For real heat, you need the entrée cha ugg ($14), an honest two-chili silhouettes' worth (and perhaps a four back in Cambodia). This is hamburger with small slices of really hot red and green bird peppers and notes of Asian basil. Another potential scorcher is curry pork in fish sauce ($18), but you don't want to order this with cha ugg unless you have a large table, because here you have another mince, designed to be eaten as a dip for various sliced vegetables, the most interesting being golf-ball-size green eggplants, which I've never eaten raw before, but will again, if only for the interesting way they crumble like tapioca bits in the mouth. The dip itself is reasonably hot with a good dose of the mustard-ginger flavor of galangal.
The white rice is real jasmine with a wonderful aroma. There are many noodle options as well, and the dry Khmer noodle ($10) is a fine pile of rice linguini on top of bean sprouts, topped with very-fine-ground beef balls and some sliced beef, but not a lot of sauce.
A nice dish on the milder side is cha takun ($14/beef, chicken, pork, tofu; $17/shrimp) which we tried in the tofu version. It's a familiar, slightly sweet, soy-tasting brown sauce with more hollow-stem vegetables and lots of deep-fried tofu triangles.
Floating Rock has a list of international wines (but very few sakes), some of which might stand up to Asian food. Something from the host of bottled beers (but not Rolling Rock — no sense of irony here) would probably be a more likely pair, and there are also cocktails, though not the tiki-bar drinks coming back into fashion. A sake sangria ($10) was cleverly made of unsweetened juices and dry red wine. You can't, of course, taste the sake in a mixed drink, but a bone-dry sangria is innovative.
There are also desserts. For the culturally conservative, "sweet banana in coconut milk" ($6) is a not-fully-sweet plantain sliced into hot, thinned coconut milk with a little bit of tapioca at the end. If you don't want a hot, soupy dessert, the alternative is cheesecake with strawberry sauce ($6). I am not a cheesecake fiend, but this has two big things going for it at Floating Rock: the richness of cheesecake sweeps all the hot chili out of your mouth in one bite, and the southeast Asian tradition of artfully cut fruits and vegetables meant we got two fully ripe strawberries cut into remarkable flower shapes.
Service is quite good, although our server was not fully up on her Asian vegetables and couldn't command an answer from the kitchen. And there ought to be a way to order food at perhaps three levels of chili peppers: mild for true beginners, medium for spice-loving gringos, and tropical for immigrants and daredevils.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.
Floating Rock, located at 485 Mass Ave. in Cambridge (Central Square), is open daily from 5 pm - 1 am. Call 617.455.4009.