Update 1/05: Last night (a Wednesday) we went to Battambang for dinner. It has been our favorite Cambodian restaurant since we discovered it about five years ago. The tiny restaurant is cute and with its dark yellow walls and framed paintings of Cambodian river scenes. It could even be considered elegant if it wasn't so crowded. But crowded it is - there is barely any room for patrons to walk, and unless you're lucky, you may have to share a long table with another party. Even then, expect a wait if you arrive for dinner after 7 PM.
Fortunately, we got there before the rush, so we were sat immediately. The menu hadn't changed much since our last visit. It still includes a very long selection of appetizers, soups, curries and meat and vegetable dishes. Appetizers and soups average $6-10, while main dishes are $7-15 (most are $7-8). Portions are on the small side so plan on getting an appetizer at least to share or ordering rice ($1 per person).
We started with an order of lawt, "crispy Cambodian style spring rolls with ground pork, bean thread, onion and ground peanuts," served with a pickle and vinegar sauce ($6). The bite-size spring rolls were crispy and flavorful and quite good with the sweet & vinegary sauce. I'd order them again.
We then had one of our favorites, the sach ko chomkak, a "char-broiled beef shish kebab marinated with lemon grass, spices and ground peanuts served with pickle and lime sauce" ($8). The three kebabs were tender and delicious, they have a clear char-broiled taste and their flavor is only enhanced by the sauce. My only gripe is that there wasn't enough sauce to soak all the rice we ordered - next time I'll order extra.
We also ordered the Battambang Noodles, "pan-fried soft rice noodles with chicken, egg, bean sprouts, green onion, ground chili and peanuts in tamarind sauce" ($7). This dish is reminiscent of Pad Thai, though I didn't find it as flavorful or delicious. I did, however, appreciate how tender both the noodles and the bean sprouts are (I don't like crunchy vegetables). It's also one of those dishes that you start eating and can't get enough of. I'd order it again.
Service was good, though rushed. Just two waitresses served the whole restaurant. One of them apologized for it, but the service was actually quicker than on previous occasions.
We visited Battambang for dinner on a Wednesday evening in July 2000. Our only prior experience with Cambodian food in the Bay Area had been at The Cambodianas in Berkeley, a few years back. That had been a very pleasant experience and we had pretty high expectations for Battambang - somehow dilated, however, by our culinary experiences in Cambodia itself. We spent a little over a week in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in November 1999 and were unable to have one good meal, either at cheap holes-in-the-wall or upscale tourist restaurants. The food there was invariably bland and unexciting, and we were thrilled to return to Thailand and its gastronomic delights.
Battambang food, fortunately, did not resemble the fare we got in Cambodia. It was delicious. It could be fairly described as a cross between Thai and Vietnamese food with French overtones. Of course, this makes sense as Cambodia is located between Thailand and Vietnam, and was a French colony for many years. Whatever the case, however, it is good and at Battambang, it is also very cheap.
We had dinner with a couple of friends so we ordered two appetizers to share: luk luck ("stir-fried cubed beef steak with garlic", $6.25) and baksei trung kor ("crispy fried boneless quails stuffed with ground pork, bean threat, onions, ground peanuts and spices, served with pickles and a light vinegar sauce", $7.95). It's difficult to decided which one was better. The beef cubes were tender and very flavorful without being too spicy, the quail was just perfect, in particular dipped in the sweet sauce. Both portions were rather substantial and easily served two people as appetizers.
The entrees were almost as good. I ordered sach ko chomkak ("char-broiled beef shish kebab marinated with lemon grass and spices and ground peanuts," $6.75) and I loved it. The meat was, again, tender and perfectly seasoned and absolutely wonderful. I don't remember exactly what the dish that Mike had was called, but unfortunately it was not nearly as good. It tasted like Thai panang curry, but wasn't spicy or complex enough to fully satisfy (Cambodian food, in general, is much milder than Thai food). Our friends had the treis meas ("filet of salmon poached in a red lemon grass sauce served with seasonal vegetables,"$7.95) and some vegetable dish. Not being fond of either salmon or vegetables I didn't try them, but they raved about them. While the entrees were very good, they weren't particularly filling - I would suggest ordering an extra entree for a group of four people.
The dessert menu is not very long, but it had one of our favorites: fried bananas. Mike had his with vanilla ice cream and seemed to enjoy it, but not as much as I who had mine flambee in a Grand Marnier sauce. They were very, very good and are highly recommended.
Service was friendly, informal and very good. Our waitress was happy to teach Mike some Khmer phrases, and quickly replaced a dish when we realized it wasn't what we'd ordered (or we'd meant to order).
All in all we had a wonderful dining experience and we are sure to be going there again and again.
850 Broadway St
Oakland, CA 94606