Malaysian Food Diary

This post is delayed by one month, and I apologize for being absent for so long! Things have been really hectic since I returned from Asia and I’ve been working my @ss off to launch http://www.CityPocket.com in private beta.

But without further ado, here’s all the food that I ate during my 11 days in Malaysia. This entry is dedicated to my family and to Malaysian food 🙂 Simply the best food in the world (and I’m not even biased!). Click on the photo to see a more detailed description of the foods!! Enjoy! And let me know if you have any questions about the food!

Haute Reviews: Bia Garden

Not that it matters, but in case you noticed, I seem to be reviewing in 3’s these days: 3 speakesies in a row, and then 3 Vietnamese restaurants to follow. What next? 3 outstanding restaurants in NYC (Marea, Falai, Desnuda). Stay tuned…

Charming Speakeasy Vietnamese Outpost

Rating: 7.2 (Good)

If you walked pass this place, you’d not have guessed that there’s actually a restaurant behind its tiny hole-in-the-wall façade. That’s because the kitchen is all you see when you come in the entrance. The maître’d told me that you have to make reservations to dine here before 10pm, which we did luckily. Upon checking in, you are led through a little passageway next to the kitchen to what feels like someone’s big backyard garden with tables and chairs and birdcage lanterns hanging everywhere. It’s very cute, especially for a date and I really liked the casual atmosphere. Seems like it could be a fun outing with a small group of buddies too. But when you look around and notice that everyone dining at this Vietnamese secret outpost is non Asian except our table, you get a feeling that the food may not be as authentic as you’d like. To me as a rule of thumb, that’s okay as long as the food still tastes good or is somewhat inventive and unique.

We ordered 2 small plates and 2 big plates and a couple of beers from Vietnam (Saigon was the best, forget the ale). The Green Papaya Salad with steamed shrimp had a refreshing minty sweetness to it that was well balanced by the tartness of the lime dressing. The Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly appetizer had a tasty caramel pepper sauce to it though not quite crispy enough; yet this was the better dish of the night. The Claypot Fish Market dish was a bit too salty and disappointing. We barely finished half of it. Finally, the Shaking Beef with spicy cress, red onion, and mustard vinaigrette was just alright. I thought the portions (which was a good size) and price tag were similar to that at the new Momofuku Ma Peche, where I later dined at that same weekend.

At the end of the day, you realize that most of the time, unless the service is horrendous, it’s the company that really makes the dining experience even though the food is nothing to shout about. On the way out, we bumped into Mr. Bao himself at the narrow hallway where I barely muttered a shy ‘Hi’ with a half smile. In that split second in my head, I congratulated him on dominating the Bahn Mi Sandwich world, and told him how huge a Baoguette fan I was. And as an afterthought, I wanted to tell him to bring Pho back to Bia Garden’s menu and dominate that world too.

  • Pros: Good selection of Asian beer, Cute garden in the backyard
  • Cons: Dishes are hit or miss

Haute Reviews: Bao Noodles

My Go-To Neighborhood Noodle Bar (where they know my name)

Rating: 7.0 (Good)

I came in for a quick late-night bite with a girlfriend so I can’t speak much to a full dining experience here. The décor was very warm and cozy and nicer than expected since the food was very reasonably priced (most dinner entrées were between $8-$15). It’s also pretty dark in there and we had to squint under the candle to read the menu.

We tried the Spicy Beef & Pork Hue Style Noodles with brisket, rare beef, bean sprouts and rice vermicelli in a spicy lemongrass broth.  I have to say that I quite like it – the broth was flavorful and had a good kick to it but not overpowering and I love the freshness of the bean sprouts. The waitstaff and chef were mostly all Vietnamese so it felt authentic, although I probably couldn’t tell if it weren’t.

The waiter and bartender were very friendly and we ended up hanging out at the bar to Ohtouka (unpasteurized/namazake sake) after Bao closed shop so I suppose it wasn’t a typical dining experience for us.  I live a few blocks away from here so perhaps I’ll update this review when I’ve also tried lunch and their Bao 111 Special Entrees here.

Haute Reviews: Momofuku Má Pêche

Chang’s French-Vietnamese Fare: Good but not Great

Rating: 7.3 (Good)

I came here for an impromptu Sunday brunch, having heard that David Chang just opened his latest restaurant at Chambers Hotel midtown. The entrance to the hotel boasted grand floor to ceiling wooden doors that greeted you like royalty; this is the first cue that this place is not going to be pocket-friendly. The location of Ma Peche was a little confusing since it was located at the back of the hotel lobby; there are two or three areas to dine at; the main restaurant area, the bar area (stately, dry and monotone bar with high stools), and the airy open mezzanine level, which we opted for. Here, you dine on exotic wooden coffee tables and oversized leather couches, which may feel awkward at first, but I like this sort of casual, ad-hoc dining experience… something not everyone will appreciate.

The menu has a strong French-Vietnamese influence to it, which was a pleasant surprise. We ordered the cassava chips to start, which reminded me of my Southeast Asian childhood snack treats; the chips were delightfully crispy and had an addictive spicy kick to it. Next, we had the squid salad with scallions and peanuts, which was refreshing but maybe a tad bit salty from the fish sauce. The short ribs braised with carrots and spaetzle were bursting with strong, rich flavors. We also ordered the famous fried cauliflower, which was easily the highlight of the meal. The cauliflower had a monotone burnt color to it and did not look very appetizing but the moment you bite into the little trees soaked up in curry, mint and fish sauce, you wonder how on earth this dish was created to have that sort of crisp on the outside and buttery softness on the inside. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever tried before! Although I thought the individual dishes were all good, the combination of it all may have been a little bit overpowering and rich for lunch. I thought that the portions were fair for the price (some don’t) and the 2 of us could barely finish the chips, appetizer and 2 entrees!

I would still recommend this place for a casual brunch, especially appropriate for catching up with an old friend or a new acquaintance. Just beware that the price point is to be expected of any David Chang establishment at about $60+ for what the two of us ate (includes 2 pots of mint tea), so don’t complain about the prices if you want to dine here. Final verdict: I’m a huge fan of the Mfk empire, having been to every single one of them (Ko, Ssam Bar, Milk Bar, Noodle Bar) and I would rank Ma Peche at 3rd place before Milk Bar and Noodle Bar (ramen too salty). I would give this place 3.5 stars if I could.

  • Pros: Upscale feel but casual at the same time
  • Cons: Dishes are mostly rich and strongly flavored

Haute Reviews: Milk and Honey

While I’m at it, I might as well review 3 speakeasies in a row!! 🙂

Classy and Mysterious but Mixologist Could Do Better

Rating: 7.3 (Good)

I came to this speakeasy (which is located on a very ghetto alleyway and sits behind a locked dingy old door that says “134. M&H”) about 2 years ago when M+H didn’t require a membership to get in yet. I clearly remember not being too fascinated with the cocktails there, esp the ‘signature’ drink that the waitress recommended but I wanted to give it another try.

The bar itself is dimly lit, and has a few booths on a long and narrow hallway. It does have that prohibition era (1920–1933) ambiance to it for sure. The waitress comes and asks us what kinds of drinks we like – sweet? creamy? what kind of liquor do you like?

At least $16 a pop, I must admit that I’ve unfortunately had better cocktails at Raines Law Room, Angel’s Share, Pegu or Death & Co. We ordered 7 different drinks in total and while they were good, they weren’t all that unique (for example, the waitress made me a Penicillin, which was the exact drink I had at Raines but better) or memorable and there was always something a little off (too much lime, too creamy, can’t taste the blackberries, etc).

I am not sure who pays for membership to M+H these days but I surely will not! I can email the hostess and get a table at a certain time almost guaranteed; so in a way, getting into M+H for me is easier than getting into Raines, which doesn’t take ressies. Nonetheless, if you do plan to go, bring a stack of cash. This speakeasy don’t do plastic!

  • Pros: Takes reservations, classy place to chat or impress a date
  • Cons: Expected better and more unique cocktails

Haute Reviews: Apotheke

A Fun Time Once Inside but Prepare a Backup Plan

Rating: 6.8 (just average – solely because of the terrible doorman policy. This place used to be an 8.1 for me)

My first experience at Apotheke about a year ago was on a weeknight. It was a lot of fun trying to locate this speakeasy since it’s unsuspectingly placed behind a Chinese restaurant with a yellow sign on a little narrow alleyway called Doyer St in Chinatown.

There were no lines then and very few seem to know of this establishment at that time, which made it pretty special. Since I’m a highly imaginative individual, I love concept bars, and totally dig the whole old world apothecary theme with bartenders dressed in lab coats, spirits in experimental glass tubes and cylinders, an entire cocktail menu list divided into inventive sections such as: Health & Beauty, Stress Relievers, Pain Killers, Aphrodisiacs, Stimulants, Pharmaceuticals, Euphoric Enhancers and Therapeutic Treatments. I also loved the vintage furniture, especially the old sugar cane press near the bathroom! We laid back on one of the velvet thrones and sipped the night away to quiet jazz.

Fast forward a year later, Apotheke resembles a club-type lounge with velvet ropes and a line of hopefuls backed up about 30 minutes at minimum on a good weekend night. The doorman, James has this totally weird method of picking and choosing which crowd he lets skip the queue to go right in, which obviously pisses some folks off. But alas, we were handpicked and were able to join in the crowd that was already dancing to the latest hip-hop (?) tunes. A lot different from what I remembered in terms of atmosphere and crowd; I still liked the cocktails and concept though. After the owner’s homemade Absinthe made its round twice, along with numerous other elixirs and prescriptions, I no longer cared about how obnoxious the line/bouncer was or how this place has turned out to be slightly grungier, but had a great time with the fun group I was with. I will still return to Apotheke despite its decline … (maybe as an off-meatpacking club-lounge and IF there is no line) just don’t expect it to be a Raines Law Room or Little Branch.

  • Pros: Unique apothecary concept, good cocktails, decor
  • Cons: Obnoxious door policy and rude doorman
3 Star Rating: Average

05/18/10

A Fun Time Cnce Inside but Prepare a Backup Plan

Haute Reviews: Raines Law Room

One of the Best Speakeasy Lounges in the City

Rating: 9.1 (Excellent)

Raines Law Room holds the top spot as my favorite lounge these days. I’ve been raving about it so much lately and can’t wait to go back there again!

There are so many things I love and adore about this underground establishment; the bell at your table that rings your server, the plush décor and spaciousness of the entire lounge, the amazingly concocted cocktails that my highly skilled mixologist friend approvingly distinguished as top notch quality, the unusually friendly maitre‘d and waiters, the romantic bathroom!! Perhaps what tops it off is the open kitchen bar at the back of the lounge where fresh fruits and herbs lay abound. I literally felt like I’m in someone’s apartment kitchen! My one and only tiny complain is that the luxurious booths were too huge and somewhat far apart for conservations across the table. But it’s a non-factor and I wouldn’t sweat that at all.

Another interesting thing that I found out, which most people don’t bother to, is what’s behind the name. For history buffs out there, Raines Law was originally established in 1896 to curb liquor consumption via banning the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday – except in hotels to hotel guests. Not surprisingly, dozens of “Raines law hotels” cropped up. Well, I think that Raines Law Room is a brilliant name and no lesser than an excellent reincarnation of a raines law hotel!!

  • Pros: Almost everything from the cocktails to the decor
  • Cons: No reservations

The kitchen bar