Banyan Tree - Pleasant Hill
This new Malaysian/Singapore/Thai restaurant in Pleasant Hill was well received by the SF Chron review in its Friday East Bay Living section. As a result I decided to give it a try.
It is located on Woodsworth Lane, one block off Contra Costa Boulevard. It is in the same location previously occupied by Lucky Dragon, which was favorably reviewed several times by Chowhounds. Being off the beaten path may have caused its demise and hopefully Banyan Tree will do better.
The parking lot was full, so I figured that SF Chron review had done its work. Unlike the stark, barebones interior of Lucky Dragon, the Banyan Tree owners have produced a pleasant environment with judicious use of rattan dividers and bamboo plants.
The menu is impressive, offering many selections which I will have to return to try. We ordered roti canai as an appetizer, followed by Malay hot and sour soup. The roti bread was nicely toasted on one side but moist when pulled apart. The dipping sauce was delicious and well balanced. The SF Chron reviewer stated that he had finished off the sauce with a spoon after the bread was gone and I can see why. The hot and sour soup was superb. Good stock, with lemongrass hints and a tangy sour balance from the lime leaves, made a great contrast with the shrimp and tofu as principal ingredients.
For entrees, we shared Shrimp Sambal, Dry Curry Lamb and Kang Kong Beluchan, all accompanied by Hainanese Rice. Kang Kong is also known as water spinach, water convolvulus or swamp cabbage, a member of the morning glory family. It was presented as a stir fried dish with shrimp paste (beluchan) which gave the mild vegetable dish a pleasant an occasional salty seafood bite. I enjoyed it tremendously.
The Shrimp Sambal was also well done, with very tender shrimp (tails on) in a slightly sweet sauce, but I was more impressed by the dry curry lamb. I surmise that the potaoes and green beans are parboiled or steamed first, then lamb slices are added to cook briefly. The whole is coated with enough of a thich curry sauce to coat the ingredient but not overpower them. The Hainanese rice, cooked with chicken to impart a rich counterpoint to the well-sauced dishes, was a refreshing change to traditional boiled rice. That may be heresy to some, but it reminded me of the treatment rice gets in Latin America as a foil to spicy dishes.
It is gratifying to see the increasing presence of ethnic cuisines of this caliber in the East Bay. I plan to be back for more. The beef redang, the noodles and the whole red snapper are calling my name.
41 Woodsworth Lane (at Contra Costa Boulevard), Pleasant Hill; (925) 686-9828. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Beer and wine. Credit cards and reservations accepted.