Kampuchea (CLOSED)

Lower East Side

A restaurant reboot—whether it be a new design, name, chef or menu—is often an attempt to revive flagging interest. But in the case of the often-crowded Kampuchea, its December expansion seemed an answer to customer demand. Once characterized by communal consumption—with diners sitting alongside folks stopping in for a snack and a drink—the new Kampuchea now has roughly twice as much space, with clearly defined areas for eating and imbibing. A new annex, dubbed “the Norry,” is a bit like a bar, with a full dinner menu, excellent craft beers and creative, if not always perfectly executed, cocktails (the 338’s mix of Plymouth gin, jasmine-infused vermouth and chartreuse lacked floral and herbal flavors). In the dining room, most of the long, shared tables have been converted to individual ones. Chef Ratha Chaupoly’s Cambodian-inspired menu, too, has been refreshed and refined, with only a few holdover dishes (tamarind-glazed pork ribs, num pang sandwiches); modest portions and prices encourage grazing. At its best, the food can be both elegant and bold. Among the small plates, a moist eggplant terrine layered with cauliflower puree received an indulgent kick from garlic cream and black caviar; in another, four slices of corned beef tongue were accompanied by a restrained house-made mustard and shrimp-studded turnip kraut. Tender tripe braised with chili might have been our favorite dish had we managed to sample a few additional bites, but the meager portion was more tease than taste. Larger plates didn’t always work as well. While we enjoyed a hearty vegetable stew thick with squash, spinach and basil, a steamed striped-bass fillet suffered from a dull mushroom sauce and clashing cubes of butternut squash. Among the desserts, we couldn’t stop gobbling mixed berries bathed in coconut cream; chocolate torte, on the other hand, was too dense and dry, unaided by blobs of cava gele. The changes to Kampuchea have made it a more comfortable place to eat and drink; with a few more tweaks, the inventive food has the potential to shine too.—TONY

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Venue name: Kampuchea (CLOSED)
Contact:
Address: 78 Rivington St
New York

Cross street: at Allen St
Opening hours: Tue–Thu 5:30–11pm; Fri, Sat 5:30pm–midnight; Sun 5–11pm
Transport: Subway: F to Delancey St; J, M, Z to Delancey–Essex Sts
Price: Average main course: $12. AmEx, DC, Disc, MC, V
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