Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kambodscha: Wir haben ein Gewinner

I really didn't want to move onto the C countries with Bolivia and Bosnia still uneaten, but Bolivia was a bust and Bosnia is proving to be particularly challenging. I was really excited about the Deutsche-Bolivianische Azzoziation's 25th Anniversary Festival, but unfortunately the September 15-18th listed on their Facebook page was a big lie (typo?). Such a bummer as this seems to have been the only opportunity in Berlin to eat Bolivian food. And I do love me a salteña. Bosnia is still coming, I promise....

Angkor Wat is a little off the beaten path (at least it's not a neighborhood that I frequent) in Tiergarten, a short stroll from the Brandenburg Gate. At least one reviewer found the decor "slightly more gaudy than the usual Asian restaurant" and while I wouldn't necessarily say that the restaurant has an understated look (multiple paintings adorn the walls, there are some lovely pieces of painted woodwork, and there is foliage), I found it to be very tasteful, cozy even (this reviewer has clearly never eaten Indian food in New York's East Village under the glare of ten thousand Christmas lights). So many restaurants in this town look exactly the same (and many serve near-identical menus -- if I see one more salad with Putenstreifen (strips of turkey meat) and bad balsamic dressing I might lose it); it's downright exhilarating to find a place with some personality, that isn't afraid to announce to the natives: here you can have a unique Cambodian experience. Amazingly enough, nowhere does Angkor Wat also claim to be a sushi restaurant or a Thai restaurant! These are Cambodian people cooking Cambodian food: it's refreshing to see, and delicious to eat.

Cambodian food is often described as being similar to Thai food, but less strongly and less complexly spiced. In my one Cambodian dining experience I found that to be true and my initial reaction was: in a city full of bad Thai food, this is a great restaurant, but now I don't know. I'd have to eat more Cambodian food to really be sure, but maybe there is a delicious subtlety in Cambodian food? Maybe I just haven't had a real Thai meal since I moved to Europe? In any case, the food at Angkor Wat is certainly not boring. We shared four appetizers-spring rolls, summer rolls, banana blossom salad, and a beef salad with toasted rice. The rolls were both good, but not particularly remarkable. The banana blossom salad, however was light and refreshing and the beef salad was excellent, with flavors reminiscent of, if a slightly milder version. For entrees, we split an order for two of grill-it-yourself beef (if I was a better reviewer, I would remember the actual name of this dish) and a chicken stir-fry flavored with bergamot leaves (although a little internet research suggests that Bergamot is more of a Mediterranean plant, so maybe they were lime leaves???). Whatever they were, the chicken dish was simple, but with a very nice, lightly citrusy flavor. It was a good foil for our beef, which was richly marinated and just a little spicy. The beef was served with rice noodles, a vegetable salad with lots of mung beans, sliced peppers, and cucumbers, steamed rice, and various sauces. A little tabletop grill was placed in the center of the table and we cooked our own dinner (similar to Korean barbecue).

Angkor Wat is not the cheapest Asian restaurant in Berlin. Appetizers are in the 5-7 Euro range and entrees are closer to 15 Euros. Four appetizers and three entrees split between four diners left us all very full (we did eat every single morsel, including the radishes carved into roses and the goldfish carrot). While you certainly can have a cheaper Asian meal in this town, you'll have trouble find a place that (1) provides such a complexity of flavor and doesn't just bathe every single dish in coconut milk and (2) pays such close attention to detail. The food is served on nice plates (not nice as in expensive, but nice as in not boring sturdy white Ikea plates or the like). As soon as we were seated, our waitress brought us a welcome aperitif (some sweet liqueur) along with some shrimp chips (I loathe these, but the Germans do really seem to like them) and when we had finished eating, she brought us each a schnapps on a beautiful little tray. To top all of this off, after we had finished eating and all agreed we were too full for dessert, the chef came to our table to say hello and see how we enjoyed our meal. I must tell you that the chef is the most jolly, adorable man I have seen in a long, long time. This guy grins even when he is not smiling. We told him everything had been delicious, but we were too full for dessert, but disregarding our fullness, he said he had a new dessert and surely if he brought us two portions, we could manage to sample it. Out came two plates of sticky rice with pumpkin and coconut milk. Mango provides a better contrast to sticky rice, but pumpkin is pretty delicious too. My dining companions suggest that the free dessert was just a ploy - that the chef has heard of my curse and hopes that by appeasing me with sugar, I won't close his restaurant (in my defense, only six places (that I either visited or tried to visit have closed and they were for the most place not very good). I don't think that I have any control over my curse, but if I do, I can certainly be appeased with sugar, especially after a delicious meal.

Angkor Wat
Paulstraße 22

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