Recently Glen Park has become a bona fide destination for foodies from the neighborhood and
beyond. Now couples and groups can be seen walking through the village in their dressy casuals, alongside the locals in their flip-flops getting their forty bucks from the ATM.
Lest we become too insulated in our cozy restaurant cocoon, I recommend we venture out. less than a mile from Diamond and Bosworth streets, to a different world that does not (yet) exist in Glen Park. That world is Indochina, specifically Cambodia, at a little place called Angkor Borei on the quiet part of Mission Street (Angkor for the temple Angkor Wat; borei, meaning city in Cambodian).
While some Glen Parkers have frequented Angkor Borei for a long time, it is better known by the Bernal crowd. Angkor Borei has been family owned and operated for the past 20 years by Tom Probpan and Chinhan Yat. The two are so cheerful and friendly, they greet their regulars with a warm hug.
Look at Cambodia on a map and it’s apparent what makes its cuisine so interesting. It carries influences from Thailand, Vietnam, China, India (curry) and France (from days of colonial domination).
Yat explains the essence of Cambodian cuisine-first, fresh vegetables, lightly cooked or raw; second, herbs and spices, the same as Thai but lighter tamarind, basil, cilantro, cumin, garlic, tunneric, lime leaf and galinga (similar to ginger root), to name just a few. Then there are the dipping sauces, which layer yet another dimension onto the fascinating flavor mix.
The wide variety of ingredients combine to yield complex flavors that are nevertheless distinct within the dish. They are paired with the fresh vegetables and simply cooked meat and seafood and the intriguing sauces. In addition to white rice, a welcome option is brown rice, which is not a Cambodian tradition, but its plumpness and nutty flavor makes for a nourishing completeness to the meal.
Crispy spring roll appetizers (No. I on the menu, $6.95, as are most appetizers) are a surprising departure from the usually greasy wraps and soggy vegetables of many restaurants. Here the wrapper is crisp and the vegetables inside are cnmchy, a great way to start the meal. Likewise, the crispy Cambodian crepe (No. 9) is true to its name. Another choice is chicken salad (No. 8), which, again, is not what you’d expect. No fried noodles or iceberg lettuce.just lots of different vegetables and chicken, flavored with cilantro. Fresh spinach leaves (No. 7) are used to wrap a number of ingredients such as peanuts, lime, onion and ginger, which are then dipped in sauce and have a taste that is more than the sum of its parts. Sour soup (No. 12, $8.75), with pineapple and winter melon, is another good starter.
Entrees, around $9-$ 12, run the gamut from beef, pork and chicken to seafood, vegetables and noodles. There are also vegetarian dishes featuring mock duck (made with seitan) and other inventions. Charbroiled pork slices (No. 30) are served with raw cucumbers and tomatoes, which are an amazing contrast of smoky flavor and fresh sensation. Slices of beef (No. 20) are simmered in yellow curry peanut sauce. Every category on the menu features a curry, a flavor that tends to dominate, whatever the dish. A favorite chicken dish is sauteed chicken (No. 35) with green beans, bell peppers, spices and spearmint. The seafood is excellent, particularly the pan-fried fish fillet (No. 49) served with an intensely flavorful garlic sauce. Ahmohk (No. 48) is an unusual specialty, a fish mousse served in a banana leaf basket. Another impressive presentation is the baked prawns in foil (No. 44), the foil being in the shape of a bird, positioned to peck into the dipping sauce, and accompanied by fresh cucumbers, celery and carrots.
No Cambodian beer is available (it’s hard to get in California), but there’s Sing Ha, a mild Thai beer that goes well with the distinct flavors of the food. Another option is lemongrass tea. Dessert is not a big preoccupation at Angkor Borei. They usually have one or two choices of Mitchell’s ice cream, and a fried banana, which they do to perfection. With the freshness and diversity of colors and flavors, the food at Angkor Borei feels like food you should be eating. And it’s a restaurant that proves you don ‘1 need to spend a fortune or drive miles from Glen Park to enjoy a great tasting and unique meal, prepared and served by wonderful people.
3471 Mission Street near Cortland Daily except Tues., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. www.cambodiankitchen.com