Phnom Penh Restaurant Reviews: GenovaOctober 17, 2012
When the word “pesto” is capitalized on the front of a restaurant menu, it’s pretty clear they’re trying to tell you something.
At Genova, it’s the specialty of the house and owner, Roberto, seems to be recognised more for his pesto than for most of the other dishes on the menu.
It’s a slight deviation from tradition (normally a blend of garlic, basil, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil) since it contains a touch of cream to round out the bitter edges imparted by the tangy Cambodian holy basil. It is also presented “Genovese style”, meaning it includes small potato chunks and green beans. And it’s not particularly attractive to look at (or photograph – hence the unappealing shots with this article). But it’s delicious.
Roberto hails from Genova and was taught to cook by his Genovese grandma. He’s now the congenial (and very hands-on) host of this Phnom Penh trattoria which joins a growing list of inexpensive Italian dining spots serving good food.
It also offers a colourful dining experience since it’s located on Street 154, where streetside dining brings you into the heart of the quintessential Phnom Penh experience. Motos constantly whiz past the door, Cambodians squat on plastic stools in the dining spot across the street and $2 shirts hang on racks outside the shop next door.
The interior is simple and casual with russet-painted walls, hanging lamps and an enormous black and white framed sketch of Genova, and there’s an open kitchen in the back where you can watch dishes being made, which is always a good sign. It’s not air-conditioned (there are fans) and the cane chairs are a bit rigid but the food is tasty and prepared with care.
I’ve spent a couple of evenings here and both times was tempted by pesto dishes. First was ravioli filled with spinach and mozzarella and second was gnocchi. While both were good, the gnocchi won hands-down for me. Large, soft pillows of dough smothered in the famous green sauce soon left me with an empty plate, wiped clean with the chunks of Italian bread that come with every dish.
My husband ordered penne arrabiata, which was nicely spicy with a slight sweet flavour and really good tomato sauce. The advertised “bacon”, however, was actually ground pork and the dish was swimming in a little too much oil for his taste.
The next time, I went with a group of friends and every dish was a winner. The only negative comments were about the orange juice (not fresh) and the seating (not comfortable) but the rest of it was grand.
Philip’s barracuda (fresh from Sihanoukville) was tender and delicious, served with fresh tomato sauce bursting with flavour, olives and chunks of tomato ($7), and Katarina’s calamari fritti ($6) was delivered in a light garlic butter and had the appearance and taste of being grilled rather than fried.
Skip’s chicken Milanese ($6) consisted of three cutlets which were lightly breaded, deliciously crispy and tender to the bite.
Roberto makes his own lasagna, ravioli, gnocchi, tortellini and fettucine, all priced at $4, and sauces include Bolognese, gorgonzola, arrabiata, alfredo, vongole ($5), Siciliana (vegetarian) and, of course, the famous pesto.
If you’re looking for something heartier, there’s costolette (fried spare ribs; $4), scallopini ai limone (beef filet with lemon sauce; $6) and fried salmon ($6). There’s also an interesting choice of pasta toppings, which include salmon with cream and shrimp with wine and curry cream. All dishes come with a small side salad or portion of spaghetti.
The only thing missing, for me, is a selection of desserts. While there’s affogato café (coffee with vanilla ice cream and Baileys) and mango with ice cream, they don’t quite do it for me and I’d love to see a hunk of cheesecake, slice of tiramisu or some Italian cookies to round off the evening.