It’s hard not to have high expectations when a new restaurant is the #1 rated venue on Trip Advisor, even understanding how much of a racket Trip Advisor can be. And taking a first look at the menu at Quitapenas it occurred to me that I’d never seen a menu in Phnom Penh with so menu items I wanted to jump on. It was therefore quite fortunate that my first visit to Quitapenas was with a party of eight, giving me ample opportunity to indulge my curiosity about so many dishes I’m not at all used to seeing on offer.
Admittedly I’m not particularly knowledgeable about Spanish food. I spent one ten day holiday tooling around Spain years ago. I could count on one hand the times I ate Spanish cuisine in Los Angeles, and though I grew fond of a tapas place in Chicago which I enjoyed a number of times, Spanish has never been high on the list of food I’ve sought out. My experience at Quitapenas suggests that sometimes Trip Advisor does get it right and either I’ve been missing out all these years or that Joaquin at Quitapenas is doing something very very special because Quitapenas more than met my high expectations.
Located in a villa just north of Sihanouk behind the Royal Palace, the venue itself is welcoming, as was our host. There are lots of cozy places to situate yourself, ground floor or upstairs, including private rooms, little nooks off the main entry, an upstairs bar and balcony seating. Downstairs is bright and awash with color, upstairs more subdued (Audiophiles note there’s a turntable up there). Upstairs was rather warm when we visited though I’m sure the balcony would have worked out just fine for a small party. Our group fit just perfectly in the green dining room to the left of the main entry.
The menu at Quitapenas will vary from day to day. We had more than a dozen warm plates to choose from and a half dozen in the salad family. While still of the small food big plate style of presentation (which presentation was uniformly beautiful), many of the dishes were more the size of a decent entree than the tiny tapas plates I was expecting. Prices per plate range from $6-$11, with Paella available in $20, $40, and $60 portions. Spanish wines by the glass are available in the $6-$7 range.
Goat Cheeseballs with Carmelized Onions was the first plate to arrive, soon followed by a raw tuna with avocado, and for my end of the table this was an excellent start, both being absolutely delicious. The far side of the table got off to a lesser start with a simple salad whose vinegar and oil dressing was not properly mixed, giving one of our diners a vinegar punch in the face which stuck with him much of the evening.
Fortunately, most of the rest did not disappoint. Shiitake mushrooms with Mussels in Saffron Crème had me spinning with delight, the Pisto Manchego with Hiroshima oysters likewise.
The Deep Fried Calamari with Wasabi Mayo was perfectly done, and the Octopus Galicia-style in a Spanish Tortilla was for me the topper, I’d honestly go back if that were the only item on the menu. The Scallops with Guacamole in Tosta was just ok as the scallops were sliced a bit too thin to retain much flavor but I could see that dish working. I’m a huge fan of anchovies and the Escalivada with Anchovies (very good sized ones) was a treat.
A seafood paella was among the last dishes to arrive, and though I thought it was tasty enough, the majority of my fellow diners were disappointed both in its size (the small paella is $20) and in its seasoning. I’ll have to go back to friends who’ve enjoyed their visits to gauge whether this was a one-off or simply the way Quitapenas fashions its paella dishes.
We ended our dinner with a bit of birthday cake and a nice espresso ($2) and staff seemed to enjoy the experience as much as any of us. Their enthusiasm throughout the evening (except for one late delivery of a glass of wine) added a lot to our enjoyment of the evening.
For me this was overall a fantastic experience which I will aim to relive as soon as the checkbook allows. Each of us ordered two plates and that seemed to work out perfectly and we emerged with a bill of less than $30 per, including wine and espresso. Our group tended to focus on the shellfish dishes this time out and there are beef, duck, and chicken dishes I’m hoping are as satisfying as most of what we tried on our maiden visit. “Quitapenas” roughly translates as”take away your worries.” I’d say the name fits just fine, it certainly worked for me.
Quitapenas is located at #14B Street 264 near Street 19. Hours are 6pm-12am.