Chow, upscale Southeast Asian restaurant and juice bar located on the ground floor of The Quay Hotel, on Sisowath Quay just north of Wat Ounalom.
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The Quay Hotel
The architectural vision for Chow presents a room painted in pale whites and highlighted with tones of eggshell and cream. The soft colors are framed with lustrous, dark woodwork. Suffused sunlight seeps through enormous glass blocks. The effect is an airy, almost heavenly atmosphere.
Appointed with low-back chrome-and-hardwood barstools, imported crystal, and Arne Jacobsen Swan chairs, the room says smart, sophisticated, sexy.
"I really, really like this space," says Chow's restaurant manager, Patrick Uong, a Cambodian-born, California-raised bon vivant with visible enthusiasm for his work and a near encyclopedic knowledge of food and wine.
Chow is scheduled to open in mid-April on the ground floor of The Quay Hotel, the FCC Group's latest hotel venture. FCC group executive chef Clinton Webber is responsible for the menu, an eclectic mélange of regional specialties.
"At Chow we adopt the strong regional belief that food is for the mind, body and soul," Webber writes on the menu. "The categories on our menu give importance to the balance and blend of the foods. They speak of strength, texture and seductive aroma."
Chow's signature dish will be elephant fish, a popular Southeast Asian specialty. Served steamed, the fish comes garnished with Asian greens and topped with a sweet peppercorn and tamarind sauce.
Like many things on Chow's menu, the elephant fish is designed to be shared in typical Asian style.
Other fare includes popular regional offerings like Thai tom yam and Indonesian gado-gado, a hearty vegetable salad made with green beans, Asian greens and bean sprouts and garnished with peanut sauce.
"We do stuff that you'll recognize," says Webber. "But we'll do it a lot different to what you usually see."
Amok shows up on the menu, for example. But instead of traditional Cambodian-style fish amok, Webber's version trades the fish for hard-shell crab.
"Asian food is incredibly complex," Uong says. "Peanut sauce, fish sauce, garlic, vinegar, chili peppers, sugar, sliced carrot -- and that's just in one little plate of sauce."
Those complex tastes demand the appropriate libation.
"Asian food flavors blend much better with wine than beer," Uong says. "So set aside traditional European food-wine pairing ideas. Classic Asian flavors like fish sauce, peanut sauce, caramel sauces and chili spice require a different approach."
Chow orders their wine list by body and style, instead of traditional color groupings. The wines on Chow's menu tend toward delicate varietals that compliment, not overpower, the flavors of the food.
"Some people say Bordeaux goes with everything," Uong says. "I disagree."
Uong likes Rieslings, with their high acidity, balanced sweetness and low alcohol. They go well with nearly any Asian dish, he says.
"Our choice of sauvignon blanc may produce a touch more fruitiness and richness than you may be familiar with and are a good compliment to vivid Asian flavors," the menu suggests.
In addition to food and wine Chow will also operate a juice bar, where the focus will be on vegetables as much as fruits.
"We want to go beyond mango lassies," Uong says. "More vegetables, nutritious drinks, nourishment, not just something cold."
Expect lots of mixes made with celery, spinach and other super-greens, as well as unusual fruit-vegetable combinations like strawberry-cucumber.
Fine wine and fruit juices are done elsewhere in Phnom Penh, but few places cater to the upscale end of the market. Even fewer specialize in regional cuisine, and it is here that Uong and Webber believe Chow can corner an obvious yet oddly underserved part of the Phnom Penh restaurant market.
"Where do you go for good Asian food?" Uong asks with the sincerity of a genuine foodie, hoping to get an answer he's never heard. But beyond a few usual suspects, there is admittedly not much.
With Chow, Uong and Webber plan to change that.