You might remember my first encounter with Kenyon Phillips, but maybe you don’t as it was 14 blog entries ago. But whenever I meet someone who can engage in quick elevator banter about imagined criminal activity, I try to stay in touch, especially if he’s a musician who’s work I enjoy.
So I e-mailed him — nice meeting you, blah blah blah, always looking for people to check out restaurants with, yada yada.
And I asked him about dietary restrictions.
He replied: “I'm a vegetarian (lacto-ovo, not vegan) and a straight-edge (so no booze), but am an adventurous foodie nonetheless...”
Not vegan. Woohoo!
What happened to the bacchanalian rockers of yore? (My other rockin’ friend, Peter Yanowitz of Morningwood, doesn’t eat meat either, although he does eat fish).
I suppose I could have written back: “Well, I’m sorry then, but we cannot be friends.” But I’ve learned that vegetarians are not necessarily bad people.
So I took him to Kampuchea, a restaurant with a strong Cambodian accent on the Lower East Side.
“Kampuchea” is kind of an odd name for a restaurant. It simply means “Cambodia” in Khmer, that country’s national language, but the outside world only referred to Cambodia thus — in modern times, at least — under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, who were a bunch of murderous bastards.
Cambodia, being a poor country albeit a Buddhist one, doesn’t have many vegetarians. People eat pretty much whatever they can there. But a Cambodian restaurant on the Lower East Side would have to be vegetarian friendly, even though chef Ratha Chau is pretty hard-core in his desire to reproduce the flavors of the country where he was born.
He doesn’t hold back with the spices, and Kenyon, a southern Californian, and I actually suffered from chile overload while eating from the pickle plate. That doesn’t happen very often in the Northeast.
Despite Kenyon’s dietary shortcomings, he proved to be an excellent dining companion — and one highly dubious of, but open-minded about, tofu. It was fun getting acquainted and swapping childhood stories and opinions on music (not surprisingly, we agree on our dislike of Emo). We even exchanged 9/ll stories — everyone who was in New York at the time has some, of course.
And we both appreciated the artwork on the walls in the bathroom — people with light bulb heads performing the bodily functions that one performs in a bathroom. It reminded me of the Japanese “Story of farts,” of which I had actually read the Thai translation (if you choose to follow this link, I have to point out that Martha Gordon seems to be a humorless prig with an anti-dairy bias).
What we ate:
Grilled sweet corn with coconut chile mayo, chili powder and coconut flakes
Plate of pickled watermelon rind, daikon, red cabbage, cucumber and soy sprouts
Tofu salad with pickled cabbage, chives, red onions, sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, lime dressing
Prince Edward Island Mussels, spicy and sour, with tomatillos, celery, okra, red onions and Thai chiles, served with toasted baguette pieces
Shiitake mushroom, soybean and butternut squash crêpes with lettuce, soy sprouts, mint, basil and tuk trey
Num Pang (sandwich) tasting of grilled tofu with ginger-scallion soy, grilled Thai and Chinese eggplant with ginger and garlic, and hoisin Berkshire pork meatballs with rice and light tomato sauce
Tamarind baby back ribs with honey and cilantro-lime dip