banana leaf, mccarthy ranch in milpitas
banana leaf used to be one of my favorite restaurants when i used to live in fremont a few years back. i remember fondly when they opened and the first time i tried their food. it was so good that my dinner companions and i wouldnt complain too much about the usual thirty minutes to an hour wait for a table.
i moved away from the area and have had only a couple chances to revisit. a few months ago, i noticed they expanded to about twice the original size, added some sake cocktails, a few extra items on the menu, some more beers and even a wine list. that particular visit, i had a visitor from overseas staying in the southbay and we ended up indulging our thirst more than our hunger.
i visited last night with the s/o. i went with a familiar spread, a spread ive gotten many times over.
wrapping up quickly, its seems inevitable. anytime a restaurant does well and goes from a small ma/pa run type establishment to a eatery, the quality goes down.
first came out the roti prata and chicken satay. these were great. actually, the chicken satay was better than great, however thats where the quality i was used to from banana leaf stopped.
the rest of the meal, pineapple fried rice, asam seabass, mango prawns and pad thai came quickly after. every dish by itself was good. im sure if i wasnt so biased because of earilier visits, i would be singing the praise of the food, but i am biased by the wonderful food they had.
i guess it just cant be helped, with expansion comes shortcuts.
on the way home, i had this slight "coating" in my throat. msg. i never "felt" msg there before.
that all said and down, i would still visit again and would still recommend to anyone.
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I admit I haven't been to Banana Leaf all that much. We used to go a little bit when they were pre-expansion, but after having Layang Layang with unusual frequency lately, we decided to check back here recently to see how it stacked up.
I'm a visual person, so what I've done is attach pairs of photos to accompany my critiques. First photo is from Banana Leaf, second is the identical dish from Layang Layang for comparison. Though looks don't tell all, it does say a lot to put them side by side.
Roti Canai (1, 2) - This was a pretty close match. I'd give the nod to Layang for being more airy and crispy and having a richer, more aromatic dipping curry, but Banana Leaf's version was pretty comparable. I peeked at their kitchen and found one cook solely responsible for preparing roti - pretty neat for a relatively small place.
Hainan Chicken (3, 4) - I'm not a fan of either rendition (both use conventional American chicken versus yellow/free range chicken), but Layang's chicken was the better of the two. Banana Leaf's visually looked pretty unappetizing and was about as poor in actuality.
Beef Rendang (5, 6) - Banana Leaf's version didn't match up. The beef stew was mostly mash, wasn't as tender and the curry sauce itself felt watered down and less redolent. Layang's isn't the best I've had but at least a competent rendition - thicker curry, more prevalent spices (star anise, cinnamon) and ample chunks of fairly tender beef stew. The best version I've had locally is at the now shuttered Singapore Old Town Cafe where they used a very tender flat-cut beef brisket similar to that you'd find served with clear soup in HK.
Chow Kway Teow (7, 8) - Banana Leaf's version was one of the worst renditions I've had of this. The noodles were soggy/overcooked, included celery (an odd addition), lacked sufficient ingredients (egg, protein) and lacked shrimp paste. Taken as a whole, it was just a mess compared to Layang's better-executed version that appropriately includes lap cheung, al dente noodles and occasionally, a hint of wok hay.
Overall, I'd say this. Banana Leaf isn't "bad" per se, but at least based on these standard dishes, it doesn't match up to its competition that's 5 minutes away.