ANGKOR (614 Gerrard East, at Broadview, 416-778-6383) While this cozy Riverdale spot gets points for offbeat decor - fish tanks, mirrored disco ball, subtropical colour scheme - most of its lineup contains very average renditions of Thai staples. But when the Cambodian owners stick to the subtle cuisine of their homeland, the results sometimes skyrocket. Warning: karaoke. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($16 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a $4 Tiger. Average main: $8. Open daily 10 am to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Across town, six-year-old Angkor has a similar Thai and Cambodian lineup. And while I've never been impressed with its very ordinary takes on Thai in the past - like Toronto needs another spot pumping out subpar pad? - after visiting Khmer, I decide to give Angkor another shot. Taking a seat in the resto's tiny front parlour opposite one of several almost floor-to-ceiling fish tanks, I explain that I'm only interested in the Cambodian dishes. I'm directed as I was last time with much enthusiasm to number 50, Spicy Fried Chicken. Pass. Instead, I order number 51, Spicy Fried Beef (both $7.95), only to encounter the same sad gloop as before. Not fowl but just as foul, the greasy stir-fry over rice comes redolent of what the menu calls "fish source."
I scan the multi-paged menu's photos in search of something - anything! - Cambodian and zero-in on number 13, Stir-fried Salt-fish with Pork in Coconut Milk ($7.95). A communal tapas-style snack best with beer, its initial fishy prahok stench overpowers and the curry's an unappetizing grey scattered with crushed peanut, lime leaf and basil. It's accompanied by a crudité-like array of raw veggies including Chinese long beans, Japanese eggplant and chunked cukes.
I tentatively plunge the first piece into the sludge and I'm soon shovelling the intoxicating stuff straight from the bowl. I can't get enough of its intensifying tastes, a fusion of salty, sweet, hot and bitter.
The following Cantonese-inspired stir-fry of chow mein egg noodle, snowpea and tiger shrimp (number 26, $10.95) fails to dazzle by comparison, its unrelenting blandness a balm for easily upset tummies.