Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the Road to Malaysia

Monday, November 26, 2012
Our moveable feast so far begins with crispy fried noodles from Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, Fuzhou won ton soup from Shu Mei Café, 67A East Broadway, and egg rolls from Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street. While still in the zone of starchy appetizers, we must include the scallion pancake from Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street. I’ve also enjoyed scallion pancakes at Shanghai Asian Cuisine, 14 A Elizabeth Street, Shanghai Café, 100 Mott Street, Joe’s Ginger, 25 Pell Street, New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, 50 Mott Street and Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street, but, as I wrote on October 16, 2012, it was "the crowning achievement" of Shanghai Gourmet. Still, the accompanying dipping sauce fails to support this wonderful creation, or go next door to Joe’s Ginger in order to dip.

I’m skipping dumplings and buns all together, because I’ve frequently expressed my preference for Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway, with a small group, and Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, with a large group, for dim sum, which would have to be a meal in itself.

The travel section of yesterday’s Times had an article about Pitigliano, a small town in the hills of Tuscany. It is a very pretty place, high up a pile of volcanic stone. What drew us there in May 2003, and the reporter more recently, was its history which gave rise to the name La Piccola Gerusalemme, Little Jerusalem. Jews were welcomed there in the 1600s, while being oppressed in neighboring regions. They eventually made up about 10% of the population in the mid-19th Century, but moved to the larger cities once granted equal rights with Italy’s unification. Now, 6 Jews remain in Pitigliano, but restoration of the traditional Jewish quarter is underway in order to attract tourists. On our visit, with intrepid fellow-travelers Jill and Steve, we bought several bottles of Kosher wine from vineyards below the town, and served the wine at our wedding later that month.

Just as I was contemplating where to have lunch today, the front (of the corridor) desk called to tell me that Nick Lewin, Stuyvesant ‘57, CCNY ‘62 and distinguished advocate, was here to see me. Actually, the court officer did not know that much Nick, but I filled in the blanks. Nick, having appeared before a judge in the building, was now hungry and off we went to Jaya Malaysian Restaurant, 90 Baxter Street (June 24, 2010). I wanted to try their nasi lemak, supposedly Malaysia’s unofficial national dish, and compare it to other Malaysian restaurants’ versions, in the name of science. We shared three dishes, roti chanai ($3.50), a thin pancake with a piece of chicken in a buttery curry sauce, nasi lemak ($5.25), which the menu described as Malaysian coconut rice with anchovy sambal (chili sauce), curry chicken, achat (spicy pickled vegetables) and boiled egg, and beef chow fun ($6.95). The roti chanai had only one piece of chicken, and the sauce was a little thin. The nasi lemak tasted pretty good, but not as good as it sounded. The beef chow fun was notable for the freshly-cooked taste of the beef; it had not sat around awaiting our arrival.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I visited Nyonya Malaysian Cuisine, 199 Grand Street, during the summer of 2010, but apparently I only made passing reference to it in a subsequent writing. So, today, on a rainy, cold day, I went back as part of my Kuala Lumpur tour and ordered exactly the same things as I had yesterday at Jaya with better results. The roti canai (no H) ($3.50) was very good, two pieces of chicken and one piece of potato in the rich curry sauce, with an enormous pancake. Actually, the pancake (called that in every restaurant that serves roti canai) is really a slightly flaky crepe. Even after dipping pieces of the pancake into the sauce, you still need a spoon to get the remaining sauce. Nyonya’s nasi lemak ($6.95) is described as "coconut rice flavored w. cloves & screw-pine leaves. Served w. chili anchovy, pickle, curry chicken w. bone and hard boiled egg." I can’t attest to the accuracy of this, because I missed the cloves and screw-pine leaves. The pickle was either the fresh cucumber slices or the achat which were both on the plate. Whatever, the dish was very good, and the portion was large causing me to cry out for the return of Nick Lewin. Please note that Nyonya has a good selection of lunch specials, including soup, at $6.50. The room itself is L-shaped with a big section to the back left. There are many small, dark wooden tables, with a glossy finish. Service was quick and attentive.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
I suspended my Kuala Lumpur tour for a day, and went into dinkies, 118 Baxter Street, instead. dinkies is both the place and the specialty item for this new spot. They are very close to profiteroles, but the fillings range from the savory, such as chicken or gruyere green onions, to the sweet, such as apple pie or caramel banana. These all cost $5.49 for an order of 7. For $6.79, you can create your own dessert version, beginning with a choice of platform dinkie, such as chocolate chip or peanut butter and jelly, pick a sauce, such as strawberry or marshmallow, and finish with a topping, such as coconut or peanut butter chips. Again, the order is 7 dinkies. Since I am in a rare period of inter-holiday moderation, I passed on dinkies and ordered a beef short rib sandwich ($13.95), expensive but delicious. The shredded beef was served on a fresh ciabata bun, with mozzarella, and one big onion ring. A mild aioli was on the side and very good French fries came with the sandwich.
I ordered passion fruit iced tea ($3.75) which tasted good, what little there was in the pint glass overwhelmed with ice cubes. The teas, purportedly Taiwanese, Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Indian, are one link to Asia, thus qualifying dinkies for my list. Additionally, the young man taking orders behind the counter was Chinese (although probably born in Queens), as was the lone cook. Finally, cream cheese wontons (!) are listed on the menu as a starter.
dinkies, although getting no natural light because its entrance is down a corridor perpendicular to the street, is nevertheless bright and airy as a result of its aqua and white color scheme. Although it had seating for about 30 people, only one Chinese man was sitting at a table, reading and writing, throughout my stay, and one Western-type guy sat down about ten minutes after I did. Although its pricing needs some adjustment, dinkies deserves more business. I’ll try dinkies next time.

Thursday, November 29, 2012
I returned to the Kuala Lumpur tour today and headed off to Skyway Malaysian Restaurant, 11 Allen Street, which, on October 26, 2010, I found to offer good food at a low price. Alas, today, it was gone, an aluminum shutter pulled down over the empty space. So, I went to Sanur Restaurant, 18 Doyers Street, which serves Indonesian and Malaysian food. On a prior visit (September 23, 2010) I had chicken curry, more potato than chicken, but well-seasoned. I ordered roti canai ($2.95) and nasi lemak ($5.95), but of course. Sanur’s menu tersely identified nasi lemak as coconut rice. The plate held half a hard-boiled egg, two chunks of potato and two chunks of chicken, both modest, cucumber slices, peanuts, anchovies in a spicy sauce and a large mound of rice that had no hint of coconut about it. Also, the part of the dish that should have been hot was only lukewarm. The roti canai had only a piece of potato in the curry sauce, the relatively low price probably chased the chicken away. I don’t think that this is the place that the Malaysian truck drivers eat at.

Friday, November 30, 2012
Our Kuala Lumpur tour ends at West New Malaysia Restaurant, 46-48 Bowery, Chinatown Arcade #28, where I first had nasi lemak on July 29, 2010, by chance. Today, it was a deliberate choice ($6.50). The menu describes it as coconut flavored rice w. belacan anchovy, chicken, hard boiled egg & peanuts. I rushed to the (on-line) dictionary to learn that belacan is a Malay variety of shrimp paste. This was the week’s best version, although I still can’t taste the coconut in the rice. Three unadvertised potato chunks were cooked in with the two chicken chunks, which at first made you believe that you were getting a lot of chicken. The plate also held a couple of cucumber slices and there was two halves of a hard boiled egg. Unlike Sanur yesterday, what should have been hot was at least warm. Because we plan to go out to dinner tonight, I skipped the roti canai, although it would have also stood at the top of the list, based on past experience. However, I’m still waiting for a drop dead wonderful nasi lemak without using my passport.

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