Myung Dong Tofu Cabin 2968 S Norfolk St, San Mateo, CA 94403 (650) 525-1484 Website
I love California strip malls. Well, allow me modify that: strip malls of a particular variety and tone. The sort I’m talking about aren’t populated with dollar stores and sporting goods marts. The sort of strip mall I like functions as a small oasis of excellent Asian food, where multiple Asian restaurants cluster together, seemingly for protection — the equivalent of small natural bastions of biodiversity.
The excellent Myung Dong Tofu Cabin sits in one of these Asian food gallerias, next to a Chinese bakery and a pho shop. Owned and operated by a small crew of middle-aged women, the delightfully named Tofu Cabin specializes in Korean home-cooking, with a couple of DIY BBQ tables for those feeling fancy.
At this home-cooking — the heart and soul of Korean cuisine, if you ask me – this place absolutely excels. With lower prices by a buck or two than the other Korean restaurants I’ve found in the Peninsula, I believe I’ve found my new standby.
I’m usually a bit ambivalent to SoonDooBoo, perhaps because it’s often rather uninspired. The soondooboo here was a molten, flavorful, slightly creamy brew, with bits of beef. They took us seriously when we said “spicy.” My sinuses were rendered as open as the Panama Canal. Pork BBQ was the right kind of greasy and exceedingly prolific in the full portion, with a potent dose of red pepper and sliced jalapeno. It was particularly good in a fresh lettuce wrap with some kimchi and a bit of hot sauce.
Seafood dolsot bibimbap was also excellent, served in a very large black stone cauldron, and filled with shrimp and squid. I was less impressed with the kimchi ji gae (pork and kimchi stew), which definitely featured far more kimchi than it did slices of pork belly.
The banchan selection is fresh, if slightly austere, and by austere I think I actually mean “healthy.” (Where’s my mayonnaise drenched noodle salad?) Sweet black beans are a rare site on these spreads in recent years. Still, where’s the tiny fish with equally tiny eyeballs? They defined my childhood. The kimchi is excellent. A Korean restaurant rises and falls upon the virtue of its kimchi.
Service is friendly and homey, and the food comes out pleasingly quickly. Free green tea and the correct kind of purple rice. I’ll be back, probably over and over and over. Korean food has a peculiar addictive quality for me, a Proustian madeline.
Dairy Center – Mt Airy, North Carolina 407 W Lebanon St, Mt Airy, NC 27030
Consider the Southern sandwich.
Dairy Center is a North Carolina burgers-and-sandwiches joint that would be absolutely heaving with bored-looking foodies if it were located in a major metro area, the sort of folks who of a weekend find themselves seeking Americana, grease, and a rootsy addition to their food blog.
Located as Dairy Center actually is in small-town Mt Airy, it’s instead a circa-the-1950s part of the scenery — the sort of place where local high-school kids get after school jobs and stand behind the counter looking alternately nervous and perky, the walls are plastered in North Carolina errata, the owner/chef is gamely manning the fry-counter, and the decor has not perceptibly changed in at least 20 years (which is as far back as I remember it).
Dairy Center specializes in the ground steak sandwich, which has become one of those culinary specialties that Mt Airy people have flown in for their far-away weddings, or at least reminiscence about sadly past a certain hour in distant locales. This is really all you should be bothering with here, burger be damned.
What’s a ground steak sandwich? It’s a Great Depression-friendly combination of ground beef, flour, and milk, which creates a distinctly creamy and smooth filling — somewhat like a dairy-centric Sloppy Joe, with a much more pleasing texture.
They come dressed with chili, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, as well as onions, and only a total degenerate would order one plain. It costs $2. Andy Griffith was rumored to have loved them, but it’s worth contemplating that Andy Griffith has been somehow associated with essentially every bush, shrub, and old lady in Mt Airy in one way or another.
The chili is the meaty, smooth-in-texture stuff that pops up often in the Smoky Mountains. It’s chock full of cumin, not particularly hot, and widely applicable in all manner of culinary contexts, including on the more famous porkchop sandwich found at Snappy Lunch on Mt Airy’s main drag.
There’s also North Carolina coleslaw, an exceptionally finely chopped and delicately dressed condiment to rival the world’s finest — not the mayonnaise choked and vile disaster that coleslaw so often becomes. It is superb on sandwiches, especially those involving smoked pork, and I am not sure how Yankees, the wretched creatures, stomach the alternative.
The fries on offer here are best described as the Wavy Kind: I find them a bit undercooked, but my uncle is very fond of them. They are what they are.
Dairy Center also makes small, eye-bleedingly-red hot dogs with the same chili on them, wrapped in paper and squished beyond recognition. They can be consumed in about 4 bites if you’re ambitious, and would probably be sublime if one is hung over.
Indeed, that nearly-translucent Paper You Wrap Fast Food, unprinted with slogans or cartoon art, is becoming something of a rarity in today’s America, unless it is used ironically.
There’s also ice cream: I remember eating the strawberry ice cream in the parking lot here over a couple of summers, out of a white Styrofoam cup. In the warmer months, the parking lot and picnic tables outside are a nice place to be, if you can stomach the humidity of a Mt Airy summer.
Here, you can be certain you are not eating anything flavored with irony. You are simply eating a good Southern sandwich in small-town North Carolina. This is more than enough.
Savannah’s culinary scene is inextricably linked with Paula Deen, the slightly wild-eyed Empress of Butterfat whose culinary stylings wage gleeful warfare against the forces of heart-healthy diets and tempeh. This means that tourists in Savannah almost invariably find themselves washing up at Deen’s flagship “The Lady and Son’s” restaurant, reveling in dishes that involve a pound and a half of sour cream–and that’s after plating.
But contrary to popular international opinion, Southern cuisine actually isn’t all about butter, cream, and eventual artery explosion. The history of the Southern table is rooted in fresh and local ingredients, and some young chefs—even here in Savannah—are exploring the possibilities of farm to table food, right in the dragon’s den of caloric, ever-so-slightly trashy delights.
That’s the philosophy driving 22 Square, a new farm to table restaurant in downtown Savannah, located in the new Anchaz hotel. Shed all your perceptions about hotel restaurants: this place is a real find.
The menu, put together by new chef Lauren Teague, focuses on local ingredients readily found around Savannah’s temperate climes. Dishes are listed by ingredient and not by course, meaning that pork belly, oysters, and local preserves (for example) all have 3 or 4 dishes listed underneath them, ranging from appetizers to entrees. It’s an unusual format that lends itself well to exploration and sharing, though you can go the conventional route if you must.
Teague is a Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park graduate and brings a stylish aplomb to her food: it’s Southern, all right, but not of the slapped-on-the-plate variety. Portion sizes are eminently reasonable, and the prices are perfectly manageable as well—a boon in a tourist town that’s experiencing no small amount of culinary inflation.
22 Square prides itself on working with local farmers, and that’s reflected in this deceptively simple vegetable plate ($7), incorporating produce from nearby Walker Farm. Served with a garlicky and good hummus dip, the plate comes with simple sliced seasonal vegetables (including some remarkable yellow carrots), pickled specialties (fantastic haricorts verts) and a couple of creamy, delicate deviled eggs. Making a crudites plate interesting is a helluva feat: Chef …. pulls it off.
A special appetizer, these twice-baked Bluffton, South Carolina oysters were served in a new potato, then topped off with breadcrumbs for a reasonable $10. There was a bit of detectable curry in there, and the whole affair reminded me of a very high-end sports bar snack. A bit starchy for my tastes—but an interesting combination. 22 Square rotates out oyster preparations daily.Crispy Brooklet, Georgia pork belly with brussel sprouts, pumpkin ravioi, and pork jus ($17) was a surprisingly delicate dish, with an interesting broth that cried out for a spoon. I liked the earthy, extremely seasonal combination of brussel sprouts and freshly made, not-too-sweet pumpkin ravioli. When combined with the fatty pork (seasoned with just a little 5-spice powder), it was something like a very sophisticated look at breakfast flavors.
Hunter Cattle Company grass-fed beef oxtail with with sun-dried tomato polenta cake and buttered veal gloss ($13) was rich, meaty, and a bit messy—as an oxtail should be. A small enough portion to be comfortably shared, the meat was nice and tender, and the veal “gloss” had a pleasingly intense flavor. The polenta cake was a bit too intensively oily for my tastes—I might suggest an interesting mashed potato variant for me.
House made raspberry preserves with local cheeses and berries ($14). Included an excellent Irish-style sharp cheddar and crackerbread, as well as those delightful pickled carrots and haricorts verts. No, I didn’t write down the cheeses. I rarely remember to write down the cheeses. It is my curse. However, some of the Savannah cheesemakers are linked here.
Don’t miss the cocktail list. 22 Square’s Manhattan, constructed by Food and Beverage manager Garron Gore wins contests—largely due to Gore’s use of a totally surprising hickory-smoked maraschino cherry in the brew. We kept on delicately requesting more from the back, and we go em’. My dad is hoping to figure out how to do this himself, to use that distinctive, sweet-and-hickory flavor as a dip for BBQ ribs.
I thoroughly enjoyed my Manhattan, a slightly sweet, robust mixture that was something like a very adult, complex, swig of alcoholic Coca Cola. I also tried a cocktail with peach, mint, and bourbon, which was—remarkably enough—not particularly sweet, a real boon for someone curiously born sans sweet tooth. My mom enjoyed a pitch-perfect gin and tonic with house-made soda.
For such a pork-obsessed country, the Vietnamese do a remarkably good job with vegetarian food. Especially vegetarian food that cleverly simulates meat.
I’ve heard that vegetarian restaurants used to be fairly uncommon in Vietnam, and were often run by nuns as a side-business. However, as the Vietnamese become more health (and obesity) conscious, vegetarian restaurants have begun to crop up, especially in places where young people congregate—like Can Tho, in Vietnam’s South.
Unlike the righteous vegetarian establishments of the West, Vietnamese veggie joints do their damnedest to simulate meat, right down to the appropriate shape and texture. What is surprising is how successful they are. When you walk into these places and peer into the hot case, it seems only natural that you’re looking at fried pork, chicken wings, and roasted duck.
But—surprise—it’s not that at all. It’s largely tofu, TVP, and other vegetarian-friendly proteins molded into familiar shapes. Strangest of all? It tastes great.
How to order at these places? As is the norm when you don’t speak Vietnamese: see something palatable, and point at it. The ladies behind the counter will get the message soon enough. Point at various things and they’ll all come to you in due time, including goi cuon (fresh spring rolls), stir-fried bitter melon, surprisingly delicious simulated BBQ pork, and simple sauteed vegetables.
Our meals came with clear soup for no perceptible reason – but it was good. You can also usually order simple noodle soups at these places, with vegetables substituted for the usual meat. Vegetarian bun bo hue or pho? It’s eminently possible.
Best of all? They’re usually dirt cheap. The frugal eater is well-provided for in Vietnam.
VY DA QUAN, 62 LY TU TRONG, HO CHI MINH CITY The best Vietnamese food is consumed on the street or near it, off tiny tables that appear designed to accommodate intractable five-year-olds not yet allowed to eat with the grownups. There will be little blue plastic chairs to sit in—sometimes red, on rare occasions—and this is simply how it is done. The very tall must adapt to their new-found circumstances.
Saigon has a number of excellent little restaurants of this genre, which cater primarily to locals (and occasionally the Western significant others of locals). The menus are usually translated, often hilariously, into English, and there’s always the infallible technique of “point at something you find tasty and communicate in pantomime until it hits your table.”
A great example of this genre is Vy Da Quan, which spreads brashly out into the street in downtown Saigon, off Ly Tu Trong Street. There’s a thick and glossy menu, and a grill working overtime near the back, serving up pork ribs, frogs, chicken feet and whole fish, among other culinary delights. A more expensive (and also good) restaurant that caters more to a foreigner market next door has full size tables and chairs—you’ll know you’re in the right spot by the kiddie sized tables. Blend in.
Vy Da Quan is perhaps best known for its remarkable pork ribs, which are served in somewhat maddeningly small portions—perhaps best to order 2 or 3 at a go. They are marinated in some unholy fish sauce, chili, and sugar concoction and then are grilled over a hot flame, caramelizing the sugar and intensifying the flavor of chili and pork fat.
They also a superb raw beef salad here (Bo Tai Chanh), a surprisingly refreshing concoction of uncooked beef marinated in lime juice, with onions and a whopping variety of herbs. A superb summer dish, this goes nicely with anything hot or too heavy. Variants on this dish exist across the region, and I’ve encountered it often in Cambodia.
Balancing out the not-so-subtle ribs was a dish of clams cooked in fresh pepper and lime sauce, which was really quite sublime—a subtle, slightly sweet and piquant interpretation of a classic Vietnamese favorite. This can either be under-or-overdone, but in this case, the sauce was eminently drinkable. You might want to order bread to go with, or at least put it on your rice. (More on that later).
Morning glory was excellent, cooked with oyster sauce and with an interesting topping of smashed, deep-fried garlic cloves with the “paper” still attached. This creates a little chew if you don’t feel like removing the paper, and seems to protect the cloves to some extent so they don’t get so hard as to be inedible. Most importantly, the water spinach was perfectly cooked, and wasn’t rendered a chewy and fibrous mess as sometimes occurs. (And who doesn’t like having an invasive species for dinner?)
Even the usually-lackluster (and omnipresent) fried rice gets an upgrade here—the usual combination stuff with fried rice, squid, carrot, peas, and chicken. A dining buddy happens to be deathly allergic to shrimp, so we passed on that. The fried rice was pleasingly a bit crunchy, and we soon deduced that it appears to have either been scraped off the bottom of the pot, or left to sit for just a minute or two in the oil to create such a pleasing texture. Some Middle Eastern cultures place great value on the crunchy rice left at the bottom of the pot: we’re not sure if this was even intentional, but it was awfully good.
We were flagrantly stuffed, but then we purchased spring rolls off the street from a guy, because that’s what one does in Vietnam. These beauties contained Vietnamese sausage, noodles, and fresh vegetables, and were served with a pleasing dipping sauce. I actually managed to finish mine, but it took (somewhat literally) a bit of intestinal fortitude to pull it off. It is worth pointing out that once you have made eye-contact with the spring roll guy, you are going to be buying a spring roll. Don’t fight it. They cost like 50 cents.
Vy Da Quan isn’t technically allowed to spread out on the street as far as it does, but there’s always a bit of mission creep. You might be apologetically shifted if the fuzz do come sniffing around—but you’ll survive. That’s half the fun of eating like you’re Vietnamese: tiny chairs, tiny tables, adaptability—and some of the best, most value-priced cuisine in the world.
In Malacca, you must try the tandoori chicken at Pak Putra, an Indian tandoori and curry house set in a residential neighborhood not far from the tourist center. It is a pleasant little walk, especially as the sun starts to go down: you will be joined by others.
Pak Putra is a small place where you can sit outside and drink watermelon juice: swarthy, rather handsome tandoori men slapping bread and chicken onto the walls of incendiary hot ovens, which resemble large clay jars.
I paid a princely 7 Malaysian Ringgit for my chicken, which is roughly $2.30. It was delicious: mint and chili chutney, lots of spices, very tender. (I might even chance white meat here—usually an unpardonable sin).
I sat in a little blue plastic chair and watched Malay people roll up to sample the wares: the owners walked through the crowd slowly waving menus. They walked up from the side-streets near the restaurant and emerged from gleaming cars: some tourists had also got in on the act, slurping down lime juice and watching the men ceaselessly roll out lumps of naan dough.
Like much of Malacca, Pak Putra is perhaps best defined by its geniality: this slow-moving tourist town appears to have retained quite a lot of its old charm, in tandem with the glitzy mega-malls and theme park developments. People here are happy to talk, to hang out, to shoot the breeze: perhaps most importantly, Malaccans are deadly serious about properly feeding you if you take the time to visit.
The garlic naan held up to the expectations one might develop while watching it cook in the great glowing clay jars outside the seating area. It tasted rather like the best garlic bread I’d ever had, simultaneously smoky, buttery, and infused with a sharp, aromatic flavor. It was served with a spicy, electric-orange daal, which was silently refilled whenever I ate more than one or two bites.
I ordered the veggie tawa as well—usually something of an afterthought—and it was quite nice. A bit sweeter than I might anticipate, but a pleasingly light flavor, not laden with butter.
When I got up to photograph the tandoori ovens, the tandoori men swiftly moved into show-man mood, posing for me, slapping out naan dough with exceptional force, and flashing winning smiles for the lens. It is mesmerizing to watch a tandoor oven being worked: it must be a lot harder to do it all day, when you are losing pounds and pounds of sweat on the job.
Pak Putra also has a delightfully aggressive take away policy.
To illustrate: I couldn’t finish my naan, and the concerned looking owner came over when I asked for the bill, and said “Oh, you don’t like the bread?”
I made the universal I’m-Full sign. “It was delicious, but I couldn’t finish it,” I replied. I felt distinctly bad about this. The naan truly deserved to be eaten. Would I be guilted over this? Would I lie in bed feeling terrible about my inability to consume a massive portion of naan, therefore insulting both the chef and legions of starving children everywhere?
“We will wrap it up,” he said. “No problem!”
A boy was deployed to wrap the naan up, and unsurprisingly, it was accompanied by a small bag of that electric orange daal.
I stuck it in my backpack and promptly forgot about it until I got back to my hotel room hours later, when I pulled it out and immediately assaulted my small hotel room with the delightful scent freshly made garlic naan.
I have snacked on it a bit: I am not a bread-eater, really, but for some things one makes an exception.
Washington DC is lamentably short of half-decent Thai restaurants, but there is one exception: Little Serow.
Little Serow is a curious beast, a fixed-menu walk in restaurant that serves intensely authentic Isan-style Thai food to a decidely chic audience. It is apparently owned by a husband-wife team of Westerners who went to Thailand, liked the food, learned how to cook it, and opened a restaurant.
This therefore almost falls into the genre of Nostalgic Anthropology Restaurants, which actually tend to be quite good in my experience.
The dining room is dark and colored a minty green one usually associates with bubblegum: there are no Thai antiques or plinky traditional music in evidence. Walk-ins only: expect to wait for you seat if it isn’t a weekend, standing around among the Converse-wearing crowd.
Little Serow also isn’t particularly cheap: about $45 a person for the fixed menu. A good deal in DC, a bit horrifying for me as I got used to spending up to $2 a plate for the same stuff whilst living in Cambodia.
However, the ingredients are more expensive here and few people know how to make this stuff, so I’d be a jerk to begrudge them. The wine list is quite excellent. I suggest prosecco or another kind of sparkler. Prosecco works with really pungent Thai food, as it tuns out. Same reason it works with caviar, I guess.
Little Serow’s pretense and coolness would be tiresome as hell, but as it turns out, the food is pretty great. I haven’t had flavors like this since I was last in Northern Thailand and Cambodia – in fact, I’ve never had Thai food like this in the USA at all.
Oh god, I’m so glad pork rinds are becoming cool again. I ate a ton of them as a little kid – BBQ flavor, the only kind that would do – and was so happy to arrive in Southeast Asia and realize people loved them there too. This would be the Isan equivalent of chips and salsa while watching the game with your boys: pork rinds dipped into a smoky, spicy eggplant dip. I could eat this all day.
Pork rinds are good for you. They’re low carb. Look it up. Pigs aren’t made of carbohydrates.
Glass noodle salad with lime, chili, peanuts, cilantro, and mint. This is a pretty typical, refreshing salad in Southeast Asia – something people eat riffs on in Cambodia a lot, too.
Herbaceous and refreshing, the sort of thing you could deign to languidly consume on one of those 102-in-the-shade-with-humidity-goddammit days that both Washington DC and Thailand are prone to. Little dried shrimps abound.
I should mention that if you are allergic to shrimp, don’t eat here. Just avoid Southeast Asia, really. Especially Cambodia. That’s a good way to die. (My aunt managed it, but I made sure I knew the Khmer for “IF MY AUNT EATS SHRIMP SHE WILL DIE” with accompanying knife-across-the-throat hand signal just in case!)
Now this is something you’ve probably never had before – fried rice cakes in a pungent, hot and sour lime juice and chili dressing with mint, cilantro, shallot, and I think a touch of lemongrass. As it turns out, fried rice cakes soaked in lime take on this almost chicken-nugget like texture that is rather addictive, almost meaty. A good choice for the vegetarian who occasionally feels pangs of remorse. Pungent, crunchy.
I should add I don’t find the food at Little Serow all that spicy. However, my friends claim I fried off all my tastebuds in a childhood accident so you might want to tread cautiously.
This is a Isan-style salad with ground catfish, basil, dill, lime juice, mint, chili, fried shallot, fresh shallot, and probably other spices I’m forgetting. I happen to be a big catfish fan – blame it on the Southern genes – and Southeast Asia is in fervent agreement. Also, catfish get big enough to devour smallish people (like myself) in the Mekong, so my sympathy for the bewhiskered, muddy bastards is minimal.
Ground catfish happens to be fantastic, especially when combined with a lot of pungent spices and eaten out of lettuce cups. I wish I could order this up for lunch. It’s somewhat like a larb gai salad with catfish, by ways of comparison. My favorite dish at Little Serow. Am having occasional dreams of making it myself. Of course, I must first grind a catfish.
Chinese broccoli with fried s,melts in an oyster sauce. I love Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, to an extent that many people find somewhat confusing as most people would probably not regard a cruciferous vegetable tantamount to, say, miniature buttercream cupcakes with likkle sugar heart on them. But love it I do. I especially love it if you put much misunderstood and delightful fried smelts on top of em’. Just eat the heads, they won’t kill you, you weenie. Full of calcium. And eyeballs. Those too.
Charcoal glazed pork-rib with onions and dill in a semi-sweet chili sauce. This is the dish everyone lauds at Little Serow, apparently, and it’s definitely pretty good. Certainly reminiscent of stuff I’ve eaten from smoky, late-night meat stalls in Cambodia and Thailand, sexed up a bit. (It would be difficult to secure a license for a whole pig food truck here in Washington, I wager, though I am also 99% certain some clever little shit has made the attempt).
Nice and tender meat, although I actually prefer it a little chewier. But that is a truly minor complaint on my end.
Dill is not something we associate with grilling too much in the USA – most of us restrict its use to salmon and perhaps Green Goddess dressing – but it happens to be insanely popular in Vietnam, and widely used elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Americans for some reason don’t really go in for Eau de Aged, Pungent Fish Mashed With Chilis and Tiny Little Bones. Shocker. (This is not something you would be served at Little Serow, relax).
Isan food is also known for being even spicier than the Bangkok-style Thai food we usually encounter in the USA, which is really a feat, as Thai food in Bangkok can easily be blow-the-roof off hot if you ask nicely. I know that the only time in my life I have thought food was going to actually kill me occurred when I unthinkingly told a little old Lao lady at a Bangkok food stand to “make my papaya salad spicy.” Jesus God.
Yelp seems to indicate that a lot of people try this place out and fail to get it, but I’m happy to admit that this is not among the easiest cuisines in the world to fall in love with – pungent, spicy, just-plain-weird flavors are the order of the day. Don’t go in expecting to order chicken pad thai, in other words. Not that there’s anything wrong with that venerable, delicious dish.
I have a lot of beef with people who desperately attempt to find THE MOST AUTHENTIC version of whatever cuisine. Authenticity is nice and all, but in the case of, say, Isan style food, Really Authentic usually involves a lot more wild frog, insects, and breaches of hygiene. (I won’t get into what REALLY AUTHENTIC Khmer food as served through a US lens might be like). Taste should really be everything. I can appreciate Little Serow, but I can also appreciate a dynamite chicken pad thai.
I’m an Indian food snob. I lived in Bangalore for six months back in 2008 and went back in 2010: I’m no fan of the uber-heavy, cream-rich Muhgali food that’s favored outside the Subcontinent. However, I was very happy to discover India Delight on Sisowath Quay, which turns out Indian food much closer to the non-coronary-inducing masalas and curries I remember from India. They even pay attention when you ask for your food spicy. Furthermore, there isn’t a heady layer of grease hanging over everything you order.
I find chicken tikka masala way too rich the way most places make it, but Indian Delight’s version is just about akin to crack for me. You know what this stuff is (hint: it was invented in Britain) but I’ll describe it again: pieces of roasted tandoori chicken cooked in a very spicy, slightly creamy sauce with a profusion of fresh spices. This is definitely the tastiest tikka masala I’ve had – hell, ever, I think – and it’s only $5.00. I sometimes wish I could just eat this for lunch every day. It’s especially good with the yellow rice peas pulao they serve here, which has a bit of saffron in it.
There’s also a rich version of vindaloo, the Portugese-inspired Goa dish of curried chicken with plenty of vinegar and meat, as well as potatoes. My boyfriend is rather fond of the stuff and orders it regularly. I haven’t ordered it myself – the tikka masala has its siren song – but it is decent stuff.
Hipster sushi makes up roughly 80% of the diets of Northern Californians, and I’m pleased to announce that Phnom Penh now has an entry into the field. Restaurant chain Metro has opened a sushi outpost next to Harem Shisha Bar and the Riverhouse Lounge, with sushi and Japanese specialities added on to the standard Metro menu.
The dark, moody, and aggressively hip decor – yes, I’ll mention the Angry Monk Kid painting in the back corner, let’s stop talking about it now – is set off by extremely attractive and somewhat attentive wait-staff. Where Rahu really shines is after 11:00 PM, when the sushi menu is discounted by 50%. In fact, I’ve never actually eaten at Rahu before the discount hit.
In a city where late-night food can be limited—if you’re not brave enough to risk food stalls and gastrointestinal ruin—this late night sushi can be something of a blessing, especially if you’re not really that into greasy hangover prevention chow. Rolls top out at around $5 and most are in the $3.50 area. It’s a pretty good deal for the tastiest sushi I’ve had in town. The menu is not particularly extensive, but all the bases are covered, with sushi rolls, sashimi, and some other Japanese classics on offer.
The spicy salmon rolls are my favorite here. The legitimately spicy salmon interior is wrapped in rice which is studded with small, crispy tempura bits. It’s finished with a not-excessive drizzle of wasabi mayo and is really a pretty perfect light meal or late-night snack. I used to bitch about California sushi’s obsession with sauces, but now I miss them. I miss them a lot.
I realized recently that the restaurants I eat at the most here in Phnom Penh are rarely the ones I review. Something about incredible familiarity makes me less likely to go ahead and haul the camera with me and do the review – so I’m glad I finally got around to Happa, a great little Japanese/Khmer teppanyaki joint on backpacker-beloved street 278. I happen to frequent the place at least once a week, as do many other long-term expats, who appreciate the reasonable prices and quiet, civilized atmosphere.
Happa’s pork stir-fried with sesame.
The menu focuses on Japanese small plates, prepared in front of you on the restaurant’s big iron griddle, which makes for some rather interesting visuals and assurance that you’re getting pretty fresh food. There’s sauteed small plates of meats and vegetables, main-course dishes with steak, pork, and lamb, salads and fried specialities, and even Japanese pizza or “okonamayaki,” a cabbage and flour pancake topped with bacon and cheese.
The teriyaki chicken here is excellent, nice and tender and not too salty, with some dark meat bits thrown in, which I infinitely prefer. I like to eat this with the oyster mushrooms sauteed in butter.
I’m also a big fan of the fresh tofu salad, which has soft tofu, seaweed, sesame and lettuce tossed in a vinegary-heavy dressing. A nice light stomach-friendly meal. My only complaint with Happa is that the cooks sometimes take too heavy a hand with the salt-shaker, but the issue seems to have been weeded out in the last month or two.