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Disappointing Visit to Penang

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  • Lindsay B. Jan 27, 2002 12:34 AM
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I passed my first comprehensive exam last week, and my boyfriend took me to Penang to celebrate. Neither of us enjoyed it as much as we'd expected. Mostly, it was our fault for ordering wrong. I probably would have been happier with some of the more exotic dishes. My boyfriend had the mango chicken. The sauce was pleasantly tangy, but not very interesting. The mango slices were firm and flavorful, but the chicken tasted slightly "off". I got the mixed seafood casserole. I was expecting something like a hotpot or a curry, but this was a very simple braised dish. The ingredients were fresh, and the simple brown broth had a pleasantly viscous consistency and a clean garlic flavor. Overall, though, the casserole was thoroughly unexciting.

I'm definitely going back to Penang soon. The whole restaurant smelled fabulous, and other customers were ordering much tastier-looking dishes.

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  1. I was at Penang last night celebrating a friend's birthday, and I too was not incredibly impressed, although I think next time I go I'll like it more. We didn't order very many exotic dishes, the fried rice and noodles which we had were fine but not very exciting. We had the roti telur appetizer which was really good, the curry chicken dipping sauce had the best flavor of anything we had, and the steamed malaysian spring roll was tasty too, mostly because of the spicy sauce on top of it.

    We had the mango chicken also. I agree that the mango part was good and the chicken part wasn't too amazing. The presentation in the mango shell was cool though. Finally, the other adventurous one at the table and I decided to try the Sambal Shrimp with Patai Belachan. In order to have this dish, we had to argue with two different waiters who tried to convince us that we wouldn't like the "smelly beans" that "give you bad breath." I insisted that I really DID want this dish, and it turned out to be the best main dish we ordered. The beans were not particularly smelly but very tasty, they tasted a bit like black mushrooms, everyone at the table liked them. The shrimp was nice too, and both the beans and shrimp were sauteed in a brown caramelized onion shrimp paste sauce.

    Overall I liked Penang, but I find it strange that the waiters try to convince you NOT to be adventurous (I heard warnings from waitstaff at many tables around me), esp. when some of the "adventurous" dishes are not all that unusual in taste, texture, smell or anything else. I'm eager to try more exotic menu items, even if I have to argue more to get them

    3 Replies
    1. re: Dave M.P.

      Well, it seems that the best measure for how truly tasty a dish is going to be at Penang is how worried the wait staff gets. And if they just smile and write down what you order perhaps that is the cue that you should immediately scratch your order and think again.

      I wonder if they have had some patrons actually complain or send back food. What could make them be so over cautious?

      1. re: wrayb

        I have a feeling that since;

        1) They've gotten a lot of those bogus "Best of Boston" type awardsa nd similar mentions in the mainstream press...
        2) They're among the closest of Chinatown restaurants to the theatre district...and
        3) They have a more upscale look than a lot of Chinatown rests., (thus, not as threatening)....
        ....they may get a lot of people from outside the city who aren't as used to ethnic dining as some chowhounds might be...I think they have the authentic dishes on the menu, because they DO have a large urban and Asian following, but they probably HAVE had people who might not be as used to this cuisine, (say, searching for the suburban Chinese we've discussed so much lately ;) ) and have been less than happy...At least, that's my theory...But I agree with you, wrayb, when the menu says "Order w/caution", I use that as a road map!

        1. re: galleygirl

          I just reread your review and the followups to our Penang dinner...nice memories..and "please check with your server" is definitely a good sign.