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Angkor Grill review (Alameda)

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This place opened fairly recently in Alameda – it’s quite attractive inside, with lots of dark wood paneling and tasteful decorations (other than the gaudy painting of Angkor Wat in the back). It’s clearly meant to compete with Burma Superstar and Yellowtail, rather than Homeroom Racing Café and Ark.

We ordered the prahok katis (which is not on the menu on either Battambang or Phnom Penh in downtown Oakland, but which I’ve had at Battambang as a special order), the sachkor turk prahok, and the hamok trei.

The prahok katis came out first – rather than the searingly hot, pungent fermented fish and pork dip I’ve had before, this was a bland, sweet, coconutty pork mash with no discernible prahok flavor. Unfortunately, rather than serving the dip with the standard accompaniments – cabbage, raw green beans, and tiny raw eggplants, they served it with romaine lettuce and red bell peppers, the watery sweetness of which only added to the blandness of the dip. The flavor did pick up after the addition of a lot of chili oil, and we asked them to make our remaining dishes with quadruple the chili and prahok.

The food improved after that – the hamok trei (fish mousse flavored with coconut) was quite good, and the prahok based dip with the sachkor turk prahok (slices of seared steak served with noodles and lettuce leaves for wrapping) was much more flavorful. I hope they’ll start having a little more faith in their clientele and start serving food the way it’s meant to be cooked (although I remember a long argument I had with Sam Fujisaka about whether or not Cambodian food was actually bland or not… I think people came to the conclusion that yes, Cambodian food really is bland, and what I’ve been fed by my friends is actually Lao. RIP Sam, I’m still not convinced, but maybe I will make a small concession and hope that Angkor Grill starts making Cambodian food the way *I* like it).

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Battambang
850 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94607

Burma Superstar
1345 Park Street, Alameda, CA

Phnom Penh Restaurant
3912 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619

Homeroom Racing Cafe
1305 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501

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  1. Thanks, daveena! Someone asked me last night what was new in Alameda, and all I could remember was that there was something new on Park Street (I satisfied him with a tidbit about what's coming up at the Marketplace (hint: involves a newly installed wood-burning oven)). That's really turned into a restaurant destination, at least for quantity and variety. It's amusing to remember that 20 years ago when I was involved in some development issues the fact that there were "too many" restaurants on Park Street was a big concern, and there was talk of limiting the number of restaurants. Since then the number of restaurants on (and just off) Park Street has easily doubled!

    6 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      City has been pushing hard to fill in some dead space, but a couple restaurants are already closing less than 6 months after opening. There's been a lot of movement though, 3 restaurants I know who want to move from their current place to another... especially the former Yellowtail spot. I'm also interested in the new place opening up Culina, supposed to be up and running "any day now."

      Just remember this, to convert a retail location to a fully functional kitchen with a hood is going to cost a lot of money, $400 - $500K in a decent-sized spot. To spend that money, in an area that competitive is a hard pill to swallow. And there few areas in the Bay Area, in my opinion, where it would be worth spending that kind of money.

      Now, if the folks at Alameda City Hall would do something for the folks on Webster...

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      Culina
      1650 Park St, Alameda, CA

      1. re: Jason Kwong

        That move for Yellowtail seemed odd -- why move from a highly visible location with lots of street traffic to one that's hard to find? Culina sounds like an expansion of the existing Culina operations in the Marketplace. I really want to love them, but I don't.

        For development on Webster to take off they really need an anchor -- something to draw people to that street, the way the movie theater has on Park Street. I never go there except to a handful of the restaurants there I like. Otherwise, there's nothing of interest.

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        Culina
        1650 Park St, Alameda, CA

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          ooh I'm afraid I misspoke in my reply. The place opening NEXT to Culina isn't related to Culina... at least I don't think they are. I was there last week for a sandwich and another salesperson was asking about the new spot, wanting to leave a catalog. An owner/manager of Culina/Pappo suggested he leave it somewhere on-site. But you might be more in the know ;)

          More notes of Alameda later, I think Ankgor Grill deserves its own spotlight

          1. re: Jason Kwong

            Ah, yes, the new place next to Culina, the original Feel Good Bakery spot. It's going to be <whisper> a pizza place with a wood burning oven run by a guy who used to work in the cheese shop. Actually, not much of a secret since it has a sign up now that says "East End Pizza." Supposed to be opening in the next couple of weeks.

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            Culina
            1650 Park St, Alameda, CA

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              The new place going in next to Culina is East End Pizza. Owned by Paul, a super nice guy who used to work in Farmstead Wine & Cheese. I would love to see Paul be a success so please talk it up!!!

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              Culina
              1650 Park St, Alameda, CA

          2. re: Ruth Lafler

            Heard from someone who works there that Yellowtail moved because of a rent hike.

      2. Angkor-Borei in SF is not Lao and you can definitely taste the prahok in their prahok kh'tih (translated as "stewed ground pork" on the menu).

        The recipes in Nusara Thaitawat's "The Cuisine of Cambodia, probably the most authoritative source, are not bland. Her prahok kh'tih recipe calls for 1-1/4 tablespoons of prahok, 4 garlic cloves, 4 shallots, 2 cubanelle peppers, and 1/3 cup of mixed mint, basil, and spring onion to season 150 grams of fresh fish, 1/4 cup minced pork, 1/4 cup of coconut cream, 1/2 cup of coconut milk, and 1/2 cup water.

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        Angkor-Borei Restaurant
        3471 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

        3 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          This is the thread I was thinking of... it was a weird discussion. Two of us who have mostly eaten Cambodian food in the US love it, while the two who have lived in Cambodia described it as bland and oily. I don't think we ever really answered the question to my satisfaction.
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4753...

          1. re: daveena

            Thaitawat's book discusses that. Long story short, the Khmer Rouge almost wiped out traditional cuisine and so far as I know it has not recovered. She went around digging up recipes and history from people who had preserved it both in and out of Cambodia.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            Khmer cuisine isn't "bland", but when compared to cuisines like Lao or Korean, it may seem bland only because it is not as aggressively seasoned.

            I've heard from some Cambodians that each Khmer dish is typically "balanced". That is, it's not too sour, salty, sweet, bitter, etc...so the dishes can be eaten as standalone dishes and don't need to be paired with an opposite element that is customary in Lao cuisine.

            In addition, many Cambodians seem to know how to make Lao, Thai, and Viet dishes at home so it is possible that daveena's friends have fed her other neighboring dishes besides Khmer.

          3. We ate there shortly after they opened. Turns out, the owners are the same as Phnom Penh. Before I realized that the owners were the same owners as Phnom Penh, I ordered the grilled chicken, forgetting that it was the same dish I used to eat at Phnom Penh years ago (1990-ish) when I was a regular. The dish was about the same as I remember at Phnom Penh. I enjoyed the chicken, but the rest of the meal was unmemorable.

            I noticed that there's a new Thai place that looks like it will be opening soon where the donut shop was on Park. Neither of the two new bakeries that were supposed to open on Park have materialized.

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            Phnom Penh Restaurant
            3912 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619

            1. I have to agree with the blandness problem. The thing that struck me as odd was the lack of condiments on the table like you would get in a Thai place. They are after all very similar cuisines.

              2 Replies
              1. re: CJSinAlameda

                You think so? From what I've seen, standard Thai places typically do not have condiments on the table unless it's a Thai-Chinese noodle house. However, condiments on the table are more common at Lao, Viet, and Chinese places.

                Khmer and Thai places typically lack condiments on the table.

                1. re: CJSinAlameda

                  I just got back from Cambodia and the food was delicious and not at all bland. I never saw condiments on a table while eating in Cambodia. In fact it was difficult to get condiments, for the plain things like rice and eggs, and much easier to stumble through the Khmer with "hul"-not sure how to spell it- but I was taught thats how to get spicy!
                  First two images are from a whole veal resto in Siam Reap on Highschool St and second is excellent brushed garlic oil fresh rolls from Khmer Family on Pub Street. Note the fresh Chilis-Hul Hul!! Happy Happy.

                   
                   
                   
                2. It's nice to see there's a new Khmer place for me to check out. Thanks for the review.