East of Narnia is not so much a “pop-up” restaurant as an opportunity that popped up and was seized upon by 1961 Co-working & Art Space’s owner Loven Ramos, and his friend Omar Diaz, aka DJ Amro. The result is a quirky space hidden in a “closet” at the back of the 1961 Gallery, where a short menu offers up gentle re-imaginations of familiar dishes.
Stepping through the golden door into East of Narnia reveals a world that echoes CS Lewis’s popular children’s books that were Ramos’ favorite as a child. Picture frames leak paint from the outside. There’s a pig on a tandem bike looking for all the world like he’s having a whale of a time. Random pieces of kitchen equipment are re-purposed as light shades.
In March this year, Diaz was setting up Khmer Power Box, a food delivery/lunch box service specifically geared towards the staff of T Galleria, the new duty free shopping mall attached to the Angkor National Museum. He approached Ramos to see if he’d like to collaborate, and then they had to build a brand new, fully equipped commercial kitchen in three days flat.
“And then we said, well since we’ve got the kitchen, we might as well open a restaurant,” said Ramos. The menu, titled Imagination is the Most Potent Spice, takes its cues from far and wide, and follows them with that simple question, “what if . . .?”
“We didn’t want to mess with the processes behind dishes,” said Ramos. “But we did start to wonder what might happen if we changed ingredients around a little bit. It’s not fusion food, we’re not blending cultures, we’re just mixing things up a little.”
Opening with a beef carpaccio wrapped around kimchi with a honey sauce ($5), this creative approach to cuisines never seems to hit a bum note. The Notorious P.A.T.E. ($5.50), a chicken liver pate made with white wine and served with blue cheese, is smooth and rich, with a tang being delivered by the blue cheese.
The “Rollin’ Amok” ($7 for three pieces; $9 for four), is Cambodia’s traditional amok dish, with chicken or mushroom, that has been rolled into balls and deep fried to make it crispy on the outside with an almost-falafel like interior that mixes beautifully with the creamy, spiced sauce.
The fun continues with “Quail of Thrones” ($8), serving up pan-seared quail, with lemongrass, baked crushed potato, beef salad and a trio of sauces and dips. The secret for this, and all of the dishes, is that while they do stray off the beaten path, they don’t veer off into the wildly esoteric.
Everything is familiar and new all at once. And it is, of course, fun.