Kim Penh Xe Lua (CLOSED) and Chongqing Restaurant

Kim Penh Xe Lua

This was a first for me: actually ordering food, taking a bite then refusing to pay and leaving immediately.  Yes, believe it or not, this hole in the wall was that disgustingly awful.  Wendy and I had seen the grand opening sign for this Vietnamese/Cambodian restaurant on Kingsway well before it debuted and I was looking forward to introducing her to traditional Khmer dishes like luc lac beef and amok fish, and all within easy reach for us rather than having to trek all the way to Chinatown to the always wonderful Phnom Penh restaurant (best Viet/Cambodian cuisine this side of the namesake city).

Sadly, it was not to be.  When we arrived for lunch the sign promised “All fine Vietnamese and Cambodian dishes”.  No truth to any of that.  First of all the chef and waitress appeared to be Chinese, speaking to each other in Mandarin the entire time.  Sure, could be Chinese/Viet mixed race, but seems unlikely after the rest of our experience.  Secondly, when I looked over the menu it appeared to be a typical pho house trying to cater to non-Viet diners with “beginner” and “adventurous” sections.  I didn’t see any Cambodian dishes I recognized, so I thought perhaps it was Viet food with a slight Cambodian twist since there is a large Vietnamese population in Cambodia.  So I asked the waitress about this.  She spoke easily understandable English, albeit with an accent, but didn’t recognize the word Cambodian.  Full disclosure: she told us it was her third day, so a bit of slack should definitely be cut.  The one positive thing I can say is that she was polite although she was obviously nervous the moment we came in despite our being very friendly at first.  Even to the point of giving us an escalating series of multiple choices for our water.  Don’t ask.

The warning flags were up.  When Wendy clarified what I meant by pointing at the “fine Vietnamese & Cambodian…” heading on the front of the menu (Wendy: It’s in the name of the restaurant for god’s sakes…), she said she would ask the chef.  He said no, the dishes weren’t Cambodian influenced.  I was confused, so I asked which were the Cambodian dishes.  Again, she left and came back (the chef was leaning out of the window between kitchen and restaurant to talk which wasn’t far from our table so Wendy understood some of the convos), this time just telling me “Yes, there’s elements of Vietnamese and Cambodian”.  Hmm, helpful…

So I ordered the “Phnom Penh Rice Noodle Dry Soup” since that seemed to be the only Cambodian dish on the menu (after another browse of the menu now that I’m back home I see there are three dishes that APPEAR to be Cambodian style Vietnamese, all ‘ko’ dishes, which are soups).  Wendy wanted a house special but was having trouble finding it listed and inquired about it.  The waitress pointed to the heading of the menu and said, “Oh, yeah we have it it’s right there!”  You can see what I mean here:

House Special Pho

Kim Penh Xe Lua: House Special Pho

So Wendy ordered that with extra cilantro as she usually does when we go for pho and our waitress indicated this was no problem.  Her meal arrived promptly, but no cilantro AT ALL, just a few sad chunks of green onion with the meat.  Wendy asked if it was coming and the waitress put her index finger to her lips, looked to the ceiling, tapped her finger mumbling “cilantro, cilantro, cilantro…”, and  asked, “you’re talking about the green leafy stuff right?”.  Wendy said, “yeeesss….”, and she apologized and came back with…..

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Phnom Penh 金邊小館

After hearing so much about the chicken wings and Butter Beef at Phnom Penh, I was finally able to go to try them out!  I think we over-ordered though.  Way too much food for 2 people.

Phnom Penh is a Cambodian/Vietnamese restaurant, but they also make food from other regions too as you shall see.

(Please ignore the date!  Forgot to turn off the date stamp function!)

This is the revered Butter Beef ($12.85).  It is thinly sliced pieces of raw beef brushed with butter then covered with a special garlicky vinagrette.  Topped with LOTS and LOTS of cilantro (man I love cilantro!!!!).

It was good and the beef were tender but I found the vinagrette a bit too sour.

Now their famous Garlic Chicken Wings ($7.95).  It was deep-fried goodness!  It was served with a lime pepper dipping sauce.  Each piece was juicy and tender.

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