In last week’s column, I wrote about the mix of Turkish-Greek delights at Mediterranean Garden in Johnson City. This week, I continue my international tour of cuisines with a visit to Angkor Bistro, a new restaurant focused on Cambodian and Thai dishes. While there are other Thai restaurants in the area, to my knowledge this is the first restaurant with a focus on Cambodian (Khmer) cuisine. The restaurant’s website emphasizes that fact, noting that Angkor Bistro is the first restaurant in Johnson City to offer a selection of popular Cambodian dishes.
The restaurant, named for the ancient Buddhist temple, Angkor Wat, is open for business at the location of the former Jade Market. The menu offers a selection of appetizers, salads, quick entrées and cafeteria-style meals.
This last option offers diners a choice of sampling a one-entrée or two-entrée plate, which is accompanied by a choice of Jasmine white, brown or fried rice. The cafeteria-style meals are served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. After 2:30 p.m., diners are restricted to ordering from a still very extensive menu.
A friend and I enjoyed an early evening dinner visit to Angkor Bistro on a recent Saturday. We noticed that the new focus on Cambodian culture and cuisine extends to the revamped atmosphere of the restaurant. The dining area offers seating at contemporary-styled tables with bright yellow utilitarian chairs. Bright leaf-green and pale-gray walls offer a neutral and tranquil atmosphere. Some framed artwork of Cambodian scenes are also displayed on the walls. Instrumental music played softly in the background during our visit. Decorative touches include potted bamboo plants and Buddha figurines. There’s also a wall-mounted television in one corner of the dining area that shows a continuous loop of scenic Cambodian vistas interspersed with photos of menu items.
A server invited us to take a seat at the table of our choice, took our drink orders and provided menus. Although we ordered water, the menu does offer Thai Iced Tea, Thai Iced Coffee and a variety of Bubble Teas, a Taiwanese tea-based drink mixed with fruit and milk and served over small, chewy pearls of tapioca.
Our server then left us some time to contemplate the offerings featured in the menu. We started by perusing the appetizer selections, which include Egg Rolls, Fresh Spring Rolls, Cheese Wontons, Fried Shrimp Shumai Dumplings and Shrimp Summer rolls. We choose to share an order of Egg Rolls and the Fresh Spring Rolls.
Of the two, the Spring Rolls made the most favorable impression. These meal-starters consisted of rice-paper wrappers filled with shrimp, cucumber, lettuce, cilantro, basil, and carrots. These light, delectable morsels are served with a peanut-peppery dipping sauce.
The Egg Rolls featured wrappers loaded with minced meat, herbs and spices and fried to a crispy, golden-brown. The same dipping sauce accompanied this appetizer, but the server also provided us with a bottle of hot sriracha sauce.
These tasty items were a great start to the meal. Once we finished them, we focused on the other items on the menu.
Several Cha, or Stir Fry, dishes are available, as well as a variety of Curry dishes of varying degrees of spiciness. Some of the dishes that attracted my attention included Rice Noodle Soup with Beef, Red Curry, Cha Sandek, or Snow Peas Stir Fry.
Many of the various Cha dishes can be ordered with a choice of meats: chicken, shrimp, pork and beef.
Being new to Cambodian cuisine, we tried to coax our server into making some recommendations. After a little hesitation, she did offer some suggestions for both spicy dishes and the menu’s less spicy options.
Spicy options included Cha Kdao Kreung Samott, or Spicy Shrimp, Sauteed Chicken with Basil and Green Curry. Dishes available to diners with a palate accustomed to milder fare include Bai Cha, or Fried Rice, Cha Pka Khat Na, or Broccoli with Beef, and Cha Bong Kea Tumpiang, or Shrimp with Bamboo Shoots.
I usually lean toward dishes with a bit of spice, so I chose to try the Cha Kdao Kreung Samott, or Spicy Shrimp. My dining companion chose the Panang Curry, which is a Thai dish.
In addition, we paired our meals with bowls of soup. I ordered the Tom Yum Soup, which comes with shrimp or chicken. I chose the chicken. My friend ordered the Coconut Chicken Soup.
The Tom Yum Soup featured a zesty, fragrant broth loaded with tender chicken, sliced mushrooms and various herbs and spices. I relished this bold soup to the last spoonful. I also got to sample my friend’s soup, which was milder and sweet but still very flavorful with its delicate coconut-enhanced broth.
One minor disappointment was the fact that the soup and main dishes arrived at the same time. Overall, service was also a little erratic. We would have preferred a pacing that allowed us to enjoy the soups before the entrees were served. It’s a small quibble in an otherwise very pleasant experience.
The entrees were delicious, despite the pacing issues. I found my dish delightful and spicy to just the right degree. The dish featured plump shrimp with garlic, lemongrass and Khmer hot peppers served with Jasmine white rice. The flavor-packed sauce with this dish tasted great with the rice, too.
My dining companion also liked his Panang Curry, which was rather moderate in spiciness compared to some curries. He asked for chicken with his dish, which was flavorful and generous in its portion.
After that first introduction, we enjoyed our visit enough to return for some carryout dishes. On this occasion, I ordered the Sauteed Chicken and Basil, and my friend chose the Chad Bong Kea Tumpiang, or Shrimp with Bamboo Shoots. Both dishes were extremely flavorful and featured fresh, good-tasting ingredients. They also transported well and were perfect after a brief spell in the microwave.
Angkor Bistro does offer a few desserts, including Fried Banana and Ice Cream and a Sweet Corn Porridge. We didn’t try a dessert on this visit, opting to save that for a future visit.
I’m hopeful Angkor Bistro will receive a warm welcome as it introduces the flavors of Cambodia to a receptive public. If you’re already a fan of Asian cuisines, be sure to give this new eatery a try. If you go, let them know they were recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Angkor Bistro, 600 N. State of Franklin, Johnson City. 929-1001. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Menu items $7.59 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available.