Monday, January 12, 2009
New Phnom Penh -
Cambodian cuisine in South Philly
We'd tried a few times to visit the Cambodian restaurants on South 7th Street, but they tend to close-up pretty early, they're often shuttered and locked-down tight by 7pm. We finally got our acts together to get down there on a Saturday afternoon, and were not disappointed. Sadly, one of the places we had planned on visiting has closed, but New Phnom Penh still sits at the corner of 7th and Wolf.
The cuisines of neighboring Vietnam and Thailand have a much larger presence on the Philadelphia restaurant scene, and on the surface, Khmer cooking seems pretty similar, but it's most definitely not identical. The flavors are different, often a bit bigger and bolder, darker and funkier than one might find in a Vietnamese restaurant, less spicy than Thai.
We started with spring rolls, which may not have been stylistically unique, but they were excellent: perfectly crispy wrappers enclosing a meaty ground pork filling. They were even better wrapped in basil and lettuce, and dipped in a sweet sauce.
A special soup featured sliced beef, ground pork, fishcakes (and normally shrimp) atop rice noodles, in a hearty broth. The soup is not as delicate and aromatic as a Pho, but the gutsy flavor made up for any lack of subtlety. Fresh bean sprouts and a squeeze of lime gave it some added complexity.
Pork on Rice Noodles seemed a little blah at first taste, but little by little, a subtle spice crept up, eventually revealing a complex curry-like flavor to the thick sauce, that was especially good soaked-up by the pleasantly chewy noodles.
A dish called "Beef Style" on Rice was probably "Loc Lac". which is somewhat similar to the Viet "Shaking Beef" but again had a unique flavor, slightly sweeter, funkier, nuttier.
There's really no better way to finish a meal like this than with some dark coffee with condensed milk.
All of our food was quite good, service was very friendly, our server happily offering suggestions when we asked what was good. Prices were extremely reasonable, about $30 for all that food. I suspect that many of the recommendations we got were for dishes that were palatable to newcomers, so we're eager to get back and dig deeper. We noticed a lot of folks having soup, and dipping fried dough into it, which looked pretty great... There's plenty more to explore on this menu, and another restaurant or two just up the street, so we hope to have updates soon.
New Phnom Penh
2301 S. Seventh St. (at Wolf)