The Chowhounds that ate Penang!!!(LONG)
This meal was all about different kinds of deliciousness, to borrow that overused, but here, totally appropriate word. I thought I knew all I needed to about Penang, but going with this big group of adventurous eaters really turned me on to a bunch of new flavors.....
We had Ben, and his friend Steve, 9lives, Rubee, CFox, Murro and his wife Joanne, and (of course)galleygirl.
We got the waitress's,"Are you sure you want to order that?" warning 3 times, as well as correctly answering the "Shrimps with shells on?" question in true eat-it-all hound fashion. We started with multiple orders of roti canai, which were thin, crispy on the edges, and tasty..2 came with the basic chicken dipping sauce, but we asked for a veg. option for the third, and it came with a rich peanut sauce that everyone had to try.Tasted of peanut, hoisin sauce and tomato, garlic and chili, all cooked down to a spicy paste. Try to get both sauces with the roti; you'll want to save this to dip EVERYTHING in! In fact, that was just what some of us did with the Crispy pork Intestines, our next app.(and first waitress warning!)..Slices of intestine, which had the taste and texture of calamari, stuffed with scallion and fried on the outside..Came with it's own peanut sacue as well, which reviewers said was different that the roti p.s., more lemony...People seemed a LITTLE dissapointed that there wasn't more flavor in them, but I noticed there were none left..
We ordered a satay,which I didn't try, and a baby oyster omelette with Spicey Red sauce that was great--totally beat the version at the Taiwan Cafe,(!) much crispier, and better textured.
My favorite app, tho, which got us our second waitress warning, was the Cuttlefish w.Chinese Watercress and Peanut Sauce...WOW!!! A very unusual dish. Big, toothsome chunks of steamed, dried cuttlefish, which made for more depth of flavor and great texture, in yet a totally different variation of peanut sauce, slightly sweet,and thinner, perhaps from coconut milk, and finished with the taste of an Indian spice, that we couldn't ID as star anise,cardamom, or coriander...I don't know if everyone was as wild over this as I was, but one hound, who shall remain nameless, was seen eating the sauce with a spoon,all in the hopes of identifying the elusive spice, of course!!
We requested chicken-flavour rice with our entrees, and everyone felt it was a "must-have" for Penang. They said the steamed-chicken flavour was so intense, it had to come from more than broth.
For noodles, we had Chow Kueh Teow, another big favorite, flat, sir-fried rice noodles w. squid, shrimp, chives, bean sprouts and chili paste. Nice and spicey!! An order of Kang Kung Belacan, a stir-fried, Malaysian hollow-stemmed watercress, with a shrimp paste sauce, followed...And was immediately scarfed by all..This is a wonderful vegetable, and the slightly spicy, slightly salty, slightly pungent sauce, was flavorful, and not oily or heavy. We had curry mixed vegetable in clay pot,which some thought could have had a thicker sauce, but I thought the light curry clinging to my chunks of eggplant and okra was just fine..It could be that it picked up flavour and thickness as it cooled, but it WAS a litle ordinary.
Also ordinary, and kind of dissapointing for their price,were the Jumbo Prawns in Special Sauce(which we ordered IN the shell, thank you..) I don't usually order things in brown sauce, but...The shrimp themselves were giant, and hard to ruin, but it would have been nice to try them say, with spicey ground shrimp in authentic sauce, as opposed to what we decided was a sticky, tasteless, random sauce...
Everyone enjoyed the Beef Redang, but the comments I heard were that the sauce wasn't "something" enough..Spicey? Complex? Rich? But they liked the thinly sliced beef.
Big hit of the nite was the Steamed Whole fish,Home Style("You know that's whole fish?? With HEAD!!!"..warning 3..) You get a fish proportionate to the size of your group, just COVERED with grated ginger, garlic, and fresh cilantro..(Rubee had to kick me to remind me to leave some for my friends...) As much as I love Chinese versions with their sesame oil and soy, this is a whole different taste, and it's simplicity just let those few ingredients sing.
Of course, we didn't have room for dessert, but in the name of truth in reporting, ordered an ABC, a tower of shaved ice w/red bean, corn, plum seeds, jelly and ice cream, which I'll leave to someone who had some to describe, a ginger ice-cream, which was the best I've ever had, with it's slices of FRESH ginger, and Creamy Black Rice with coconut milk, which got a nod as great tasting, but not glutinous enough, too soupey...
The wait staff was patient, and helpful, warning us at one point that we were ordering 2 dishes with the same sauce, for example..The only bad thing about a crowd at Penang is that you have to SHOUT TO BE HEARD ACROSS THE TABLE!!!!!..Made menu discussions a challenge--I'm hoarse this morning...What? Because I'm always trying to make myself heard? OH..Anyway, we decided Murro must do an as-yet-to-be-determined penance for not telling us he had lived in Malaysia til AFTER we ordered...
This was,BTW, washed down with 3 bottles of a very reasonably priced($13!!) and light Sauvignon Blanc that complemented the meal quite well, and seemed to be well-recieved, when they could wrench it from my grasp...
This was fun!! This tasted great!! Top picks, I think, were the steamed fish and Kang Kung Belacan.Go for that noodle dish, if you want more spicey carbs, and as for apps, get the roti to be safe, but the cuttlefish if it's time for something completely different..(galleygirl disclaimer--"Individual results may vary, cuttlefish affinity may not be as universally high as I seem to think, read Individual opinions that follow!!")
Rubee, 9lives and I then went to the bar at the new 57, 2 blocks away, where they seemed to know the bartender VERY well, and proceeded to order, aromatic cocktails and scotch..I selected a Sancerre from their lovely wine list..They we discussed, in loving detail, the aisle by aisle set-up of the Super 88, Rubee's lunch for today, 9lives quasi-kimchi, what we had cooked recently, and what our next meals were going to be..(Rubee had the 57 menu in her hand, and the bartender had to wrest it away..) Actually, we were considering GOING to Super 88 right then, since it was only 11! We also did some sight-seeing, and we saw a pan-seared fish with leeks that we filed for future consideration...I went to the T, and Rubee to her car...Or that's what they said..Funny, her car seemed to be parked in the direction of the Taiwan Cafe!!!
All is as the wise woman says, except I'll put in a dissenting vote in favor of the prawns. Maybe not what I'd order next time, in view of the sheer volume of more enticing choices on the menu, but I didn't find the sauce as tasteless as all that, and the shrimp itself was cooked just right.
The Super 88 discussion began much earlier, and I caught enough of it to cause me to come right home and talk my spouse into accompanying me on a visit SOON!
BTW, galleygirl, I remember getting ginger ice cream as good as that, bits of fresh ginger and all, at Chieko in Powderhouse Circle, years ago. Maybe they still have it?
Joanne mentioned that she organizes bus tours, which got us going on the subject of what a Chowhound bus tour would be like (coolers of champagne? small stove in the back? HOW many weeks in Queens?)...We tried to get Joanne to put one together, but somehow she seemed less than totally enthusiastic...OK, I guess we can be a little overwhelming at times...sorry, Joanne...
Anyway, thanks again to my fellow 'hounds for a great evening. And clearly I need to return to Penang at some point. Good thing I brought home a takeout menu for plotting my next visit!
re: C. Fox
True, true, CFox, the shrimp were perfectly cooked, firm and juicey, but imagine them with "authentic sauce with spicey grounded dried shrimp", Penang House Special Jumbo Prawns, #15 Under Penang Chef's Specialties on your take-out menu..Now THAT would have made them chow-worthy! :)
Oh, we talked about a field trip to Super 88...Can you just see a line of us with shopping carts milling excitedly thru the aisles? Don't miss the frozen dumpling aisle, or the take-out rice-flour crepes w/shrimp on the weekend!
re: C. Fox
Just wanted to thank the chowhound ppl for showing me a great time =)
I agree the prawns were delicious, cooked just right, and the sauce was good. However for the price, it's not worth it. It's not something I would order if I were with a small crowd.
Yes yes the fish was wonderful! It's actually a pretty standard chinese dish too (ginger, gralic, etc w/o soy sauce), but it's very good =) fish is my fav =p
GallyGirl, you mentioned a nice NYC style cheesecake =) May I get a copy of the recipe?