give it a try before the dinner rush.

        1. re: aburitoro

          We've had really inconsistent service at PP as well. Sometimes they're just great, smiles, very efficient without rushing you and other times, more like aburitoro's description.

          I second fmed's rec for the squash blossoms -- really good. And I'm a fan of the deep-fried squid here; we've been known to order both it and the chicken when there were four of us dining :-).

          Another well-tasty item is the drinks if you can ignore their silly name (moo moo or something). Try the more exotic ones like lichee or mango as opposed to the strawberry. These are especially good on hot days.

          1. re: grayelf

            We visited from Portland last weekend. Went on Sat. afternoon at around 4. Both service and food were outstanding. Wish we had a place like that here. I am used to lousy surly service (inattention, slow, no help on ordering, never clear a plate) at Asian places, but we were pleasantly shocked at how kind, attentive, and helpful they were to obvious tourists. Will recommend to all, and will always have them on our short list.

            Had the chicken wings, sweet & sour seafood soup, durian/sticky rice, wine fermented rice, forget what else.

            1. re: Leonardo

              I was just at PP tonight at around 9pm and it was still packed. Service was good and food was great. We had wings, too. Mmmm!

        2. re: kwailan4

          Agreed about the wings being somewhat "soggy" when ordered to go.

          But when you're in town only once a year or longer and there's not enough time to squeeze in a visit, you're not too picky! :)

          On the night before our departure date, I polished off at least a half order myself--and that was me exerting extreme self-control...

          1. re: homebaker

            Thought I'd refresh this thread with a report from our Jan 23 dinner at PP. Having been tipped off by fmed that they had a tasty rendition of bo luc lac or shaking beef, it was only a matter of time before we tried it. I had "discovered" this dish at Bodega Bistro in San Francisco in November and was hoping to find it here. We ordered the all beef no rice version ($14.50) as we were also craving fried rice and there were only two of us, but there is a smaller version served on rice for about $6 less. The beef had the flavour I loved in the BB version but was quite differently prepared and presented, being as you will see from the attached photo sliced into thin pieces and I think stir fried, as opposed to larger, stew-ish chunks. I daresay the beef was better quality in the BB version, possibly even filet mignon as advertised. At any rate, it had zero gristle, whereas the PP version had a bit here and there. I also was not enamoured of the presentation on shredded iceberg, as it was hard to avoid getting wilted lettuce in later bites. Still, it was really satisfying and I would order it again.

            We went with the deep-fried squid in the small version ($8.95) which was still quite generous. I think I prefer the wings done this way, though, and we should have gone with fmed's req of the stir fried pepper squid. SO was very keen on this dish though, and I ate my fair share so the slight dryness/overdoneness was hardly a deterrent :-).

            Our final dish was the shrimp fried rice ($11.50). They only have two kinds of fried rice (though I suspect if you knew what you were about in ordering they could conjure up others) and since the second one had chopped Chinese sausage which I'm not a fan of, we went for the shrimp. I was fearing a boredom factor but in some ways this was the best dish: perfectly cooked, screaming hot, fragrant with a hint of that smoky, nearly-but-not-burnt thing going on. The chopped carrots were lovely, the shrimp were plump and quite plentiful, in short it was everything fried rice should be and often isn't. We received a dish of the sauce that I associate with bun and the addition of some of that to the fried rice was superb, whether that was where it was meant to be used or not.

            The complimentary tea was light and plentiful, and we enjoyed the da chanh (limeade $3.65) we split as well, though I was less enthusiastic than the SO.

            Service was uniformly warm and efficient -- no sign of the surls mentioned elsewhere, and we were in and out speedily without feeling rushed. The room was very busy and we got one end of the last communal table at about 6:45 on a Friday, after which there was a steady lineup with quick turnover.

            One rather fun thing that happened was a fellow diner coming over to ask us what the shrimp fried rice was called. While it is not at all unusual for patrons to eye one another's meals and even politely ask "what number is that?" the kicker here was that this individual was of Asian descent with a heavy accent and we are very white :-). We turned that around right away though by asking the diners next to us what the noodle dish was they were having and have made a note to try #4, soup on the side next time.

            The bill including tax and tip came to $50, so not the cheapest of eats but I think pretty good value for the quality. We will of course be back.

            PS we were heading to visit my brother and SIL in the 'hood afterward and made it to New Town in time to load up on pastries (it stays open till 8:30). No pix though as we got a little carried away before the camera came out! We tried one Filipino dessert that had pork in it which I think was called a baboy -- comes wrapped six together in wax paper and looks like petite white curling rocks but tastes much better. Thanks to the bearded dude in line behind me for the suggestion.

            New Town Bakery & Restaurant
            158 Pender St E, Vancouver, BC V6A1T3, CA

            Phnom Penh Restaurant Ltd
            244E Georgia St E, Vancouver, BC V6A1Z7, CA

            1. re: grayelf

              Thanks for the report grayelf.

              On the Shaking Beef, I noted that they serve the Cambodian rendition (Loc Lac vs the Vietnamese Bo Luc Lac). I don't think there really is much of a difference in preparation between the two. I did come across a recipe by Andrea Nguyen (who wrote an excellent Vietnamese cookbook) where she notes that North American Vietnamese restaurants serve the dish using premium cuts of beef in contrast to tougher cuts served in Vietnam


              Looks easy...I may give this dish a shot.

              1. re: fmed

                Thanks fmed. I think you provided this link before but it is a good one for sure. I may try it myself, and go for the "good stuff" which would obviously reduce marinating time.

                Re the prep at PP, I didn't note the spelling (Cambodian vs Vietnamese) but then again I wasn't looking for it. The main difference was the size and tenderness of the actual meaty bits. The recipe calling for cubes of beef is much more like what I had in San Francisco, and I think would work better for this home cook at least. I also prefer the idea of watercress to iceberg, but I suspect that's an ease-of-prep/cost thing at PP. There was also no additional dressing on the lettuce that I could detect.

                1. re: grayelf

                  >>I also prefer the idea of watercress to iceberg, but I suspect that's an ease-of-prep/cost thing at PP. There was also no additional dressing on the lettuce that I could detect.

                  Watercress wilts more gracefully than iceberg lettuce for sure. I may try some crisper vegetables for the bedding...stick-cut daikon, carrots (maybe quick pickled Vietnamese style), onions, cucumbers, that sort of thing. (Come to think of it...this would make an amazing sandwich!)

                  In any case, the only time I like iceberg lettuce is in one of those crispy chain tacos (eg Taco Bell)...don't hate me.

              2. re: grayelf

                The Filipino dessert you tried is called hopiang baboy (pork hopia). The more common versions featuring sweetened mung bean paste or adzuki beans are also quite delicious.

                1. re: JungMann

                  Thanks, JungMann -- I knew there was another word but couldn't remember it. And they had at least one of the bean paste ones you mention on offer, but dude behind me was keen on the pork, and I must admit a pork dessert sounded intriguing.

          2. We went back to PP a few of weeks ago, and found the service to be far better than our first visit. The chicken wings were of course delicious, and we had the butter beef this time, which was also pretty tasty, though it was a bit much for the two of us (definitely got sick of it by the time we were finished, due to the intense flavor). We ordered one more dish which for the life of me I cannot remember, but recall being satisfied with the entire meal. Will post if I remember.

            1 Reply
            1. re: aburitoro

              Hey aburitoro - nice to see you posting again.