Friday, May 20, 2011

Finally, my first visit to Phnom Penh...

Phnom Penh is an extremely popular hole in the wall and hidden gem and a Vancouver institution. A hot spot for tourists and local foodies alike, it's written about in almost every Vancouver tour book, dining guide, and it's named year after year as one of the best restaurants in Vancouver.
I've heard so much about this authentic cambodian and vietnamese restaurant from friends, co-workers, and general foodie buzz- but I've never been down to PP.
A good friend is moving to Montreal and was trying to hit some of her Vancouver favourite eats before she  left and she suggested it as a good venue for a "farewell dinner" of sorts.

This restaurant is tucked away in on E Georgia in Chinatown with modest signage that you'd probably walk by multiple times unless you knew about the extremely tasty eats inside.
We arrived around 7, put in our names, and waited for about 20 minutes (which flew by). While we waiting, we chatted (mainly about real estate) and I looked around and couldn't help be impressed by all their bulletin board with numerous press clippings, restaurant awards, and even a menu autographed by famed chef and food author Anthony Bourdain (I just read Kitchen Confidential and loved it!)

When we were seated, we looked at the massive menu (I think it was 12 pages) and everyone had different opinions on dished to eat but there are a few signature dished that PP is famous for and everyone agreed that we should order those dishes and a few others.
There were 5 of us and of course we ordered WAY TOO MUCH FOOD and left completely stuffed (I blame Asian superdirector and her classic over ordering...)

We ordered:

papaya salad $14.50 
This was a large portion and perfect for sharing. It was nice and light tasting, but a little drippy, juicy, and a bit too sweet for me. A lot of people thought the spice level was perfect, but I definitely got more sweet than spice in this dish. The prawns in this dish were large and plentiful and there were chunks of jerky to add some saltiness, body, and texture.

phnom penh spicy garlic squid (popular deep fried garlic and squid- grandmother's recipe- with fresh lemon and pepper sauce)$15.50 for a full order
This was the hands-down favourite of everyone at the table. Essentially, this is the best calamari you'll ever eat with the most amazing dipping sauce. It's deep fried squid seasoned with salt, pepper, and fried garlic. It wasn't really spicy but was really flavourful and crispy. Squid when cooked incorrectly can be too chewy, but this squid was absolutely perfect.

phnomn penh deep fried chicken wing $7.95 1/2 order
This is probably the most popular item on the menu and are consistently voted the best wings in Vancouver. I'm not normally a chicken wing fan, but these were really yummy and worth a try. They're lightly battered, meaty, crispy, juicy, and seasoned with rock salt and white pepper. They're salty, peppery with a hint of garlic because they're tossed in sauteed garlic and green onions too.
Now, I'm a condiment and sauce junkie and the for me, the most amazing part of this dish and the squid was the lemon pepper dipping sauce. It's basically lemon juice with white and black pepper. It's not spicy but it gets your mouth and taste buds dancing with the intense flavours. It's tangy and helps cut through any greasy taste that might typically accompany the deep fried items. How can a simple combo of garlic, lemon, salt and pepper be so delicious and flavourful? I literally licked the bowl clean.

marinated butter beef $12.85
thinly sliced specialty prepared (medium rare) beef on a bed of brown garlic, cilantro served with our special house sauce
This was delicious and I would be a happy woman, eating a plate of butter beef as a meal on its own (maybe with a side of rice and veg to balance things out). It's super tender, super thinly sliced beef, rare slices of tender beef that melts in your mouth and requires very little chewing. There is no butter in this dish, I feel like it's more of an homage to the Mike Myers SNL Linda Richmond skit, "It's like butter."
It's a taste experience with the beautiful soft beef, covered with nutty, crispy garlic, ginger, and loads of fresh cilantro and topped with a bold tasting tangy house sauce (tastes like a soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice blend).

vietnamese crepe
crisp beef pancake wrappedwith bean sprout, shrimp, ground pork, pan fried to perfection $12.95
This crepe was massive and although I enjoyed the first couple of bites, I didn't love it. It was super crispy on the outside but a bit too gushy and over-cooked on the inside. Compared to all of the other dishes, this was fairly bland and left a bit of an oily taste in my mouth.

sauteed water spinach $9.50
Another dish I didn't love. Again, where most of PP's dishes hit a flavour high note- this was watery and bland, the texture was greasy and limp. Apparantly, a superior option for sauteed greens at PP is their Gai Lan.

Trieu fried rice $9.50
This was awesome but it was the last dish to arrive so we didn't finish it. The fried rice was moist and flavourful, with lots of chinese sausage, egg, carrots, onions, and fresh cilantro.

All in all, this was an amazing meal and it definitely lived up to the hype. One note: this is a place is all about the food- it won't win any awards for ambience. The setting is pretty basic and a little bit dive-y, and the bathroom is pretty bare bones. But please do yourself a favour and don't let that stop you. The food is AWESOME and their sauces will blow your mind!

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