When I was in grad school, there was a nearby cheap pan-Asian noodle place where we’d often grab lunch between classes. It was fast, inexpensive, and… mediocre. One dish, though, became an addiction for me: something called Cambodian-style sweet lime soup. A sweet and sour broth with pineapple, tomato, shrimp, and fried bits of garlic on top, it was a perfect pick-me-up between long lectures, and I’d never seen it elsewhere. I don’t get out to that neighborhood much anymore, but I still think of that soup. Now, two years later, I’ve finally found it, and it’s closer to home and tastier than the one I remember. It’s at Floating Rock in Central Square, the new Cambridge location of an old Revere gem.
Reviews of the former Revere spot raved that the hole-in-the-wall had truly authentic Khmer cuisine, a wonderful experience despite the dingy exterior and through-the-kitchen route to the unisex bathroom. The Cambridge location is completely revamped in a way that makes me wish I’d made it out to Revere while it was still there. Now, it’s a glossy lounge with televisions at the bar, trivia and karaoke nights, and dishes that seem much closer to Americanized Thai food than true Cambodian.
That’s not to say that it’s not good; the food is enjoyable and the service is fantastic. Soups are available in small and large portions, which is perfect for when your dining companion discovers how delicious the sweet and sour soup is and tries to eat all of yours. Ahem. Everything is made to order, and anything can be made vegetarian by swapping fish sauce with mushroom sauce and chicken broth with vegetable broth. Most entrees are rice- or noodle-based. I particularly enjoyed Mee Ka Tang, a wide noodle dish with Chinese broccoli and lightly fried tofu, very similar to the Thai Rad Na, although I wish I had tried one of less familiar dishes on the menu, such as Amok, a catfish fillet in spicy coconut milk and curry sauce.
The vibe, the food, and especially the cocktail list are reminiscent of lounge-style Asian restaurants like Golden Temple in Brookline. The drinks are strong and fruity, and they have the requisite kind of tacky, kind of fun names: Plum Surprised. The Phenom of Phnom Penh. Farmer’s Mind Eraser.
Floating Rock will have broad appeal in Central Square, and I know I’ll be back for the soup, but it’s a shame that the gritty authenticity appears to have been left behind in Revere in favor of half-priced appetizer college nights and sports games on the big screen. (A note to the college students: they have sake bombs. Enjoy.)
Floating Rock Restaurant & Bar
485 Mass. Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
Hours: Mon – Sun 5 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a Somerville-based writer, photographer, and musician. She writes about food on her blog, Fork it over, Boston!, and runs Boston Food Bloggers, a networking community. For more information, visit RachelBlumenthal.net.