Prolific indie dream pop group Beach House has made its mark like a storm slowly rolling to shore. The duo from Baltimore have been putting forth their hallmark lethargically epic soundscapes since 2004 but only in the past few years have gained notoriety. It could have something to do with their shift to Seattle’s Sub Pop Records for their last two albums. This is off of their most recent collection Bloom which was incidentally released a year ago today.
Abandon me in the vineyards, I beg of you.
Since posting Dark Time Sunshine’s “All Aboard” last week, I’ve been listening to a lot of Reva DeVito (who was featured on the track). She’s got a smoky, soulful voice that transcends genres, seamlessly combining R&B, hip hop, classic soul, jazz and even indie pop, recalling the likes of Erykah Badu. There’s not a lot of information out there on her, but she’s from Portland, OR and recently moved to L.A. for more opportunities for career growth. Her eclectic EP Cloudshine was released in 2012 and the tracks available on her myspace place her solidly in contemporary nu-soul.
Have a great Friday!
Ahmed Abdullah is a NYC trumpeter who gained prominence while playing with prolific experimental jazz composer Sun Ra. The experimental, avant garde influence of Sun Ra is undoubtedly clear in this track of of his album Dedication. Abdullah is now on the faculty of The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan, one of the preeminent jazz programs in the US.
From the National Geographic Archives.
Gastrobar Botanico is one of those hidden gems that people feel so proud of finding when visiting a new city. It’s secluded off of street 29 down a narrow, winding pathway lined with tropical shrubs, bamboo and banana trees. Once you make it down the pathway you reach a garden oasis tucked away among the swanky hotels and apartments of Phnom Penh’s BKK 1 neighborhood. Completely open and outdoor in design, there are four concrete horseshoe seating areas under safari stye canvas tents that have retractable sides that roll down for particularly damp days in the rainy season. The bar and kitchen are at the far end, also housed in an open canvas tent adding to the jungle safari feel. All about is tropical greenery and combined with the individual tent seating, Botanico gives you a sense of intimacy and seclusion that is uncommon.
A+ on design and atmosphere, without a doubt.
Overall, the food is of a very high standard. However, unfortunately can be a tad hit or miss. The dishes range from truly outstanding to a bit mediocre to just not worth it. The menu has a range of conceptually creative and inspired tapas, sandwiches and burgers. The tapas in particular show the sort of inconsistency I just mentioned. The Potatas Bravas ($4) are simply a bowl of potato chunks covered with a chili “aioli” sauce that honestly just tastes like a flavorless cream with a sweet, slightly spicy tomato sauce. Don’t get me wrong, its perfectly edible and tastes fine, but maybe not worth the price. Similarly, the Mozzarella Fingers ($5.5) are perfectly fried mozzarella sticks (the only in PP that I’m aware of), however they’re pared with a “chilli-basil marmalade” that for some reason just misses the mark. Perhaps the topping is just a bit to sweet of a pairing with the saltiness of the fried mozzarella. In this case it may just be my personal taste preferences, but I’m confident that they could come up with a better, equally creative, sauce to pair them with. On a brighter note, the Salmon Croquettes ($5.5), served with a mild tartare sauce, are outstanding. They perfectly balance the delicate savoriness of the salmon with the light tanginess of the tartare sauce. Simply delicious.
The main courses fare a bit better consistency wise. Of the sandwiches, the Chicken Breast Milanesa ($7) is the obvious standout, tender chicken breast, melted gouda, crispy bacon and tartare sauce panini pressed between ciabatta bread. Botanico also has some of Phnom Penh’s best (and definitely most innovative) burgers. The American Beef Burger ($8) is not something you’d find in your average local burger joint in the States, but it is tasty nonetheless. Beef, cheddar cheese, bacon, bbq sauce and, if you choose, a fried egg. I have a thing for gooey fried eggs on sandwiches (an acquired taste admittedly) so this could just be me, but I love it. However, the Spanish Beef Chorizo Burger ($8) really did not measure up. Served as 3 small sliders, the buns were too dense, the meat was overcooked and dry and there wasn’t enough of the aioli or roasted red pepper to make up for either of those deficiencies. Unfortunately, the best part were the crispy potato fries it was served with. Considering the very high price tag (for Cambodia) this was a huge disappointment. On the other hand though, the Mexican Red Beans Burger ($6.5) is possibly the best veggie burger in the city, hands down. Initially when I first got it I thought it had been overcooked and burnt. However, the red bean falafel patty was merely perfectly crisped on all sides, giving it a little extra crunch that makes all the difference. Add guacamole, pico de gallo and jalapenos and it is as satisfying as any meat based burger. On the other hand, although all the salads are quite good, they not particularly memorable (compared to their other dishes). But if you wanted a light dinner, I’d go for the Chunky Avocado Salad ($6) which comes with an avocado cream and banana chips.
Botanico also serves a unique breakfast menu as well. The Perico ($6) is my favorite. It consists of scrambled eggs with onion, tomato, capsicum and melted gouda and is served with a side of Spanish arepitas (small cornbread rounds). The mini croissants with smoked salmon are quite good as well, though the pancakes are just mediocre.
On another note, Botanico boasts some really exceptional cocktails (all $4.5). Their red and white sangrias do the classic justice and the basil, cilantro and ginger based Tepui Mojito is the perfect refreshment for a hot Cambodian day. The Copa Pimm’s entails gin, lime, orange, cucumber and herbs and has a surprising hit to it. Lastly, the Lemongrass + Chilli Mary, a Southeast Asian twist on the classic Bloody Mary, is one of my favorites. Although purists may take offense at the fusion, it packs a hell of a punch and the lemongrass adds a subtle herbal flavor that to me is irresistible However, once again, sometimes consistency can be a problem in the drinks department as well. Usually they are phenomenal, but I have been a few nights where there was way too much lime dumped in the sangria and it seems the bartender accidentally dropped a whole tablespoon of chili into the Bloody Mary and I barely got through half of it. These nights though also seemed to coincide with the only sub-par food experiences (see chorizo burger disaster above) I’ve had at Botanico, so this might be indicative of there being new staff… or the regular staff having a terribly off night. Its hard to tell.
In general though, Botanico is well worth a stop. The staff is attentive and well trained and the small group of young women who usually wait tables are especially lovely. They also have really good internet so I sometimes like to go to there to stretch out on the cushions and work for an afternoon over the weekend. In a lot of respects the sublime atmosphere makes up for any shortcomings and I think if they can refine their menu a bit Botanico will join the ranks of Phnom Penh’s best fine dining.
#9b, Street 29, between Sihanouk Blvd. and St. 294, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
*** All photos provided by Gastrobar Botanico’s Facebook page
Love me some Charles Bradley.
Bradley grew up in Brooklyn, NY in the 1960’s and was first introduced to soul music as a child when he saw James Brown play at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre. After years of enduring grinding poverty, homelessness and far more life trials than anyone deserves, he was finally discovered by Daptone Records while singing with a James Brown tribute band. His first album No Time for Dreaming fit in perfectly with the current NYC soul revival being spearheaded by Daptone. As of late he’s been labeled “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” and having seen him play a few years ago at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, I can testify to the accuracy of this nickname. His evocative delivery seems to explode with pent up sorrow and emotion. Although I love dancing to soul music almost more than anything, at his show I found my feet glued to the floor… I was just too captivated to peel my eyes away from him. Backed up by the Menahan Street Band and this man is truly a force to be reckoned with.
Towards the end of March he released his sophomore album, Victim of Love. Like his prior work, it is intimately raw and rocks you to your core. This track embodies his sound and revivalist style.
I’ve been meaning to work in more hip hop into this list and this seems like an appropriate track to do so with. Seattle based Dark Time Sunshine, consisting of producer Zavala and rapper Onry Ozzborn, have been quietly building a loyal following for about 5 years now. This is off of their 2010 LP Vessel which made serious underground waves. In a lot of respects it is a quintessential Pacific Northwest hip hop album, with congenial beats meshed with contemplative lyrics. Yet, this album stood out on multiple levels. First off, Zavala brought with him from Chicago a more avant garde sensibility and his approach to production is significantly more experimental than the radio friendly projects of Seattle counterparts such as Sabzi of Blue Scholars and Ryan Lewis of Macklemore. Most of the tracks on Vessel are complex and multifaceted, with multiple layers of synth rhythms woven into a nexus with ever-changing warped beats. Their latest album ANX is equally left-field, with progressive (somewhat dreamy) soundscapes and provocative lyrics.
This track, however is one of their more accessible products. The soulful croon of Portland’s Reva Devito softens its impact and ergo highlight’s Onry Ozzborns deeply personal and introspective lyrics. Pacific Northwest hip hop has been thrust into the mainstream recently due to the explosive success of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” (it’s even taken off in Cambodia, I kid you not), and it’s inevitable that other Seattle mainstays will likely garner more attention. We’ll see if Dark Time Sunshine picks up any of this byproduct. Something tells me though that they’re perfectly happy occupying their avant gard niche the hip hop underground.