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Dec 15, 2008 06:17 PM

Cambodian Cuisine (UES) to close

This is sad. I'd only just gotten acquainted with this very decent place. It really seemed like a labor of love, and I'm sorry to see it go.

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  1. Oh no! I'm terribly sad to hear this news --- I just visited the place last night and had no idea. I'm now planning on going as often as possible between now and when it closes. I don't have many options in terms of getting food like back home. I will sorely miss this place!

    1 Reply
    1. re: danicanyc

      Interesting that you were there on 1/2/09. Because the article I linked to from 12/15/08 says the restaurant would be evicted "in a few days." There's a coupon good for 15% off on the restaurant's website - good 'til 1/31/09. Something has changed!

    2. There last night, still chugging along. Now not closing, NY Times notwithstanding. They honored the 15% coupons on the website. Place about half full. Food was very good. meal for three with a lot of drinks with tip and tax was @150

      1 Reply
      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

        How about that. I guess they worked things out with the landlord. Good for them, and glad you enjoyed your meal.

      2. They did close. Their new reincarnation is a big yellow truck sometimes parked in front of Stern Business School or on LaGuardia.

        If anyone has suggestions about what's particularly delicious, there, I'm all ears.

        This is adapted from a longer review with pictures:

        My puppy and I were out for a romp on a recent, blustery night. Usually we go west to the water, but the wind was threatening to whisk us into the ocean, so we turned tail and headed east, instead. We'd done our usual meander and had stopped just for a moment to chase biscuits in the nice, flat Stern Business School courtyard, when suddenly, a glorious vision came into focus before my eyes: a big yellow truck with the words "Cambodian Cuisine Torsu" emblazoned on the side.

        It turns out that the truck is a reincarnation of Cambodian Cuisine, a restaurant that began with a storefront in Brooklyn and later moved to the Upper East Side. (I think "torsu" means "on wheels.") Evidently, they were forced to move both times because of lease disputes with landlords. The restaurant's website describes their side of the story.

        The nice lady at the window suggested that I order the S.E.A. Chhar Kroeurng (sauteed chicken or tofu with hot and spicy basil, lemongrass, galangal, onion, cabbage, bell pepper and baby bok choy on white or brown rice). Kroeung or kroeurng is a generic term for a curry / spice paste that's used as the flavor foundation for many different dishes (similar to curry pastes in Thai cuisine). Here, the paste and the dish tasted fairly simple and straightforward. I couldn't pick out the flavor of lemongrass or see evidence of bok choy, but to be fair, I came at 10 p.m., just as they were ready to close up shop. They're allowed to cut corners at that hour. The stirfry was cooked to order and enjoyable to eat, with good, fresh vegetables, cooked with some bite left. Chicken was juicy and of good quality.

        I also ordered the Karry Tuek (curry of lemongrass, galangal and coconut milk with sliced chicken, bamboo, water chestnuts, brown potatoes and bread, served over vermicelli). This was a very pleasant, balanced dish with the most delicious "brown potatoes" -- which I don't think refers to the skin color, but to the fact that the potatoes had been previously roasted -- and a generous amount of canned bamboo shoots, which I happen to love. All of the ingredients, except the chicken, had been cooked in the liquid for a while, and were thoroughly infused with flavor. The curry came with a customary slice of crispy baguette, a nod to Cambodia's past as a French colony.

        I wasn't blown away by the two dishes I tried, in truth, but I thought they were enjoyable to eat and a ridiculously good bargain for the amount and quality: All main course dishes are $5.75. Soups and appetizer salads are about $3.50. Also, I'm a sucker for anything I haven't tried before. I'll certainly be seeking out this truck, again, especially to try the soups while the weather's still cool.

        16 Replies
        1. re: michelleats

          As someone who went there when they were in Bklyn and then tried the UES place once or twice when it opened, I can honestly say that I was never overly impressed with the food there. But, as stated, it was a labor of love and this type of food was/is not readily available in NYC, so it was worth dropping in once in awhile. Sorry (but not surprised) to hear that the truck isnt much better... happy to hear that the price point is more reasonable.

          1. re: Steve R

            Really nice to hear the input of one who knew the place in its previous lives, Steve. I haven't given up on the truck, yet. I know certain ingredients (lemongrass, galanga, kefir lime leaf) are difficult to purchase on a budget. I wonder if the food might include more of these and become more nuanced once they have more of an established presence. Also, the soups look and sound really good. Will you report back if you try it? I'll try to, as well.

            1. re: Steve R

              It's a crying shame that this is the only outpost of this wonderful cuisine in NYC. We patronized the Bkln one fairly often but were never blown by with the food as we had been at Cambodian restaurants in the Bay Area and Boston. My NJ FIOS service has a Cambodian TV option, so there must be people in the area - how come no or no better restaurants?

            2. re: michelleats

              Thanks for this! I'll keep an eye out for the truck if I'm in that neighborhood. I'm happy to hear they're still trying to make a go of it.

              1. re: small h

                After reading their version of events, I'm happy they're still trying to make a go of it, too. They're awfully sympathetic protagonists.

                1. re: michelleats

                  Good lord. After reading that whole saga, I'm astounded that Jerry has the energy to cook at all. There should be a special category for food purveyors who persevere, simply because they have some grit, and a vision. I'd gladly eat not-so-amazing food now and then, just to support such ventures.

                  1. re: small h

                    I agree, many of their dishes were average, but even average Cambodian is incredibly delicious, and at least while they were in Ft Greene, their soups were great and special dishes were sometimes fantastic. Damn, I've really missed them, ever since they left Brooklyn. Now there's a lame barbecue place there. But I suppose this is the 21st Century, and in the new Ft Greene would rather eat incompetent barbecue than homestyle Cambodian (I was raised on KC barbecue, understand).

                    I'd love to see them come back to BK, but perhaps there just aren't enough friendly palates in Kings County for them to stay afloat.

                    1. re: small h

                      "I'd gladly eat not-so-amazing food now and then, just to support such ventures."

                      Word, small h.

                      "I'd love to see them come back to BK, but perhaps there just aren't enough friendly palates in Kings County for them to stay afloat."

                      Daiquiri ice, they could always drive to your parts if they get enough requests! That is the beauty of a food truck, even though it must be a huge pain in the ars to cook in one. Do you happen to remember which special dishes you tried at their old BK location? I think their truck menu is pretty pared down out of necessity, but maybe some of those dishes are still available.

                      1. re: michelleats

                        Ha! I would meet them halfway...

                        Like many SEA restaurants, I believe they suffered from customers who sent food back for being too funky and/or spicy. However, if the kitchen knew you, and you asked for true SEA style, and they knew you understood the flavors - i.e. the fermented, the sweet, the herbal - they would not scrimp on fish sauce, lime leaves, galangal. Specific dishes I recall include homemade fishballs with pickles, anything that was described as 'samlor' - sliced meats and greens in savory herbal broths, a fantastic congee for those sick days; a huge funky salad with sliced veg, holy basil, roasted garlic, fried onions, and peanutsauce, a mild, peppery yellow curry, rice noodle soups with a deeply flavored broth. Good quality ingredients (noodles were not always so great, and chinese takeout dishes were to be avoided).

                        I lived half a block from this place, when it was in BK - right next door to Video Box. That's a while ago, guys. Perhaps the kitchen changed. I don't know about now because I couldn't be arsed to schlep to the UES, but honestly, this place was fine for what it was. And the staff and owners were downright lovely.

                        1. re: daiquiri ice

                          PS - plastic containers of amazing homemade yellow curry base can be bought at the SEA grocery in the Bronx across from the Poe cottage. I believe the proprieters are Cambodian.

                          For those who need a fix now and again.

                          1. re: daiquiri ice

                            i'm very familar w/ SE asian food, including cambodian. It being funky, spicy, or unusual had nothing to do with my dislike for the place. the food was bland, unispired, poorly prepared, and just sub-par across the board.

                            1. re: thew

                              I'm also v familiar with the cuisine, etc - and felt the same about the Brooklyn place. A kitchen should not have to know the customer to put on their best game.

                              1. re: buttertart

                                buttertart and thew, what did you order that was so bad?

                                1. re: daiquiri ice

                                  i had some chicken noodle dish and some seafood curry

                                  1. re: daiquiri ice

                                    It's ages ago, not sure any more to tell the truth.

                  2. i ate there once. i frankly found it to be one the worst meals i've ever had in NYC.

                    nothing like the sublime food i had in cambodia.
                    nothing like food i'd want to eat again, regardless of type

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: thew

                      The UES one? Bklyn stand was dispiriting enough for us never to bother going.