Interested in fare beyond bacon and eggs? I have just the place for you. I wrote about it for the St. Louis Magazine blog Dining. A good spot for a little hair of the dog then, too.
Interested in fare beyond bacon and eggs? I have just the place for you. I wrote about it for the St. Louis Magazine blog Dining. A good spot for a little hair of the dog then, too.
There are some musicians whose recordings, no matter how good, how beloved, don’t do them justice. Chief among them, I would argue, is Billie Holiday. If I ever had any doubt of that, they were erased Friday night as Alexis J. Roston sang part of Holiday’s repertoire in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
Holiday, for those not familiar with her story, was a jazz singer who worked from the mid to late Thirties until her deathin 1959. She succumbed at the age of 44 to the effects of drug and alcohol addiction. She sang with several of the big bands and then on her own, an outspoken woman facing the racial politics of society and particularly the music industry.
Lady Day, a nickname saxophonist Lester Young gave her, is based on a single show at a small club in Philadelphia. It is, essentially, a glorious cabaret act – and those who enjoy cabaret should have a swell time seeing this at the Kranzberg Arts Center. Between songs, Holiday talks about her life and why she, with 22 Carnegie Hall appearances, is working a miniscule venue in a city she doesn’t like.
Roston is absolutely alight with the Holiday character. Her voice is warm and she takes charge of the songs with great confidence, not just the ones everyone knows, like “God Bless the Child” but more obscure ones as well. Yes, “Strange Fruit,” which is about a lynching, is included. It’s a bravura performance, not only with the music but with the acting as well. Because this takes place about four months before Holiday’s death in a Harlem hospital, she’s well into the throes of her decline, which we see over the course of the evening. It was a painful life that music lit up for her, so the contrast is a great one.
This is not a one-woman show, it’s a joint effort and foremost among the other contributors is Abdul Hamid Royal, who plays Jimmy Powers, her music director. He doubles in strings, so to speak, as the conductor and show’s music director. Kaleb Kirby is on drums and Benjamin Wheeler plays bass, all fun, but there’s lots of delight from watching Powers’ reaction to his employer and hearing Royal’s keyboard work.
It’s been argued that this script tries to cram too many biographical details in. But for anyone not very familiar with Holiday’s story, and these days, that’s most people, it gives another dimension to the story.
Leda Hoffman directs the show for Max & Louie Productions. Patrick Huber’s lighting contributes a great deal, while remaining subtle enough to be almost organic. Roston’s dress and elbow-length mitts are the showpiece here from Dorothy Jones’ costume design. First rate work, all around, and an enjoyable 95 minutes or so. No intermission, so time for a late dinner afterward to discuss one’s awe at the performances.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
through March 4
The Kranzberg Arts Center
501 N. Grand Blvd.
Max & Louie Productions
The food world seems to be catching on to how good we have it here. Schlafly's Stout and Oyster Fest has made a world best-of list. Read about it here in St. Louis Magazine's blog Dining. And the music sounds like it'll be great.
This year's there's a sort of VIP pass. To me, having all the oysters I wanted might be worth the price.
Pump Boys and Dinettes would seem to be about as far as you can get from intellectual theatre. It’s a show with little dialogue and a lot of music about a gas station (they’d say “filling station”) and a diner that calls itself a cafe somewhere in rural North Carolina.
But listen to those lyrics. They’re imaginative and funny. The music, which wiggles back and forth between rock and country, ranges from satisfactory to downright delightful. One of the songs, “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine”, actually was on the country-western music charts for a while. That should give some idea of the rollicking going on at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza.
The six-person cast works hard in this relatively short show. All but one sing, all six play multiple instruments, including whisks, wooden spoons and graters. Chet Wollan is Jim, the primary narrator, a good old boy. The other station owner, L.M, played by Brandon Fillette, sings the Dolly Parton song and plays keyboards, including a small accordion.
The tousle-haired cutie Steven Romero Schaeffer works on guitar and drums and takes full advantage of his looks as Jackson, the youngest of the four employees. And then there’s Ed Avila playing Eddie, on all sorts of strings. He never says (or sings) a word, and resembles one of the security guys on some show like Maury Povich, sunglasses, cap and crossed arms. Despite his menacing appearance, he manages to endear himself to the audience anyway.
Rhetta Cupp, the older of the two waitresses, is Jessica Bradley, a little jaded but a fine hand with baking pies and doing kitchen-based percussion. Her sister Prudie Cupp, played by Candice Lively, has a swell time flirting with the shy L.M. and cutting a rug. Their diner is called the Double Cupp Cafe.
Everyone sings well, especially a belting number from Bradley, and the versatility of the group is a major contributor to the fun. The Playhouse is a small venue, so it’s easy to get a good view of the action and the amusing set, at least from most seats. But the playhouse ought to be serving pie at their bar.
Pump Boys and Dinettes
through February 19
Playhouse at Westport
635 Westport Plaza
St. Louis Actors’ Studio has had a relationship with playwright-screenwriter Neil LaBute for several years. They just finished a second year of taking their annual Neil LaBute New Theater Festival to New York for a four-week run. Each of those festivals included a brand-new LaBute short play. Now SLAS has opened Labute’s The Way We Get By, a relatively new (2015) short play from him.
It’s about a man and a woman who had to much to drink and ended up in bed together. Anyone who’s experienced more than a couple of LaBute plays knows he doesn’t create polite drawing-room comedies, so it’s probably better to go no further into the plot. LaBute’s folks are also pretty consistently, uh, quirky, so one of the questions the audience might be asking not long into the play is who’s the crazier, him or her?
The man, Doug, is Andrew Rea, reasonably young, reasonably attractive, but more than passing strange, we soon discover. Sophia Brown plays Beth, the tousle-headed woman about the same age. Were they strangers? Why is he hanging around even though...oh, never mind. That’s only the beginning of a long string of questions that need answering.
The acting is more than merely fine, on both Rea and Brown’s parts. The problem here is the script. It’s not up to LaBute’s usual standards, stretching things out far too long. In this 90-minute work, it’s half an hour in before there’s even a half-serious hint about what might be going on. It’s an intellectual strip tease that goes on. And on. And on.
Nancy Bell does her best to keep things moving, with a lot of physical choreography between Rea and Brown. Patrick Huber’s carefully created set plays a role in things, looking like just what a woman of about that age would create. Carla Landis Evans did the costumes – what there are of them, under the circumstances.
Nope. Not LaBute’s best use of his time.
The Way We Get By
through February 26
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
360 N. Boyle
To Kill a Mockingbird has quietly become a universal American experience. Whether it’s read in school or viewed as a classic film, almost all of us have known – and in many ways, that word doesn’t need quotation marks around it – Atticus Finch, Scout and Jem, and their buddy Dill.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis opened the stage adaptation of it as part of their 50th anniversary season. It was particularly appropriate, as artistic director Steven Woolf pointed out, in the aftermath of the area’s racial upheaval and its shock waves. Director Risa Brainin has given us a vision of Maycomb, Alabama, that’s more dreamlike and less gritty than some. Nevertheless, the power is unmistakable.
The strong cast is headed up by Jonathan Gillard Daly’s Atticus Finch, attorney and father. Daly mixes warmth and strength in the iconic character. His daughter Jean Louise is played by Lenne Klingaman as the adult, who narrates the story. Her younger self, answering to the nickname Scout, is Kaylee Ryan. Her brother Jem is Kaylee Ryan’s twin brother Ronan Ryan, and their summer sidekick Dill (who in real life was the young Truman Capote) is Charlie Mathis.
These kids are the core of the play, and they carry it well. Kaylee, in particular, gives a spectacular performance, feisty and curious and forthright. Ronan Ryan shows a strong older brother, and Charlie Mathis’ Dill has some great dialogue that he carries off with delightful poise. On opening night, there was a little swallowing of lines from both the young gentlemen, but that disappeared as the evening progressed.
It’s a big cast, with a number of familiar local faces. Pay particular attention to Rachel Fenton as Mayella Ewell, who’s the accuser of Atticus’ client, Tom Robinson. What she reveals when she’s not speaking is almost as interesting as her lines. Kudos also to Tanesha Gary, the Finches’ housekeeper Calpurnia, a strong figure in this motherless home.
Director Brainin has added another level of interest with original choral music from Michael Keck, who also plays Reverend Sykes. Mostly, the music is a positive addition, but at times it seemed hard to tell how much of a focus the music was intended to be. Its style is modern with numerous homages to traditional gospel, and the community – that’s the phrase the program uses for the chorus, who also serves as the observers from the balcony in the courthouse, when “coloreds” had to be seated in separate areas from white persons – sounds lovely.
That brings us to the set from Narelle Sissons. It’s imaginative – one character, who’s a housebound invalid, arrives with her own window, for instance – and adds to the feeling of memory rather than reproduction. The courthouse balcony is pretty remarkable. Then there’s the tree. The tree dominates the set and seems one of those love-it-or-hate-it pieces. It looked to me like a tree that’s been hacked on for decades, with the resulting odd branches, reminding of the small-town street where I grew up.
I find myself again and again wanting to use the word “strong” when I think about what the Rep is doing with Mockingbird. It’s moving, extremely well executed, and a perfect fit for almost any audience.
To Kill a Mockingbird
through March 5
Repertory Theatre St. Louis
Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts
130 Edgar Rd., Webster Groves
A special dish for Valentine's Day? Pink? Luxurious? Tasty? We got this.
There’s something about restaurants in Soulard that feels echt St. Louis to me. I’m sure it’s because I’ve been going to them since the Hoover Administration, but there’s a coziness that helps balance their chill and/or drafts this time of the year. The brick walls and tin ceilings, the darkness of the deeper ends of the interior, all contribute to the atmosphere, and Epic Pizza & Subs fits right into the tradition. Giant blow-ups of old Cardinals photos, drawings of Soulard buildings and an immense antique beer ad cover the walls.
They’ve got a wood-burning pizza oven that’s so well insulated that it doesn’t warm anything but the prep area, which is in plain view – we will admit it was a tad chilly on one visit. But what comes out of the oven is exceptional enough that it’s worth donning an extra sweater and perhaps a scarf on truly Arctic days, not that we’ve had many of those so far.
Two of the three starters/sides turned out to be winners. Wings are roasted in the oven, leaving them crisp, still moist, and ready for a run through their sauce. The hot variation (there’s a medium also) was just right, not incendiary, and not wetting things down so much the crispness was lessened.
Do not under any circumstances miss the garlic knots; these guys are remarkable. Nothing reheated about them, they’re cooked to order, tossed in garlic butter and then in seasonings, cheese, just a little rosemary and some salt. So addictive, they could be a Schedule III narcotic. Alas, the Caesar salad, while crisp, wore an unimpressively bland dressing, and the croutons were hard and unwilling to fraternize with the dressing.
Epic’s pizza is New York-ish, in 14” or 16” sizes, cut in large wedges. Furthermore, it’s available by the slice, the better, I daresay, to tote next door to the International Tap House, where they encourage food from outside. It’s an excellent crust, the thickness perfect, even the edges tender-chewy and flavorful. The basic margherita with its tomato sauce, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella was a reminder of just how tasty simple things can be. Very tomato-ey, with pieces of fresh tomato here and there atop the sauce, the basil dancing right along with the tomato’s slightly acid notes, and the mozzarella to add some creaminess, it was a very fine pie indeed. My pals tried a couple of the white pizze, a chicken pesto using mozzarella, parmesan and feta cheeses, white meat of chicken and the pesto not running roughshod over everything else, which that sauce is capable of doing in the wrong hands. Clearly this is a spot that understands basil. They also keep rosemary in good control, as evidenced not only by the garlic knots but by a slice of Bradley pizza. The Bradley uses Parmigiano Reggiano (the only item on the menu claiming that specific cheese), a little red onion, a dab of rosemary here and there, and the singular addition of pistachios, adding crunch as well as flavor.
The subs deserve some attention as well. They make their cheesesteak with pork as well as beef, which does good things for moisture levels, and both mozzarella and provolone cheese. The menu talks about the EPIC sauce. I couldn’t quite make out what that was, but overall, it was a first-rate take on the dish, pleasantly messy to eat. For some of us, a judicious use of the Cholula hot sauce on the tables enhances the experience even more.
Order at the counter and pleasant employees bring food to the table. Yes, beer and wine are available, especially since liquor laws don’t allow takeout orders from ITAP next door.
Epic Pizza & Subs
1711A S. 9th St.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Poor
Screwball comedies from Hollywood were at their height during the Great Depression. Laughter and escape seemed worth spending a hard-earned dime on. (Especially on dish night, where attendees also got a piece of dinnerware.) Perhaps that’s why our appetite for laughter seems bigger lately.
Satisfy that appetite – at least briefly – with a few hours with Something Rotten!at the Fox. The show really shouldn’t work – it’s a first effort from two brothers who had different careers, one a songwriter and the other a screenwriter for Disney, it pokes nasty at Shakespeare, and there’s plenty of mash-up in it. But the show is so deeply We-Love-Theater (another potential danger point) that the mash-up becomes homage with tongue inserted, nay, sutured, into cheek.
It’s that tongue-in-cheek that saves the show and allows the audience to cut loose about it. Two brothers are struggling to write plays while old acquaintance Will Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) has become an obnoxious superstar. The younger brother, Nigel (Josh Grisetti), is the writer, the older one, Nick (Rob McClure), more of a producer and idea guy, and it’s he who’s looking for something new. Nick’s wife, Bea (Maggie Lakis) is so desperate she wants to get a job, but he won’t have it. Instead, he seeks out a soothsayer called Nostradamus (Blake Hammond) – no, not the famous one, but his nephew – hoping he’ll predict what Shakespeare will do next, so that they can beat him to it.
The result is not only a play about breakfast, called Omelette, but the first insertion of music and dance into a play. The musical is born! Their financial backer thinks they’re mad, and heads for Shakespeare with his pounds. They accept the money instead from Shylock (Jeff Brooks), a Jewish moneylender who wants somehow to be in show business.
Nigel is at heart a poet and still composes them, meeting the beautiful Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), whose father (Scott Cote) is a Puritan, albeit one with a lovely lace collar. Arts like the theatre and poetry are, per him, a tool of the devil. That augurs poorly for young love.
Can the brothers combine eggs and Danish for the play? Why is Will sniffing around their work? Will Bea get a job? Will the Puritan change the course of true love? And, most importantly, whoever heard of singing and dancing in a play?
The story is almost beside the point here except in contributing an excuse for creating dialogue with shards of Shakespeare and lyrics with lines from musical comedies going back to the Twenties – although most of them are much more modern, like explaining that “miserable” is pronounced “miz-er-AH-bl”. Frequent theater-goers will catch a couple of bars of familiar music here and there, but not more. Some of the salutes are visual, with sailor hats that harken back to shows like South Pacific, for instance.
Much of it is very well done, although on opening night, much of the first number called “Welcome to the Renaissance” suffered from undermiking the soloist, whose voice was lost in the orchestra’s sound. It got better with “God, I Hate Shakespeare” and went on from there. Good voices all around, including a delicious a capella verse of “To Thine Own Self Be True” in the second act.
Both McClure and Grisetti are utterly delicious, funny and charming. Lakis’ role is physically challenging, but she conquers all. Ingenue Hurlbert is wonderfully winsome. Both Hammond’s Nostradamus and Brooks’ Shylock delight the audience. As to Pascal playing Shakespeare – well, this is a different Bard than you thought you knew, but chewing on scenery in this show is all in character.
It’s certainly a visually beautiful show, starting with the costume design from Gregg Barnes – it is, to call attention to one detail among many, a remarkable codpiece that Shakespeare wears, drawing attention away even from his collar, which resembles something from Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Casey Nicholaw both directed and choreographed the show. While this isn’t a dance show the way An American in Paris was, the dual roles for Nicholaw show how important the dancing is. It’s a great part of the fun.
A delightful evening, a good time, and something that both Shakespeare and musical theatre buffs can enjoy along with their drama-neutral friends and family.
through February 19
527 N. Grand
It’s been decades, I think, since St. Louis had a new style of Chinese cuisine, when Yen Ching brought us Hunan-style food, our first non-Cantonese experience. China, of course, is immense, and more multi-ethnic than most of us tend to realize. (I’m guilty, too.) Now we have a restaurant bringing us Dongbei-style food, something I only heard of a couple of years ago when I visited a fellow foodist in Queens, New York.
The area is in Northern China, home of cold winters, more wheat than rice, and some fermented foods like cabbage. If this sounds faintly familiar, I can tell you the food fits right into our climate. It’s not quite yeast rolls and sauerkraut, but the discerning eater can find similarities. The non-discerning will simply find good stuff to eat.
Cate Zone Chinese Cafe is small, modest in price, and tastefully decorated. It’s on the south side of the Olive Boulevard strip that’s home to many Asian businesses. The menu is fairly short for a St. Louis Chinese restaurant, and is in the process of being revised. Several things that are on it are no longer offered, including, unfortunately, the lamb ribs, a version of which I’d had in New York and swooned over. Too hard to get lamb ribs here, say the guys who own the place.
This time of year is a good excuse to go for soup, and the offerings here are hearty ones, none of your chicken-broth-with-a-few-vegetables sort of stuff. Sour cabbage with pork belly is a soup, although the menu doesn’t use that word, the sour cabbage being very traditional. This isn’t sauerkraut, but less acidic, more finely shredded, almost citrus-y to go with the robust flavor of the pork belly – which was, by the way, pretty lean for the cut of pork from which bacon is made – and chunks of potato, which are easier to grow in northern China than rice. It’s thick, and about as hearty as you’d expect from pork and cabbage. Only slightly lighter is the chicken and mushroom soup, thick with noodles and very mushroomy.
“Clear noodle with sesame sauce” is not the sesame noodles found on many Chinese menus, the small noodles with a sauce that is the color and almost the consistency of peanut butter. It’s a nicely arranged salad-ish dish where the julienned cucumber, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, a little pork and a shower of cilantro wait for the diner to pour over the sesame sauce and mix it all together. The serving is generous and the results are so good it’s hard share without begrudging one’s fellow diners. But resist that urge, there’s more. (Dongbei servings are always large; that, too, fits right in our local tradition.)
The sizzling plate in the title of tofu on sizzling plate was, indeed crackling and spitting merrily when it arrived. A brown sauce, slightly sweet and laced with ginger, was nubbly with bits of ground chicken, plus carrots, peas and green onions. The fingers of tofu had been lightly battered and quickly fried, the better to hold the sauce and give a little more texture.
That same batter, so light one wonders about rice flour, surrounds curling finger-sized piece of fish in the simply named hot crisp fish. It’s double hot, not just in serving temperature, but in spicing as well. A couple of handfuls of dried hot peppers are sliced and cooked in the oil with the fish, so that even if one doesn’t eat the peppers, some residual flesh, and thus capsaicin, which is what makes chili peppers hot, is on the breading. It’s pretty sharp, a slow-growing heat that abates some, and returns more vigorously with each succeeding piece of fish. Hot food lovers should be blissful.
Twice-cooked pork uses thin slices of nice lean pork tenderloin, also battered and deep-fried before being swathed in a fruity, acidic sauce, tasting of pineapple and more. It is, of course, a take on sweet and sour pork, but this is remarkably better, not just in its freshness and handsome appearance but in the ratio of sauce to meat and tenderness of the meat.
On our first visit, a dish topped by what appeared to be a cloud went by. “What’s that?” we asked. “Sweet potato,” explained the server. “Next time,” we promised, and so we did. Listed as honey crisp sweet potato, it would convert the most reluctant. The cloud was spun sugar, the technique of taking sugar melted to a liquid and then stretching it out. As it cools, the thread hardens. The same sugar had been used to coat chunks of sweet potato on the plate and the cloud of threads that topped it. Untidy to eat, yes, but very rewarding, perhaps even irresistible. This isn’t, by the way, some tourist bait; spun sugar has been in Chinese kitchens since the Ming Dynasty, often using the syrup to make confectionery animals for children for holidays.
It’s a small place, diners are often waiting for a table, which gives them time to admire the subway-tile décor and the New York City signs creating the black and white décor. Service is pleasant and accommodating. There’s a sort of buffet on one wall, for a do-it-yourself run with the ma la soup, something I haven’t tried yet. Ma la is spicy, so be prepared if you are interested.
I could happily work my way through the whole menu based on what I’ve tasted so far.
Cate Zone Chinese Cafe
8148 Olive Blvd., University City
Lunch and Dinner Tues.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
What becomes a legend most? Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House certainly is that. Its portrayal of a docile wife turned rebellious was scandalous when it opened in 1879, and remained so for many years. In 2006, the centennial of Ibsen’s birth, it was the most-performed play in the world. How has it aged?
Stray Dog Theatre brings it to us again, in an adaptation by Frank McGuinness, giving us Nicole Angeli as Nora and Ben Ritchie as Torwald, her husband. When we first see her, she’s carrying lots of parcels, Christmas presents for the next day. She’s thrilled that Torvald is giving up his law practice to become a bank manager, which means a substantial increase in income. According to Torvald, Nora really likes to spend money, chiding her affectionately using lots of pet names involving birds or small animals. She even asks for cash for her Christmas present, but he declines.
It all looks cozy until her childhood friend Kristine (Rachel Hanks) arrives – they haven’t seen each other in years, so there’s a lot of catching up to do. Kristine married for money to support her sick mother and two younger brothers. Now she’s a widow, left kroner-less, and is hoping Nora’s husband will give her a job. It’s been a struggle, she admits. Nora, in her comfortable domesticity, feels challenged by this and reveals that she hasn’t had it so easy, either – she had to borrow money and hide the borrowing from her husband. Pretty shocking in that day and time, especially since she had to have a male relative co-sign for her.
Enter Nils Krogstad (Stephen Peirick), who’s overcome his shady past to have a job at the bank Torvald is about to run and where Kristine wants to work. Yes, Torvald will hire Kristine. In fact, there’s about to be an opening. Why? Krogstad is getting the boot. He’s Kristine’s old flame – but why is Nora so agitated in his presence? She’s much calmer around Torvald’s old friend, Dr. Rank (John N. Reidy).
Pentagons are so much more interesting than triangles, don’t you think?
To the modern eye, both the main characters are deeply flawed, although Ritchie’s Torvald is warmer and more affectionate than many portrayals, at least when he’s regarding his wife as an ornament of his household. But he’s still a man of steely moral values, seeing nothing but black or white in the human character, intolerant of any discoloration. Nora is what my mother would have termed a silly woman, superficial, worried about appearance, possessions, and little beyond the walls of their home. Her insistence that the money was borrowed to save Torvald’s life is so dramatic and frequent that one gets the impression he wasn’t all that sick. Perhaps she just wanted a long holiday in Italy on the pretext of his recovering from overwork?
The play has begun to sound strange to the modern ear. Torvald pontificates in a monologue with lines like “When a man forgives his wife, he loves her all the more, because it reminds him she’s totally dependent on him.” That monologue caused giggles in the audience – not the fault of the actors nor the director, but because that sort of thing is becoming unthinkable in all but the most dysfunctional of situations.
That said, Richie does a find job with Torvald, warming and freezing rapidly to his wife’s situations. Angeli gives us a good performance of a superficial woman, but it’s difficult when Nora relatively suddenly decides to stand up for herself and explain why she’s had enough. It seems impulsive rather than well thought out, fllimsier than the move of a woman who sees the possibility of a new life that comes at a high cost. Rachel Hanks does a good job as Kristine, subtle as she’s pulled in several directions by her situation. Peirick is perhaps the most Nordic in his restraint, and John N. Reidy’s physician carries a surprising amount of weight on his shoulders with dignity and charm.
The elegant, slightly spare set from Robert J. Lippert reminds us of the aviary names Torvald uses, and Eileen Engel’s costumes for the women in the play are almost lush, the men drabber, indeed, dour. Gary Bell’s directions keeps things moving well, and despite the three-act length, things don’t drag.
The play can be viewed a number of ways, but it’s well-executed; the rest is up to you, the audience.
A Doll’s House
through February 18
Stray Dog Theatre
Tower Grove Abbey
Going from the civilized melting pot of Singapore to Siem Reap, Cambodia, was something of a culture shock. It’s easy for Americans to forget that the fighting there raged on even after the US left Vietnam, and didn’t end until 1991. It’s still a very poor country, so the ride in to Siem Reap from its large airport rolled by cattle roaming, five goats grazing at the roadside and various types of poultry wandering on the outskirts of the city of around 110,000.
I didn’t come to Siem Reap for the food. I came to see Angkor Wat. It seemed a shame to be in that part of the world and not drop by, you know? However, I spent as much or more more time prowling the markets than prowling the temples. Yes, temples plural; there are quite a number of them in easy distance. And I’m glad I did. I learned a lot, ate some very good food, and met some great people. No downside there.
There is food at Angkor Wat, a long line of tents, but I passed on that. At Bayon temple, the one with the huge faces, I found a banquet being served, in the carvings of what’s clearly a kitchen in full feast mode.
The foodstuffs produced by the country are intriguing. Visitors will find lots of curries that are closer in style to the Thai than the Indian, utilizing lots of coconut but seldom very hot-spicy.
One of the best things I did was an evening with Siem Reap Food tours. Glaswegian Steven Halcrow picks folks up in a tuk-tuk, one of the motorbike-carriage vehicles ubiquitous in Siem Reap, and off five of us, plus Steve, went.
It was a great learning experience, including a small restaurant that is next to the garden where much of its food is grown.
We ended up at the night market, where we sat on the platforms to eat the kebabs and other things he purchased from the stalls.
Siem Reap Food Tours
Two restaurants, each very different, stood out. Cuisine Wat Damnak is owned and run by Joannes Riviere, a French chef, and his wife, Carol Salmon. He uses local ingredients to create tasting menus, 5 courses for $24 or 6 courses for $28. (Please note that the US dollar is the unofficial currency in Cambodia. Even the ATMs give dollars. You may get small change in Cambodian riel, though.)
The food is fabulous. Riviere makes his own creations, combining French technique, local Khmer traditions and ingredients with his own imagination. Mekong River shellfish and black sticky ride porridge with mushrooms and glazed turnip? Right here. And take a look at this dessert, a jack fruit cookie with meringue sweetened with palm sugar and pandan whipped cream.
Three of us (Hi, Zakia! Hi, Kathryn!) debauched our way through the two alternative tasting menus with wine and cocktails. Advance reservations are pretty much a necessity and can be made through their website. It’s in a roomy rehabbed home, and while we were in the un-air conditioned part, it was quite comfortable. And, no, no problems with flying insects at all – in fact, I saw or felt few of them the entire trip.
The other restaurant is Marum, a lovely place on a side street that is run by an organization helping street children. One of their projects is training young people for the hospitality industry. English may be a little slow here, but everything else is shining.
There was a killer pineapple-mango frozen daiquiri to start out with, a proper antidote to tropical travel, and a prawn and pork curry that was meant to be served as a dip but was good enough to eat with a spoon.The high point of the meal, however, was a one-layer chocolate cake, moist and slightly brownie-ish, that was made with the local Kampot pepper and served with a sauce of passion fruit and green Kampot peppercorns, an unforgettable combination.
Lunch and Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
And on a totally not-food topic, a few notes on shopping. The Old Market downtown is better than the Central Market, although the Central Market is less overwhelming. Visitors are beset on all sides by greetings of “Madame, madame!” by vendors, but no one’s feelings seem to be hurt by ignoring them, hard as it is to do at first. The Old Market is for both food and non-food things, so you can buy vegetables, a pot to cook them in, and silk scarves for gifts to take home.
In a totally different vein is a nearby shopping street called Hup Guan. Lovely little old buildings and some more sophisticated wares.I particularly loved a place called Trunkh http://www.trunkh.com/, with home accessories, jewelry and some clothing. It’s run by a Californian (and his cat Pepper), and has lots of distinctive items. I ended up with a large denim tote bag with a zippered pocket and an impressionistic design of the shutters so common here.
When I came home, I thought I was Asia-ed out. Now with a few weeks to catch my breath, I want to see (and taste) more of Cambodia.