Welcoming Rainy Day Friends

Jo McGarry
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Friday - April 07, 2006
| Del.icio.us | podcast Podcast | WineAndDineHawaii.com

Kelly Nou , owner of Chez Sovan, likes the rainy weather
Kelly Nou, owner of Chez Sovan, likes the rainy

Believe it or not, the rain’s not all bad for all business. At Chez Sovan, the Cambodian restaurant at Restaurant Row, business is brisk - and soup is the biggest seller of the day.

“The rain is good for business,” says owner Kelly (whose mom, Baun Thuy Sovan, started the restaurants in California), “and everybody is ordering soup.”

It’s no surprise that people are flocking to the casual eatery for lunch. There’s a wealth of comfort food offered. And while it might not be the kind of comfort food you grew up with, the warm and hearty message gets through just the same.

The chicken curry ($3.84), for example, has huge chunks of roughly chopped vegetables. There’s nothing dainty about the way the vegetables are served: Chunky carrots and wedges of potato are simmered with chicken in a rich coconut and chicken broth that’s full of delicate flavor and spice. The chicken itself is wonderfully moist and falls to pieces in the bowl. Order a side of sticky rice with this - there’s lots of the soupy base left when the veggies are done and none of it should go to waste. Portions at Chez Sovan come in two sizes- small and large - with a price difference of between $2 and $3. The average price for a hearty, large entrée is $6.59.

First-time guests will see obvious similarities to Thai food, but there are subtle differences - and a number of dishes that are primarily Sovan’s signature. Amok ($6.99) is the most noticeably different dish. Here, white fish is steamed in a banana leaf along with a spice mixture that includes paprika, lemongrass and galangal; shallots, eggs and collard greens are added for color and texture, and the result is a beautifully tender fish that absorbs the simple spices. Try the Chicken and Green Papaya Soup if you can, too. A “house special” that’s not served every day, this is a gloriously fragrant bowl of clear chicken broth with generous portions of papaya and chicken. A hearty dose of black pepper gives the soup some heat. Lor’d-Lumpia (Cambodian-style egg rolls) are crisp, deep-fried spring rolls filled with chicken, taro, jicama, cilantro and shal-lots ($2.25 for four pieces). Bie Ling (Sovan’s fried rice) is familiar, but here jasmine rice is used instead of long or short grain, and then stir-fried with a mixture of diced carrots, peas and egg. Barbecue sticks ($2.25) contain large chunks of chicken, pork or beef and are marinated in a secret “Sovan special sauce.” They’re one of my favorite “fast foods” if I have to eat on the run - and they’re almost twice the size of portions at most Thai restaurants.

Chez Sovan has helpful menu boards with full color pictures of each dish to help those new to the restaurant select from the menu, and you’ll find the staff extremely friendly if you need recommendations. Daily specials (always worth trying) are posted on a board inside the store, and salads and spring rolls are ready packed for super-fast service.

Noodles, spicy chicken, ginger fish with salted bean sauce, fried rice, jungle shrimp and eggplant tofu are all dishes that are capable of cooling off the heat in summer, and yet warming chilly souls in rainy April.

The food is excellent, the service is fast, prices are reasonable and the staff is pleasant. The only thing you have to worry about this week is fighting off the crowds.

Chez Sovan Restaurant Row 500 Ala Moana Blvd. 599-8812

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