Saturday, December 11, 2010

Siem Reap - Meric

Al fresco seating at the Meric
One of the finer “local” meals we had in Siem Reap was at the Meric Restaurant.  Housed within the boutique Hotel De La Paix, we definitely were not going to just have breakfast there every morning, and let up on the opportunity to try their famous Khmer tasting menu.  And going on a Wednesday night meant that we got to enjoy a traditional Apsara dance performed by the children’s charity that the hotel supports.

Pounded wild eggplant with crispy pork (background)
Local Cresson Salad with Chicken (foreground)
To start, the salad was made unique through the fragrant Cresson leaves.  The unusual taste and smell of this local leaf (a type of watercress) lifted an otherwise common salad dressed with peanut sauce.  While we enjoyed the eggplant puree, we are still scratching our heads as to where the crispy pork was.  Was it so finely ground into the puree that it leant taste without being present by itself?  We should have asked but were distracted between the dancing and devouring what we had on our plates.

Pan fried butter Cat Fish wtih Green Mango Sauce
The second course of the butter catfish was probably the winner of the night.  The smooth but firm flesh of the fish was well grilled to give off a smoky but not burnt taste.  And the accompanying green mango salad was tangy and refreshing.  A perfectly executed course, even if almost identical to its Thai cousin but without the use of a deep fried cotton fish. 

Braised beef shank with palm sugar and star anise
The beef shank was in sweet contrast, literally.  Stewed as best as it can be – and I say that having experienced that meats here are just generally very lean, chewy and bordering on dry.  Marbling is either unappreciated and/or unavailable.  I definitely did not see any fat cows while cruising through the farmlands on my Quad 4-wheeler.  But the beef here was comparatively easier on the teeth, and quite tasty.  The quarter hard boiled egg was a nice touch, but I thought the garnish of fried shallots did nothing except distract the diner.

The duo of Khmer organic rice (white and brown) served in a banana leaf bowl was good, and the mix was a nice play on tastes and textures from the 2 different grains.  It also served us critically well through the next course.

Stir fried frogs with holy Basil
My stir fried frogs were rather ordinary since I grew up eating frogs.  In fact, I found the meat to be, yes again, too tough as compared with the frog legs I normally eat.  The basil stir fry would have been a winner if the dish wasn’t so salty overall.  I almost ran out of rice – quite a challenge considering the portions were generous.  B who does not eat frog, had a stir fry of prawns with Kampot pepper.  Tasty enough was alas the pepper didn’t come through as the sauce was also too salty and masked any goodness the pepper had to offer. 

Pork rib with young jackfruit and coconut milk sour soup
The spare ribs in jackfruit curry was pleasant enough although it was again rather ordinary.  Slightly sweet from the fruit, but unfortunately not fragrant enough as it should be given the qualities of the fruit.  And of course, pork that was just a tad tough and not as enjoyable as ribs should be. 

Assorted Khmer Sweets
The sweet ending was “ok”.  Unfortunately, if you’re used to enjoying Thai desserts, this course seemed to pale in comparison.  The tapioca in coconut milk served in a glass was the best, alongside a pumpkin custard on sticky rice drizzled with palm sugar.  The other 2 tapioca based desserts were bordering on bland and a little too tough to work through and not enough incentive since I was getting full. 

Overall, we appreciated that the chef created an enjoyable meal through the use of a broad variety of local herbs and spices.  Here, we didn’t have to worry if the produce was washed in clean water, or that sources of the meats might have been suspect.  Our venture to the wet market certainly did not leave us with much confidence.  Given the circumstances, I would definitely recommend that visitors to Siem Reap come and stay at the De La Paix, and eat at the Meric.  It’s probably as close to 5-star as you would get in this town for a while.  

PS. you probably gathered that there wasn't much lighting outdoors, thus the quality of the photos.  

Hotel De La Paix
Sivutha Boulevard
Siem Reap
Tel: +855-63 966 000

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