Searching for Pho-land-ia on the UES

Vietnaam88
1700 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10128

So I have a confession to make. My name is Jon, and I’m a pho-aholic. Yes, I am plagued with this unquenchable desire to find delicious bowls of pho across the land. I yearn for overnight beef broth with just the right touch of fatty content, the perfect slurpable bowl of noodles, and, of course, lots of meat. Sometimes I’ll have a great bowl of pho in a fancy restaurant in Hong Kong, sometimes I’ll find it in a small neighborhood noodle shop in the city, and sometimes it will be in a strip mall in a sketchy looking neighborhood. No matter—if it’s delicious, then it’s where I want to be.

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I actually found this place through another Vietnamese restaurant in another part of NYC. Up in the Morningside Heights neighborhood near Columbia University, there is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese eatery called Saiguette. At this joint, it’s taking tight quarters to a whole new meaning. There’s window counter seating for about four people—maybe 6 anorexic individuals, but the food is super legit. It is clearly meant to be a takeout and delivery hotspot, and it is. Their food is spicy, flavorful and feels very authentic. In fact, they were written up as a top pick for cheap eats and great Vietnamese food in NYC by Grub Street.

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While Saiguette is super small, with its own brand of fierceness, Vietnaam is their sister restaurant and basically Saiguette all grown up and rebranded for the Upper East Side. t resembles many Asian restaurants that can be found around New York City. There is a large dining room with many tables crowded together by a long booth, and other stand alone tables dotted around, with some sort of Asian inspired decoration to make it stand out. At Vietnaam, there is a beautiful bamboo divider wall between the kitchen and the dining room. It does make the restaurant feel unique, and also serves another purpose of separation of spaces. While the atmosphere might be different—and oh how I missed the squeeze necessity and precarious balance required for the small window stool of Saiguette, I got over that nostalgia quickly since I had a whole table to myself. What a luxury!

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Vietnaam offers a number of Vietnamese staples—from steaming bowls of pho to overflowing plates of vermicelli noodles to aromatic curry dishes or elevated banh mi sandwiches. Regrettably—actually totally not a hardship at all!—it requires multiple visits (or palates perhaps) to try everything that looks good on the menu. They help you out a bit with this by subtly (i.e. overtly) encouraging you to order extra food by making all food 10% off while dining in during lunch. Yesss! Don’t mind if I do, which I did.

Photo Nov 21, 7 11 09 PMThe Summer Rolls appetizer (Nem Chao on the menu), one of my favorites, were a solid choice. They were fresh and didn’t seem super cold, which was good. Often I’ll order some fresh or summer rolls and they are like ice—how long have you kept these in the refrigerator bro? Appetizer foul 😦 The summer rolls here, though, were fresh, with crunchy lettuce and a chewy and elastic rice paper wrapper. They were filled out nicely with a mix of veggies, vermicelli noodles, shrimp and lettuce—though I wish there was a bit more shrimp. The accompanying peanut hoisin sauce was delish; creamy, nutty, spicy and had a wonderful mouthfeel as it coated the roll. These also came with a second sauce—a more traditional nuoc cham sauce that was spicy and vinegary that highlighted the crisp lettuce and soaked deep into the roll’s filling. Wonderful way to start a meal.

Photo Nov 21, 7 18 02 PMIf going for the summer rolls and trying to be “healthy”-ish, then an order of Nem, or Vietnamese fried spring rolls, was absolutely necessary—if only to maintain proper food karma. The spring rolls were super crispy. As I broke through the crisp outer layer, the steaming hot filling of ground pork, shrimp, taro, glass noodles, mushroom and jicama that was both tender and firm filling filled my mouth. The skin was still chewy with a thick texture, and though they were fried the rolls didn’t feel too oily. They were served simply with some of the ubiquitous nuoc cham sauce to give them a fresh finish, though for a couple of extra dollars you could add some cucumber, lettuce and herbs to the dish. I love how it’s so no frills—more authentic that way I think. They also cut these up into bite sized pieces, so easy to eat, which was good since it was a generous portion.

Photo Nov 21, 8 14 22 PMAnother favorite starter from Vietnaam, is the Laksa. Laksa is a curry and coconut milk based soup that is not exactly Vietnamese in origin, but actually from Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines. In the last few years, it has become much more well-known and popular all over Asia, as well as the rest of the world. One reason that this soup rocks is that it is so comforting when done right—they do it right here! It feels like a warm Southeast Asian hug, and will warm you up from the inside out. The broth is creamy and a bit frothy with some tang from the lime, warming heat from the curry, an aromatic aroma and a sharper heat from the accompanying chili sauce. The chicken was cooked perfectly, though they do a shrimp version as well  (or even vegetarian or tofu if need be). They’re all delicious and this makes for perfect leftovers. Not your grandma’s chicken noodle soup!

Photo Nov 21, 7 25 18 PMFor the main event, and what I judge every Vietnamese restaurant by, is the pho (pronounced “fuh”). Nowadays, you can find multiple varieties of pho—shrimp, veggie, chicken and even some fancy types such as one made with a Porcini mushroom or duck base. They’re almost always tasty, and if you’re looking for a unique spin on the classic bowl of pho, I highly recommend the Mushroom Pho at Stock in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia or the Pho Bo Satee at Nha Trang One in NYC’s Chinatown. The mushroom pho is as hearty and comforting as a beef based soup, but lighter at the same time. It’s also super earthy from the mushrooms and manages to make the tofu in it taste delicious—a great vegetarian or vegan option. The pho bo satee from Nha Trang One is spicy from an infusion of peanut sate sauce. The sate gives it a wonderful depth of flavor and thickness to the broth. It also has that wonderful peanutty note that many people love about Thai dishes—think a rice noodle soup version of a beef sate appetizer.  Back to Vietnaam….I ordered the Spicy Pho, which I usually don’t do since I like to spicy up the bowl myself. The pho was spicy but still mild—I added additional sriracha sauce to mine. The chili oil used to spice up the soup gave it a vibrant red color, and left a slow, lingering heat that made my lips tingle by the end of the bowl. The broth itself was clean tasting, which means they did their homework and skimmed the fat, but also had a lovely unctuousness to it that we all secretly crave. The bowl was filled with lots of noodles and meat—fatty brisket, firm, but not rubbery beef meatballs, and thinly sliced beef eye round that is placed into the piping hot bowl of soup raw and cooks on its way to the table. This was a big bowl of pho, so it was worth the hefty $12 Upper East Side price tag. I’ve returned for many more bowls of pho.

Vietnaam is a hip, fun place to eat at if you’re on the Upper East Side. They give generous portions, quick service, tasty dishes. Is it the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had? Hmmm…hard to say, but it was definitely some of the best in NYC. Only thing missing was perhaps that certain “je ne sais quoi” that its sister restaurant, Saiguette, has as a hole-in-the-wall joint. Come to Vietnam if you’re ready for a grown up bowl of pho and other Vietnamese favorites..

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Hungry for Sushi in Center City

Photo May 16, 2 57 15 PMAki Sushi
1210 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Photo May 16, 2 57 21 PMI had just left the gym and was feeling Hungry…with a capital H. I thought, what could I eat that would not only fill me up for the day—or a week!—but not necessarily weigh me down. The answer was obvious: sushi. Aki Sushi is located in the Midtown section of Center City, also known as the Gayborhood, and has been open for over six years. When I’m hungry, I stop in for their All You Can Eat sushi special for $26.95. The all you can eat menu is extensive with a large selection, and everything brought out when it’s ready. The service is great, and while it might be slow, all of the food is fresh and delicious.

Photo May 16, 3 12 03 PMI started off with the Pork Katsu appetizer, which was a bit on the small side, but in context, didn’t need to be a large plate—there was a lot of food coming my way! The pork cutlets were fried super crisp and stayed juicy. They were not too greasy, but could’ve used a bit of salt. The dipping sauce was not too sweet and it was a nice way to start off the meal.

Photo May 16, 3 09 05 PMThe very popular Sashimi Appetizer comes with six pieces of sushi grade fish selected by the chef. My plate came with three plump pieces of brightly colored salmon and three opaque tuna slices. The sashimi was very fresh and cut into thick pieces, which gave them a meaty texture and the cold, but not frigid temperature allowed the delicate flavor to shine through. The shredded daikon garnish was not only very classic, but also served as great absorption for extra soy sauce.

Photo May 16, 3 12 00 PMThe next dish to come out was the Gyoza, or Japanese dumplings. Dumplings happen to be a personal favorite of mine, and I’ve eaten them in so many places that I always look forward to them. The gyoza were pan-fried and greasy in a pleasing way—especially with all of the smooth fish. The filling was made up of meaty, minced pork and paired with an acidic, vinegary dipping sauce. The dough was cooked perfectly and the sauce helped cut through the heavy filling without overwhelming the simplicity of the dish.

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Spider Roll (left), Shrimp Avocado Roll (right)
Wanting to try some more fish dishes, I ordered the Spicy Spider Roll and the Shrimp Avocado Roll. The spicy spider roll was a bit of a departure for me since it was a cooked roll, but I always like to try new things and it came recommended by the waitress. The roll was filled with soft-shelled crab, which was nice and crispy after being coated in a tempura batter and deep-fried. The roll as a whole had a good level of spice to it, and the spicy mayo wasn’t too overpowering in either creaminess or heat. The nori wrapper was exceptionally chewy—in a good way—and slightly warm from the heat it absorbed from the freshly fried tempura. There was a great textural contrast when I bit into the end pieces and got to experience the full-on crunch as the crab spilled out the sides of the roll. The Shrimp Avocado Hand Roll had seemed like a plain choice, so I opted to shake things up a bit by ordering it as a hand roll. A hand roll as opposed to a regular maki roll is cone-shaped,  and the filling and rice are packed into the cone in what seems to be a greater quantity, though it is only because the roll is shorter. In addition, it is not as thin as a maki roll or as tightly rolled. The roll was actually (surprisingly) delicious. The sushi chef used whole shrimp, and not cut up pieces or shrimp paste, and allowed for a wonderful mouthful of perfectly cooked shrimp. In addition, there were big slices of avocado that lent a good freshness to the roll. The roll was also wrapped tightly enough to keep it together, but ate more like a wrap sandwich than a traditional sushi roll.

Photo May 16, 3 43 31 PMThe Chicken Yakitori appetizer arrived at the table piping hot and freshly cooked. The meat had a slightly crisp exterior and was still moist, though it—at first glance—seemed like it might be dry. The dish wasn’t drowning in sauce, so you could taste the chicken and it was a nice break between various forms of sushi. The fact that it was hot was also a nice change-of-pace from the cold fish.

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Sweet Potato (bottom left), Aki Tempura (top row), Rainbow Roll (bottom right)
The meal was rounded out by a trio of maki rolls. The Aki Tempura Roll was unique in that it wasn’t the filling that was fried, but the whole roll was lightly fried giving it a slightly greasy, but also crispy exterior. This roll probably had the most beautiful presentation of the meal; it looked like it was overflowing with the blue crab topping, and a lot of fish in the center. The crab topping gave this roll a decadent creaminess, especially with the tempura outside. The Rainbow Roll, though, was very fresh, and the cold temperature stood in stark contrast to the warm tempura roll. The roll was topped with avocado, and each piece alternated between a salmon or tuna garnish. Sliced cucumber inside the roll gave it a needed crunch factor with the softness of the fish and avocado. The final roll of the day was the Sweet Potato Roll. I’ve had various versions of sweet potato rolls, and though this roll wasn’t very unique– The soy sauce and wasabi are necessary to help flavor it—it was still tasty. The sweet potato was soft but not mushy, and lost some of its starchiness after being cooked. It also helped clear the palette after such a fish heavy meal.

The sushi at Aki is top notch and absolutely delicious. Come here hungry, and leave happy. Just make sure you take the time to enjoy the meal–I promise, you’ll love it!

Thai House of Deliciousness (or What I Ate On My Israeli Vacation, part II)

Thai House
8 Bograshov Street
Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is, in my opinion, an amazing cit. In some respects, it reminds me of mini-Barcelona with the beach and then a large downtown, and in some respects it reminds me of San Francisco with a slightly bohemian attitude. Either way, it has a killer food scene.

image1Continuing on my Israeli food journey, this stop was actually towards the end of my trip. After eating lots of local Israeli delights like hummus, pita, falafel, salads, roasted eggplant etc., I was craving something a bit different, so I decided on Thai food. When I asked around, and then looked online, Thai House off of Ben Yehuda Street near the beach was recommended over and over. After having eaten here, I wholeheartedly agree—this was definitely some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. This place gets super busy around dinner time, and all day on the weekends since it’s a block from the beach. There were a lot of locals eating here, as well as some American tourists in the mood for an authentic Thai meal. I was at one of two tables filled when I came in and the whole room was filled when I got the check.

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image3I sat in the dining room that had bamboo walls and roof, and it very much lived up to its name of “Thai house.” The menu was big with lots of choices, and all of the dishes can be made to your spice level. I wish I had 10 stomachs to eat with, especially with the incredible smells emanating from the table next to me—lime citrus, spicy chili, umami fish sauce, sweet Thai basil, garlic, and more—each one more tantalizing than the next. The table decorations were very simple—no frills—and it was clear that the food and authentic decor are the main events here. I do have to say that I regret not trying one of the cocktail specials that sounded refreshing.

image5The best part of my meal here was really the food though. It was hard to choose from all the selections, but I think I chose wisely. I started with the Yam Neua Beef (46 shekels, ~$12), or grilled rump beef served with a hot chili fish sauce. When the plate came to the table it was presented beautifully. The sticky rice came in its own sack, and I was encouraged to tear pieces of the rice off with my hands and eat it with the spicy beef. The beef was sliced thin and garnished with sliced onion on top, and sliced cucumber below that almost became pickled from the heavily acidic sauce coating the beef. The meat itself was so tender and had been marinated in lime juice, chilis and fish sauce, and some sugar to tenderize the beef. The choice to cook the beef at medium rare also kept it from being chewy. It made it not only super pungent and spicy, but also light and meaty, and the sticky rice was able to absorb excess sauce. The plate was also garnished with small pieces of chili—leftover from the marinade—as well as some mint leaves. The dish was just fun to eat, and the temperature contrast between the warm rice and the cool meat was a nice touch.

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For my entrée, I wanted some sort of noodle dish and went with the recommendation of the waiter—Yum! The Pahd Sen Lian with goose (72 shekels, ~$19) had egg noodles that tasted homemade, and not mushy at all, as well as three kinds of mushroom—button, shiitake and oyster—morning glory—sometimes known as Chinese broccoli—and scallions. I requested the dish spicy, which it was, but I also added some pickled chilis to the noodles from the tray of spice condiments that was brought to the table. The result was a building heat that complemented the slightly sweet sauce on the noodles.Although the ingredients were very refined, the presentation and composition was almost rustic, but in the best way possible. I could imagine myself eating this dish in some small village in Thailand. The goose was also amazing. Not only is it rare that I get to eat goose meat, but it was cooked very well and included a good amount of chunk, breast meat. The fat was cooked off, which just left the tender, moist meat. It was slightly gamier than duck, and very meaty—satisfied the carnivore in me.

image8My experience at Thai House was in one word: delectable. The food was delicious and thoughtfully composed, the decor was authentic and at the same time the perfect level of campiness, and the location was wonderful. It was a great break from the hustle and bustle of my time in Tel Aviv and a satisfied my need for a spicy Thai meal. #Nomnom!

Recipe: Asian Fusion Chicken Curry

This recipe was inspired by the delicious Chicken Rendang dish I had at Malaysia Grill recently. One of the cooking methods that made that dish so unique was the use of ground onions in the gravy. The onions gave an amazingly aromatic and deep flavor to the dish. In my spin on a chicken curry, shallots are roasted and pureed into a paste in order to impart a similar flavor profile. This curry also incorporates flavors from Thai and Indian cuisines. I chose to make it with chicken, but it would be delicious with beef, shrimp or even vegetarian. Some crispy tofu or eggplant would be nice options. It might seem like a lot of steps, but once you’ve prepped, it really cooks quickly. You’ll love to eat this curry on a chilly day, or on any day of the year.

IMG_1553Ingredients:

1 package of boneless, skinless chicken tenders, chopped into medium sized chunks

3 stalks of lemongrass

2 tablespoons of fish sauce

2 heaping spoonfuls of hot chili oil

2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons of dried shrimp – this might seem like a weird ingredient, but it’s very prevalent in Asian dishes. It also gives a great umami flavor

3 small or 2 large limes

2 tablespoons of palm sugar (if you don’t have any palm sugar, then brown sugar or even white sugar is fine as a substitute)

2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon of peanut oil

2 tablespoons of olive oil

4 medium shallots

2 medium (or 1 extra large) russet potatoes (you want a good starchy potato to help thicken the curry and stand up to the cooking process)

2 teaspoons of Garam Masala

2 teaspoons of curry powder

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

1/2 cup of water

1.5 teaspoons of freeze-dried cilantro

1/2 of a 4oz jar of green curry paste (Thai kitchen is a good brand)

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1 can of coconut milk

2-3 Thai green chilies, minced (jalapeños are a good substitute) — this is an optional ingredient, but really helps being a nice beat to the dish

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To make the marinade:

  1. Chop the lemongrass into 1-2 inch long pieces and place into a plastic Ziploc bag (about gallon size)–Make sure the lemongrass isn’t cut too small since you’ll have to take it out before cooking.
  2. Add the rice wine vinegar, hot chili oil, the juice of 1 large or 2 small limes, fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of palm sugar, 1 tablespoon of peanut oil, 1 shallot roughly chopped, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and the dried shrimp.
  3. Place the chicken, cut into chunks, along with the rest of the marinade ingredients into a Ziploc bag with a strong zipper. Trust me, you’ll need the good kind, unless you want marinade all over your counter or the inside of your refrigerator. FullSizeRender-4
  4. Toss the cut lime into the bag as well since the zest will help flavor the chicken. You can also add some fresh ginger to this marinade if you want to turn this into a chicken stir-fry style dish. After marinating the chicken, sauté it with some broccoli or peppers or snow peas in a hot wok and serve over rice. Yum!
  5. Marinade for 30 minutes minimum, and up to 1 day in the fridge.
This is what the chicken looked like after a day in the marinade
This is what the chicken looked like after a day in the marinade

To Make the Roasted Potatoes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Chop the potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut those pieces lengthwise again. Cut the long quarters into medium-large chunks. Don’t worry if all of the pieces aren’t the same size, your dish will look rustic and let people know that it’s homemade.
  3. Place the potatoes onto a baking sheet.
  4. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper, and dried cilantro. If you don’t have dried cilantro, then cumin would be tasty and would give the potatoes a smoky taste.FullSizeRender-8
  5. Toss to coat all of the potatoes with the oil and spices.
  6. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes. You want them be crisp and light brown on the outside, but be careful to not let them get too dark. These don’t require a lot of babysitting.
Potatoes out of the oven
Potatoes out of the oven

To Make the Shallot Paste:

  1. Peel the shallots (there will be 2 bulbs in each skin).
  2. If the shallot is large then cut the bulbs in half, if not then place it whole onto a baking sheet.
  3. Season the shallots with salt, pepper and remaining olive oil
  4. Put the shallots into the oven about 10 minutes after the potatoes.
  5. Once you’ve taken the shallots out of the oven, allow them to cool a bit.
  6. Put the shallots into a blender with the curry powder, garam masala, ground ginger, and remaining teaspoon of oil.
  7. Pulse while adding water until it comes together into a loose paste.FullSizeRender-12
  8. The potatoes and shallot paste could both be made ahead of time, just make sure to refrigerate.

To Make the Curry:

  1. Add remaining peanut oil to a wokIMG_1563
  2. Heat your wok on medium to medium high heat until the oil is shimmering, but not smoking
  3. Add curry paste to the wok along with the zest of 1/2 a lime and minced Thai chilies, and heat through (1-2 minutes)FullSizeRender-5
  4. Add the shallot paste to the wok. You’ll be able to smell the aromas of Garam Masala and curry powder after cooking for a few minutes.FullSizeRender-9
  5. Add the coconut milk to the wok as well as the remaining sugar.FullSizeRender-13
  6. Let the sauce come up to a simmer and taste. You can add more fish sauce to taste.
  7. Once the sauce is simmering steadily, it’s time to add the chicken. Remember to pick the lemongrass and limes out of the marinade bag. The lemongrass is inedible in this form and has done its job in flavoring the dish. Also, drain most all of the marinade out of the bag.FullSizeRender-3
  8. Cook the chicken for a couple of minutes, then add the roasted potatoes.FullSizeRender-1
  9. Now is the fun part. Stir the wok around and let it go on the stove for at least 10-15 minutes on medium low – medium in order to give the chicken time to cook in the sauce and the potatoes do lost their crispy exterior and absorb some sauce. Use this time to get a drink, or wash the chili off of your hands.FullSizeRender-6
  10. After it starts simmering again, squeeze half of a lime into the wok and keep simmering. Save the remaining lime half.
  11. When the curry has reduced and has thickened up, so that sticks heavily to your spoon, then it’s done.

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    Doesn’t that look delicious?
  12. Garnish with a wedge of lime and serve! A dollop of Greek yogurt or raita would be delicious to help cool down the palate as well.
A Taste for the Chef
A Taste for the Chef

There’s a deep Indian-spiced, curry flavor to the dish, with an escalating heat from the Thai chilies—no bite though, rather it’s a kind of heat that rests on the back of your tongue. You also taste the warming flavors of curry, garam masala and ginger, as well as an earthiness from the roasted shallots.

The chicken almost braises in the curry sauce, and doesn’t get chewy while cooking in the sauce. The potatoes also have a great mouth feel; they absorb some of the sauce, and the starchiness of the potatoes helps thicken up the gravy. The lemongrass complements the lime throughout the dish, and gives it a subtle citrus flavor, which helps cut across the heaviness of the dish itself. The dried shrimp rehydrates in the marinade as well as the curry, and much of it melts. The leftover pieces become chewy and add a nice fishiness to round out the flavor profile. Rice or naan is a great vehicle to scoop up the thick curry sauce, although the dish is filling enough to eat on its own. It’s so good you may lick your plate clean!

Comfort Food with a Malaysian Twist

Malaysia Grill

224 W 104th Street (Between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave), NYC
Malaysia Grill – Google Maps
It might be easy to miss this place, since it almost resembles a hole in the wall, but you’ll want to try this hidden treasure on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The decor reminded me of an old-school ramen shop with lots of wood paneling, and several small tables. You might have to wait a few minutes from a table since the place is not that big, but it’s worth the wait. The food, and amazing aromas in the dining room, are what it’s really all about here.
Curry Mee Noodle Soup with chicken
Curry Mee Noodle Soup with chicken
We started with the Curry Mee Noodle Soup ($8.25), which we got with two bowls to split, and the Roti Canai ($3.50) appetizer.  Both dishes were delicious. The curry broth coated your tongue with a pleasant layer of fattiness, and had a great viscosity. It came with a combination of (homemade?) egg noodles, as well as delicate rice noodles. Both were cooked well—not an easy feat to accomplish. The broth also had subtle coconut and intense curry flavors that warmed you up—perfect for the tail end of Winter weather. This soup was definitely asking for a nice squeeze of lime juice though. In addition, the chicken was cooked nicely in the broth, and I’m planning on trying the shrimp version next time.
Roti Canai
Roti Canai – Malaysian pancake with curry chicken dipping sauce
The Roti Canai consisted of a Malaysian/Indian style pancake flatbread, which was thin and a perfect vehicle for scooping up the spicy chicken curry sauce that served as a dip. The pancake itself was crispy on the edges with a doughy consistency throughout so it didn’t fall apart from the, at times, heavy curry. It also came with some pickled vegetables as a garnish that didn’t seem very necessary on the plate. At only $3.50 for the dish, this is a major deal and a delicious way to start the meal.
Chow Kueh Teow noodles (#22)
Chow Kueh Teow noodles (#22)
The next dish to come to the table was the Chow Kueh Teow ($8.95)–flat rice noodles with shrimp, squid and vegetables–a Malaysian specialty. The plate arrived with a big portion of chow fun-esque noodles, but the noodles were more angular with a firmer texture, though not in a bad way. The delicate baby shrimp were cooked perfectly, and the squid was not overcooked and retained its meatiness, but seemed to be an odd choice in the dish. Scallops might have fit in better. The noodles lacked enough spice or tanginess to elevate the squid. Luckily there was some sambal (a very spicy Asian chili paste with a bright red color, sometimes made with the addition of garlic, lemongrass or lime) on the table to mix in.
Chicken Rendang
Chicken Rendang
The final dish to arrive was the Chicken Rendang ($9.95) that came (recommended) with coconut rice. The Chicken Rendang consisted of succulent pieces of boneless, dark meat chicken with an aftertaste of lemongrass mixed with heat, but a mild mouthfeel. The meat was melt-in-your mouth tender and the sauce was a beautiful dark red color that was offset by the bright pickled vegetable garnishes. In this dish, the pickled veggies were a welcome addition to act as a cooling agent as the heat built on your tongue. The gravy was reminiscent of an earthier tikka masala sauce, with strong notes of lemongrass. The ground onions gave it a very aromatic flavor, especially mixed with the lingering heat. The coconut rice was a solid side, especially as it complemented the coconut in the sauce, but it was nothing special in comparison. The dish also featured pieces of potato, with the skin on, and just on the edge of overcooked, as well as eggplant, which was super soft and tender. The eggplant lived up to its spongy reputation, and absorbed a lot of the spiciness. The eggplant and Rendang gravy could have made a delicious vegetarian dish all on its own. However, the plate could have stood to lose the blanched string bean and tomato garnish. Otherwise, this dish was awesome!
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Overall, the meal was fantastic in terms of taste, smell, aesthetics and value. You should make it a point to stop by this place anytime you get a hankering for some comforting Malaysian dishes.