The Norry at Kampuchea
78 Rivington St., 212-529-3901
Price Range: $20-$35 Rating: 3 out of 5 L's
What are you to do, if, as a burgeoning restaurateur, you want to refine your food and service in an economy in which everyone is pushing the gospel of "casual and cheap?" If you are Ratha Chau of Kampuchea, you simply do both.
First, some history. Last year Chau rode the Asian sandwich wave to success with his Cambodian spot Num Pang. Then he decided he didn't like the casual connotations of his first restaurant's name, Kampuchea Noodle Bar, so he dropped the Noodle Bar bit, expanded into the space next door and upscaled the menu. Luckily for Lower East Side diners, he decided to reserve some of that square footage for a more casual, cocktail-focused restaurant called The Norry.
Casual doesn't have to mean dowdy, no matter what your sweatpants-ed significant other says. The space is gorgeous: curved ceilings of gleaming white subway tile, rich oak accents and a warm, candlelit glow. The feel is communal and chatty. Tables are high, stools on one side and pillow-strewn benches on the other. The servers are young and attractive and friendly, as knowledgeable (maybe even more so) about the new indie band playing on the iPod as they are about the food in front of you. About that food: It's good, not great, but you can eat well here for a reasonable sum and drink even better.
The sandwiches are your best bet. If you've ever been to Num Pang, you should know what to expect, although these come with a mound of crisp and savory sweet potato chips and a pickle. I can't think of many sandwiches I'd rather eat than The Norry's shrimp sandwich. It's like a serving of shrimp coconut curry on a crusty bun, livened up with a generous heap of cilantro and pickled veggies. Options like catfish and oxtail and pork belly are available as well, and they're all pretty tasty.
The other dishes are hit and miss and portioned just short of a full meal. Fried chicken came out more like limp chicken fingers, saved somewhat by a splash of lemon and a mound of spiced fleur de sel. Soft slabs of corned beef tongue are given a nice one-two punch of sour and spice from the navelines confites (a kind of turnip sauerkraut) and the in-house mustard.
If you're drinking, you'll want to fill up on food (three dishes for two people should be fine) because the cocktails, from the Coconut Monsoon (a well-balanced mix of Flor de Cacao rum, young coconut puree, lemongrass syrup and white tea spice) to the Bom Om Tuk (cachaoa, Thai chili puree, lime juice, brown sugar and club soda) are strong, although not cheap. The beer list is serious enough, with craft beers from the West Coast, Belgium and right here in New York. Odds are you'll leave with a light head, a sandwich in your belly and money still in your wallet, the perfect combination for times like these.