While Kampuchea serves a variety of excellent small plates and noodle soups in addition to the sandwiches, those are the major triumphs of the restaurant. Num Pang focuses on the sandwiches — and the justifiably adored grilled corn, slathered with heady chili powder, coconut flakes and siracha mayo. The sandwiches themselves are close cousins to the Vietnamese bahn mi, utilizing the same style (but of higher quality, from Parisi Bakery) of soft mini baguette. And the sandwich menus are virtually identical — except for the price (and the headcheese terrine at Kampuchea, which I’m guessing they did not think would appeal to 19-year-old NYU students).
One specialty, the meltingly tender pulled duroc pork with spiced honey — and the accoutrements shared by all sandwiches: cucumber, pickled carrot, cilantro and chili mayo — is $7.50 at Num Pang vs. $12+tax and tip at Kampuchea, and what it may lack in polish and presentation, it makes up for in a heavy hand by the line cooks. Hoisin veal meatballs ($6.75, $12) with stewed tomatoes is an East-meets-West treat for those who still eat veal, and are somehow the worst thing on the menu. Everything, from seasonal choices like chicken liver pate and pickled ramps or five-spiced pork belly to coconut tiger shrimp or skirt steak.
The bread/filling, sweet/hot/spicy/bitter/rich, soft/crunchy, hot/cold are spot on in every sandwich from both joints, so what more could one ask for? Beer, for one, at Num Pang, or a dining room that you don’t feel compelled to flee, but that’s a small sacrifice — no sacrifice if you do takeout. Now that Kampuchea is the fine-dining part of Chef Chau’s nuevo-Cambodian empire, it’s time to ditch the communal tables — somehow a $13 roasted cauliflower sandwich seems kinda exorbitant when an identical one is $6.75 a mile to the northwest. Yet everything I’ve tried — from either restaurant — has been homey and decadent, and decidedly unlike anything I ate while actually in Cambodia. Never even saw a sandwich.