After spying a man wearing a shirt purchased from a restaurant he opened years before, in the Wyoming ski resort of Jackson Hole, restaurateur Scott Interdonato strode across the floor of a Siem Reap bar to meet him.
“He was wearing a shirt from a restaurant called the Stagecoach which I opened back in 1998,” said Interdonato. “So I walked up to him and I was like, ‘Hey where did you get that t-shirt?’ He turned around and said ‘I bought it at the place,’ and I’m like ‘That’s my place.’”
After realising that both he and the man in the t-shirt – Amansara Resort front office manager Bevan Rakoia – had worked in the same small US ski town, the pair struck up a conversation, then a friendship.
And now they have a business partnership too, with the opening of their new Tex-Mex restaurant El Camino, which launched in the Wat Bo area last month.
Two months of renovations transformed the venue from what Interdonato describes as a “crumbling sixty-year-old house with craters in the floor” to a sleek, open plan dining area with a fifty-foot wooden bar that curves its way along the length of the restaurant.
Carved out of the wood that previously served as floorboards on the building’s second story, the bar obscures a sunken kitchen, where platters of BBQ ribs, enchiladas and quesadillas are cooked.
“The whole idea is centred around this bar,” said Interdonato. “We wanted the restaurant to have a classic streamlined look, that you could drop into any major city.”
Interdonato has spent 15 years in the restaurant business, and founded Siem Reap nightspots Viva and X Bar. El Camino’s menu features several tailored Tex-Mex recipes that he’s created along the way.
“For example, take the ribs. The ribs are soy ginger marinated, and we’ve put a special Tex Mex style BBQ sauce over them, which is a blend of smoked red jalapeño sauce with chipotle peppers. We’ve also got quesadillas that are a mix of salsa, homemade cheddar cheese, fresh coriander, red onion and grilled or shredded chicken, and a Cajun rub seasoning comprised of ten different mixed spices. "
Food is served in platters priced between $4 and $15.
El Camino is the successor to a restaurant that Interdonato ran under the same name in Alley West in 2009, which folded due to lack of space and the dissolution of a business partnership.
Former X-Bar manager Krin Krek runs the day to day operations at El Camino, freeing up Interdonato to give the staff a crash course in Tex-Mex cooking.
“They know how to cook, but they have never seen food mixed in this fashion before. I’m teaching them ways to blend all the spices. We’ve had a lot of Khmer come in and their taste buds are telling us the same thing as the staff: they’re liking the flavours.”