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New Malaysian -Manja- Restaurant in WeHo

Servorg Jun 3, 2010 01:56 PM

Anyone else catch this review (Thank You Linda Burum) http://www.latimes.com/features/food/... in the LAT's Food section today? Sounds really interesting and good. But we need a houndly on the ground report to get corroboration.

  1. t
    toddchow Oct 11, 2010 01:52 PM

    You have to admire the devotion and persistence of bulavinaka, bsquare 2, and Kevin in their detailed and frequent posts on Manja. I too happen to think that Linda Burum is the most knowledgeable, reliable, and objective of the Times critics and therefore had Manja on my list to try for some time. Finally did try it for take-out yesterday evening when I happened to be in the area and passed by. Sorry to report that methinks all this discussion on the restaurant will soon be irrelevant as I cannot see how it is going to survive.

    Heaven knows there's a dearth of Straits-inspired Malaysian, Sinaporean, and Indonesian restaurants in California. (Sgee referred to the "overdone" Penang chain and may be right, but I'd kill for the Philadelphia branch to be in LA.) Price of course has to be considered--but if Red O truly delivered on the Mexican it seemed to promise before opening--I'd be there every night, rather than crossed it off my list. One has to question what led the proprieters to open Manja at that location and at those price points. They had several obstacles to overcome: Malaysian food being relatively unknown, people not being used to paying such prices for this food, and a bizarre location choice (for such restaurants one should think nearby universities--as in Berkeley, Boston, or maybe Westwood or Pasadena; for such price points think affluent expatriates--but where Malaysians with expendable incomes live is anybody's guess). Who in this Russian section of SM Blvd/West Hollywood is going to patronize this place? If the food was outstanding of course, people would drive anywhere. But for this quality, this location, and at these prices--who is the target customer?

    I was the only person in the joint at 6.30 (albeit early) and when I came back to pick-up my order 20 minutes later, I was still the only customer that had passed through those doors. I consumed part of the order in the car immediately (so it has nothing to do with the food being hot and fresh) as I wanted to test it out and perhaps order more if I liked it. I did not and, further, started to resent the outrageous prices for the items: nasi ayam (dry ayam, ok rice, awful soup) and karipap (doughy and filled mainly with potatoes, no lightness to the dough, no flavorfulness to the filling). I came with some anticipation and set aside my usual prejudice: Never trust an empty restaurant. I wish I'd listened to my instincts but hell, I got it out of my system and it's no longer on my list of "should try" places.

    1. b
      bulavinaka Jun 21, 2010 06:48 PM

      We went to Manja for a late lunch a couple of weekends ago. All in all, we had a very good meal. I think Linda's write-up is very accurate.

      It is expensive to Malaysians/Singaporeans/those who've been to SE Asia for Malaysian food. Please don't bother to go here if you're going to feel stiffed by the prices. While I understand that those who have eaten Malaysian or even Singaporean food overseas are used to paying US$2-3 for a decent meal overseas, this is not overseas.

      The dining area is the nicest I've ever eaten Malaysian food in. If eating your meals on sticky wobbly plastic chairs and zero-ambiance lends to the experience for you, it's not going to happen here. It's set up for Westerners, in a part of high-rent LA, and they've got some overhead to cover - they'll even validate your parking in the lot just to the east of the restaurant. The service is very good as well. We were served by a beautiful Chinese/Malay waitress with such a charming way about her. She could easily have been pulled from a Singapore Airlines "Singapore Girl" ad, carried herself so well, and was very helpful in explaining the menu, giving us some tips (like order from the lunch menu first if the same dish is also on the dinner menu - save some $$).

      The ingredients are first rate, and the critical ones do seem to be sourced from back in Malaysia. The dishes are more Malay than Chinese/Malay. There's a brightness in the spicing of the foods that is noticeable, particularly in the curries. They presented us with a complimentary app of cucur udang - perfectly fried, toothsome and a nice way to introduce themselves to customers. My wife and I simultaneously had one of those "AHAH!" moments when we dipped the house-made roti into the curry sauce. Had this been outdoors, 90% humidity and the funk and noise of a hawker center, we could have closed our eyes and assumed we were in KL. The nasi lemak was outstanding as well. I really enjoyed the sambal - it had big chunks of squid with a nice meaty chew, no funk (that is typically found in lower-grade dried squid used in many sambals) and a wonderful chilli heat to it. The nasi kari ikan was quite the curry as well. I'm not typically a fan of pomfret, but maybe it's because until now, I've never had a good one that tasted fresh.

      There were a couple of dishes that brought on disappointment. The char kway teow was very flavorful but mushy. We don't know what happened here. We also ordered an ayam goreng dish (I think it was a house special but don't recall the name) that ended up being on the dry side - wonderful flavor in the spicing though...

      The bandung drinks are wonderful as well. Whether with condensed milk, or lime juice and soda, the amount of rosewater is perfectly balanced. They do also offer teh tarik - we are stupid for not ordering it - and this is the only place that I recall in LA that has it.

      It seems the local area really loves this place. The waitress told us that the evenings and weekends have been very busy to the point where customers were complaining about the wait time for a table. If you plan on going, try hitting them at the later portion of lunch. I think there were only two other tables being waited on when we arrived at 2PM.

      23 Replies
      1. re: bulavinaka
        Servorg Jun 21, 2010 07:05 PM

        Nice to have the gang over at the LA Times who do the non fine dining reviews point these places out for further investigation. Sounds like I'm going to have to talk my wife into loosening up her "spirit of adventure" setting and making the trip.

        After all your words about the cost of the meal you had you neglected to say what the final tab was. Were you afraid of scaring folks here off or was that just an oversight? We need a dénouement, mon ami... ;-D>

        PS Having flown a lot of air miles on Singapore Airlines your description of the waitress sealed the deal as far as my visiting!

        1. re: Servorg
          b
          bulavinaka Jun 22, 2010 03:30 PM

          I don't know where I have the receipt - it's somewhere - but I think our final tab for the two different roti, nasi lemak, char kway teow, the fried chicken, nasi kari ikan, two bandung drinks, ice tea and diet coke were around $90-something, before tip.

          >>PS Having flown a lot of air miles on Singapore Airlines your description of the waitress sealed the deal as far as my visiting!<<

          I can't remember her name, but she was like Gong Li but from Malaysia... melting...

          1. re: bulavinaka
            Servorg Jun 22, 2010 03:46 PM

            So there were four of you? Or was it only 3? If there were 4 I am coming up with a per person cost of around $27 (tip induded). Does that sound at all close?

            1. re: Servorg
              b
              bulavinaka Jun 22, 2010 06:29 PM

              There were 3 1/2 of us - me, my dear wife, our son and quart-sized daughter. We had leftovers as well, so I would guess that price would be fair for four adults (my son can out-eat the average adult). I forgot to add dessert as well - it was a dish of four small freshly fried donuts on a dessert plate, sprinkled with this and that. I think the cost per person is about right based on a fair tip - we were delighted with our server, so we tipped more...

              1. re: bulavinaka
                b
                bsquared2 Jun 22, 2010 08:27 PM

                You know, the food was decent, but it was still too expensive. I drive by there every day and I don't see a lot of crowds there.

                I'm not comparing it to a Hawker Center in KL or Singapore where I can eat for a couple of bucks. I'm comparing it to other restaurants in that price range. The food isn't good enough to warrants $20+ entrees.

                I really don't see them lasting too long without a price adjustment. People might try it once out of curiousity, but will they go back?

                If you are looking for "hot chicks", then I might suggest Chan Dara as well. The food isn't so good, but they waitresses have their own calendar. There is a hotel in Manhattan Beach where all the Singapore Airlines flight attendants stay. I haven't been there, but I know somebody who met his wife there.

                -----
                Chan Dara Restaurant
                310 N Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90004

                1. re: bsquared2
                  b
                  bulavinaka Jun 22, 2010 09:41 PM

                  >>I really don't see them lasting too long without a price adjustment. People might try it once out of curiousity, but will they go back?<<

                  I agree about the prices - they are somewhat high. The quality of the ingredients are very good. The kitchen was inconsistent. Would I pay those prices again? I don't know - the next time we are in the mood for Malaysian food and have to weigh this against driving out to SGV for lesser food that is cheaper. Alternatively, we haven't been out to Belacan Grill in Redondo Beach in a while.

                  -----
                  Belacan Grill
                  2701 190th St Ste 100, Redondo Beach, CA 90278

        2. re: bulavinaka
          e
          exilekiss Jun 23, 2010 12:47 PM

          Hi bulavinaka,

          Thanks for the review. It's good to hear some thoughts from a trusted Hound to see if it's worth a visit or not. :)

          The prices do sound high, but I'd like to try some great Malaysian food locally, so I may have to pay this restaurant a visit when I get a chance. Thanks.

          1. re: exilekiss
            Servorg Jun 23, 2010 12:53 PM

            I have to say that, given where restaurant prices have gone to in LA, $27 per person with tax and tip just doesn't sound expensive to me any longer (Malaysian food, Italian food or even Mexican food).

            1. re: exilekiss
              b
              bulavinaka Jun 23, 2010 12:56 PM

              Hi exilekiss,

              IMHO, Manja's menu items can be a little hit & miss. Most of the traditional items that we tried that were more Malay in their origins were good. The char kway teow is more Chinese - maybe the wok skills need improvement. If one goes by a quality/price ratio, I think Manja might come up short. But for a good accessible intro to Malaysian cuisine in a smartly set dining room (relative to other places in this category), it might fit the bill.

              1. re: bulavinaka
                b
                bsquared2 Jun 23, 2010 08:37 PM

                It is worth a try. Finding a good Malaysian restaurant in LA proper is like finding a needle in a haystack. I always tell my friends how amazing the food is in Malaysia and Singapore, but I can't give them a good place to go. And it is nice inside. The service wasn't the best, but the people were friendly.

                Manja was decent. $15 for Nasi Lemak and $16 for Laksa is high. My main point is if was a little cheaper (even if they had better lunch specials), we would eat there a lot more since we live in the neighborhood.

                1. re: bsquared2
                  k
                  kevin Jun 23, 2010 09:06 PM

                  can u order the dinner dishes during lunchtime?

                  1. re: kevin
                    b
                    bulavinaka Jun 23, 2010 09:08 PM

                    Yes, but if it's also on the lunch menu, you'll save some cash.

                2. re: bulavinaka
                  e
                  exilekiss Jun 23, 2010 09:18 PM

                  Hi bulavinaka, bsquared2, Servorg,

                  Thanks for your thoughts. So in terms of taste compared to say, Kuala Lumpur, would you say Manja is close? If they are pretty close to great Malaysian food from Malaysia then that helps with the price point. :) Thanks.

                  1. re: exilekiss
                    b
                    bulavinaka Jun 23, 2010 10:24 PM

                    Hi exilekiss,

                    Our experience was that Manja does some things very well, some things are okay, and a couple we had needed work. They obviously take a lot of pride in the foods they prepare (quality ingredients, sourcing what is possible in a practical sense from Malsaysia), the ambiance is nice, and given the prices, I think their target market is anyone non-Malaysian/Singaporean who either is familiar with the cuisine or just enjoys somewhat exotic food. As I mentioned above, we had an "Ahh" moment with the roti canai - definitely hand-made and the curry sauce was wonderfully similar to what I recall my mother-in-law making in KL.

                    With that said, I think what makes duplicating food from places like Singapore and Malaysia so hard are some unquantifiable factors, for instance humidity and the funk and intensity which it alone can produce both in ingredients as taste.

                    Another factor is, like in so much of Asia, specialists prevail in Malaysia and Singapore. I don't want to discount the skills of those who extract a living focusing on one or a handful of dishes. I liken it to track & field. Specialists rule the sport, but the multi-event athletes get a lot of respect for doing a lot of events at a very respectable level as well, performing in some events better than others. One person in the local hawker center makes roti canai. One family can be known for certain noodle dishes. Another makes nothing but nasi lemak and a handful of other rice-based dishes. My father-in-law was known to make a supreme sambal belacan. A family can get rich just off of a special recipe for a traditional longan drink served only at their one stand for decades at a night market in KL. Teh tarik (Indian-style pulled tea) is an art but so common over there - Manja is the only place I know of that offers this over here. No one can survive here being a specialist because the market, cultural nucleus, nor the style of food culture exists here. I give Manja a lot of credit for trying to do here what would be nearly impossible back in their home country - offer a good collection of Malaysian dishes in a nice place that is in such a foreign environment. They, like every other Malaysian eatery here, is the equivalent of a decathlete. The one difference I sense is that they are the first to focus more on Malay-style dishes with a supplement of pan-Malaysian dishes as well.

                    If I recall, Kuala Lumpur (the former restaurant in Old Town Pasadena area) was quite good. The owner was Chinese-Malaysian so the style of cooking would be a bit different. I remember bringing some visiting Singaporean friends there and they enjoyed it (But Singaporean and Malaysian tourists will grasp on to any food that seems familiar to them while overseas, as they miss their food the minute they start eating food that is out of their comfort zone). I recall mee goreng, beef rendang and rojak and curry laksa all being delicious. Comparing that experience to Manja now is foggy at best, but my gut tells me that Manja is in a similar realm. But of all those dishes I mention from Kuala Lumpur, none were on our table at Manja. I would want to revisit Manja, order some of those dishes I mentioned from Kuala Lumpur, and hopefully make a better comparative assessment. And since Manja is relatively new, I would think it fair to give them a chance to dial in their kitchen and menu as well.

                    1. re: bulavinaka
                      b
                      bsquared2 Jun 24, 2010 06:59 AM

                      I thought the Nasi Lemak was pretty good and my wife's Laksa was good (even though I like it a little more funky)

                      If I was in charge....I would have some of the traditional favorites (Laksa, Nasi Goreng, Roti) at a cheaper price point and keep the 'upscale" menu items a little higher. I"m not talking a $5 bowl of noodles. I'll pay $10 for a good bowl of Quan Hop, Shin Shen Gumi or Santouka. The Laksa there doesn't warrant that high of a price. And $8 for Roti (which was tasty) is a bit much. It's funny how a couple of bucks here and there add up.

                      I LOVE Malaysian food. Malaysia is a beautiful country and the people were very sweet, but one of the main reasons I went there was to EAT. One of the first times my wife was overseas was to Singapore and we had the most amazing food. We didn't have one bad or even mediocre meal. In Singapore one of the locals told me that all the places are good because the people "won't stand for bad food". Ha!

                      -----
                      Santouka
                      3760 S Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90066

                      Quan Hop Restaurant
                      15640 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683

                      1. re: bsquared2
                        b
                        bulavinaka Jun 24, 2010 01:34 PM

                        I think you're right on all points regarding pricing and this would be a strategy for Manja to consider. The strategy for higher pricing has to be tempered with the fact that most eaters are willing to pay only so much for a bowl of noodles or rice - at least on a regular basis. My Malaysian wife and I talked about it last night - whether we would return - and we decided we would - just not nearly as often as we would like to, and it really came down to pricing and the 30-minute drive from the Westside to this place versus a 40-minute drive to SGV and better pricing for lesser food. After one measures out the factors, it's really a flip of the coin for us personally. Better food, 10 minutes closer, two to three times the price; lesser food, 10 minutes further, use the money we save and buy some spot prawns at 99 Ranch.

                        Again, I think since we haven't been to Belacan Grill in a while, it may be worth checking them out again. Their pricing falls mid-range, their food as I remember it was pretty good, the dining room is second next to Manja, and the menu offers a fair number of choices.

                        Asians in general set a high standard for food. But many are also very price conscious - that can work for them to a certain extent, then I think it starts to hurt them. I personally feel the general quality of food has declined from the 90s to 2007, which was our last visit to Singapore and Malaysia. Singapore is one of the primary places that many food tourists from around the globe go to. And Malaysia is the place that Singaporeans (most are de facto Chowhounds) go to for food vacations. The food was considered better, the currency exchange is favorable for Singaporeans, and Malaysia is right across the causeway. But the rapid growth (both economic as well as their populations) has seemed to contribute to a general decline in food quality, particularly in the newer areas of Malaysia.

                        I can't speak for all Malaysians, but my father-in-law and I agree, we both feel the food in Singapore is now better in general than it is in Malaysia. Rising prices for commodities in a price-conscious consumer economy, more players in an ever-growing market, entrepreneurs who expand and lose sight of quality in exchange for increasing profits, and younger generations not knowing how to cook and settling for less all seem to contribute to the general decline. It's not to say that the bottom has fallen out - lots of good food can be had there - it just helps a lot to know where to go. My in-laws are willing to drive 40 minutes to an hour back to their old neighborhood, because the local market and hawker center is pretty much operated by the same vendors; whereas their current neighborhood - established around 1998 - just doesn't measure up to their expectations.

                        Singapore may go through something similar in the near future. Many of the cultural issues exist there just as they do in Malaysia. Furthermore, Singapore's govt is hoping to increase the population from 2007's number by about 1/3 more. Because the native Singaporean population growth has been flat for many years, and because drawing intellectual talent from Malaysia has been going on for decades (both of my brainiac brothers-in-law included), the govt has planned on recruiting as much of China's intellectual talent as the island can hold. The demand on resources will be taxed on just about every level on an already crowded island. I can see the huge influx of Mainland Chinese bringing in demand for a whole new arena of cuisines on to the island, but I don't know who is going to fill the gap for making great food. Singapore wants high-tech or financial analytical intellectual talent - line cooks from China aren't high on their list. So it will be interesting to see how things play out there over the next couple of decades.

                      2. re: bulavinaka
                        k
                        kevin Jun 24, 2010 12:35 PM

                        ok, if i do go to manja, what should i order that i can't get at other malaysian restaurants in LA and can't get better???

                        also, i forgot but did someone mention that the waitresses here are extremely attractive/

                        thanks.

                        1. re: kevin
                          b
                          bulavinaka Jun 24, 2010 02:09 PM

                          Teh tarik (pulled black tea with condensed milk) is a Malaysian specialty that can be found in Singapore as well, but is absent from LA, except at Manja.
                          I personally haven't seen roti jala in LA as well. I think the more familiar roti pratha or roti canai are preferred for their flavor and texture.

                          In general, I don't know if I would consider their other dishes to be unique in the sense that you can't find other dishes that are at least similar at the few other Malaysian eateries in SoCal. I think Manja's strong point is the quality of some of the ingredients and the execution on many of the dishes that sets them apart. I've only been once, so take that with a grain of salt.

                          Waitresses? What waitresses? :)

                          1. re: bulavinaka
                            k
                            kevin Jun 24, 2010 06:58 PM

                            so just order anything on the menu and i should be good to go???

                            1. re: kevin
                              b
                              bulavinaka Jun 24, 2010 08:59 PM

                              My post above mentioned that the char quay teow was flavorful but mushy. The fried chicken dish that we had was somewhat dry as well. The other dishes were very good though. Again - this is based on only one visit - please take that into consideration.

                              1. re: bulavinaka
                                k
                                kevin Jun 24, 2010 09:46 PM

                                as long as there is available parking, i'll give it a try, i'll try to squeeze it in, since i'll be in east hollywood most days.

                                also, on the price tip, for some reason a lo of people don't believe Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Mexican, Malaysian (in this case), Singaporean, et al (including a wide variety of other ethnic cuisines) should be more than bargain basement prices, although if it's French, Californian, Japanese, Italian, etc no one seems to have a problem with thos restaurants charging more for their dishes. I guess what I may be getting at is there is some sort of stereotype or stigma attached to the former cuisines having to be much cheaper and not as intricate as the latter cuisines but I find that to be far from the truth.

                                Anyone else have any opinions?

                                1. re: kevin
                                  w
                                  will47 Jun 24, 2010 10:05 PM

                                  I thought this was an interesting bit about that (check out the discussion below the post as well):

                                  http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com/relative...

                                  Part of it may be that a lot of Western cultures value different things in food than those valued in many of the cultures you mentioned, and many here may not know as much about these cuisines as they know about cuisines that are better known here. And a lot of the the folks most interested in "authentic" ethnic food are recent immigrants, who in many (though certainly not all) cases may not have a lot of disposable income, or may choose to spend (or save) their money in other ways.

                                  Lastly, for better or worse, the cheap take-out places are what most Americans associate with many of these cuisines.

                                  1. re: kevin
                                    b
                                    bulavinaka Jun 25, 2010 10:59 AM

                                    Turn into the driveway just before the restaurant - Manja will validate.

                3. b
                  bulavinaka Jun 3, 2010 09:25 PM

                  I recall a post showing up about Manja - a few weeks ago? The general response - with none us trying it was pretty much to the effect of passing on it purely because of price and the unknown quantity. Most of us who have been to Malaysia are used to literally paying pennies on the dollar for the "home town" equivalent. I think also this equation:

                  West Hollywood + Exponential Prices + Name (Manja) = No Way

                  What counters all of this skepticism is the person who gave Manja a lookover - Linda. Her positive take on the place makes it worth trying, regardless of the equation, and regardless of the awful drive from the Westside. :)

                  PS: The name, "manja," in Malay, means, "pampered, spoiled (in a good sense)"; thus, the name for this place...

                  19 Replies
                  1. re: bulavinaka
                    Servorg Jun 4, 2010 04:07 AM

                    I had done a cursory search but somehow missed that thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7046... (which I now found using Google search). You are right in your summary of that thread. It appears that no one discussing the restaurant in that thread had actually gone, but rather were talking about the prices looking to be too high (based on a reading of the menu). So theoretical dislike can be very different from actual dislike (or like) once someone actually eats the food...lol.

                    1. re: Servorg
                      b
                      bulavinaka Jun 4, 2010 05:51 AM

                      From Linda's write-up, it's obvious that this is an approach to Malaysian food that hasn't been done yet. Not that no one has has done beef rendang or nasi ayam before, but the focus on making these dishes in a superb manner and offering some that show more of the multi-ethnic character that is Malaysia. And to offer this in a more "hip" metro environment should bring in many who otherwise wouldn't consider making a trip to Malaysia, let alone the San Gabriel Valley.

                    2. re: bulavinaka
                      boogiebaby Jun 4, 2010 09:44 AM

                      We read the review in the LAT as well, but we're not interested in spending the prices they are charging. $15 for mee (noodles) -- that's crazy. $12 for roti canai is even crazier. When one can get roti canai in Malaysia for less than US$1, it's hard to justify spending $12 for it, especially when there are very good frozen rotis available in markets nowadays.

                      1. re: boogiebaby
                        f
                        FranklinJefferson Jun 4, 2010 10:54 AM

                        Best price I could come up with was $771.40 for a round trip LAX to Kuala Lumpur flight. That would seem to be hard to justify for non-frozen roti. Just sayin'... :)

                        1. re: FranklinJefferson
                          Servorg Jun 4, 2010 10:58 AM

                          lol...The reality of new restaurants in the West Hollywood area mean that, even food that is traditionally "less expensive" needs to be priced up to make the economics work.

                          1. re: FranklinJefferson
                            boogiebaby Jun 4, 2010 12:50 PM

                            I should have added to my post. What I was implying is that why should I pay $12 for a roti canai when a)I can make or buy roti for less than $12 and feed 6-8 people with it (and yes, I do make my own from time to time, it's quite easy). Or b) I can go to Little Malaysia in El Monte and pay $4.50 for roti canai. Paying $5 versus $12 for the same item is a big price gap. Entrees are $23-25. When you order 7-9 items like we do when we go as a family, the $7-8 app difference or $12-15 entrees difference can really start to add up.

                            It's like paying $12 for a Double Double just because it's served on a white tablecloth.

                            -----
                            Little Malaysia Restaurant
                            3944 Peck Rd Ste 8, El Monte, CA 91732

                            1. re: boogiebaby
                              b
                              bulavinaka Jun 6, 2010 06:19 AM

                              >>It's like paying $12 for a Double Double just because it's served on a white tablecloth<<

                              LOL! But you know, I'd pay $12 for a Double Double if I were hankering for one in Malaysia. :)

                          2. re: boogiebaby
                            b
                            bulavinaka Jun 4, 2010 11:10 AM

                            I understand the mindset on the issue of price - Malaysia for Chowhounds CAN be an amazing place, although the price-driven hawker food economy has left me somewhat less enamored on my last trip in 2007 than in the past. And that is why I'm curious to see if the level of ingredients and preparation in any way justifies the price. Anyone can get 2.5 ringgit mee but what one gets does reflect the price. As Linda has pointed out in the article:

                            >>But the cuisine has a secret side, one that tourists and casual cafes miss. The best cuisine in the country, many Malaysians will tell you, comes from fastidious home cooks whose passion for top-notch ingredients and uncompromising techniques equals that of professional chefs.<<

                            I know you are very aware of what I'm about to mention, but hear me out for anyone who may not be familiar with what is currently effecting the dwindling numbers of talented cooks and chefs in at least Malaysia and Singapore.

                            From the perspective of really focused food in SE Asia, anyone who is lucky enough to have a relative or friend who can still prepare various dishes with a high degree of skill while using really good ingredients is very lucky. The current generations of young adults as a whole have practically no skills or expertise in this area. Particularly, the ethnic Chinese and the ethnic Indian population who have done well in school and have shed their parents' understanding of the kitchen for the sake of a more Western-like career and lifestyle. My wife's family is a classic example. My dear mother and father in-law have the talent and know-how to cover the cuisines of most of peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. However, my sisters and brothers in-law have little to no resemblance to their parents when it comes to the kitchen. They've all opted to go the university route and pursue careers that have left them outside of the kitchen. Their live-in nannies further their disconnect from the kitchen. The result is a total disconnect with the knowledge and skills that would usually be passed down to each generation. And these are talents that ultimately produce a level of food that is qualitatively of a much higher degree (IMHO) than most typical hawker center dishes. There are artisan-level hawkers who take great pride in every aspect of their food, but they are becoming rare for the same reasons I've stated above. Unlike artisans here, artisans over there really aren't highly respected for their talents because to sweat at work is frowned upon by so many Asian societies - it's all manual labor to them. To wear a suit, drive a nice car, and to live in a nice home is the trophy for now.

                            A ticket on SIA, JAL or MAS and the time it takes to do the LAX-KUL thing should be weighed against driving into WeHo and paying a premium for what looks like Malaysian-style haute cuisine. We plan on giving Manja a try to see if we get the manja treatment. :)

                            1. re: bulavinaka
                              b
                              bsquared2 Jun 4, 2010 09:22 PM

                              I would really like to try the place. I've been to Malaysia a couple of times and loved the food. I wonder how they are doing even after the review. There must be a happy medium between $5 noodles and $15 noodles. I realize you are paying for ambience and (hopefully) higher quality ingredients. I also wonder about the location. I live very close and wondered if people (besides me) are clamoring for Malaysian food in WeHo.

                              Still seems like nobody wants to stick their toe in the water. That is a sign. If the place was a bit more affordable, I might be willing to try it without more of an endorsement.

                              1. re: bsquared2
                                f
                                FranklinJefferson Jun 4, 2010 09:44 PM

                                Thank you bsquared. This is what's been bothering me with all these posts. All the talk about price point without having even tried the place. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, Red O has just opened with $9 Guacamole and they're practically turning people away... Very few Malay restos in LA; Mexican?... hmmm.

                                -----
                                Red O
                                8155 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046

                                1. re: bsquared2
                                  s
                                  Sgee Jun 4, 2010 11:18 PM

                                  Putting things in perspective; Street located a little farther east is charging $11 for kaya toast and they're selling like hotcakes apparently...... I'm quite sure the markup on the kaya toast is much higher than the noodles at Manja.

                                  So it's ok for 'kwai lo' to charge a lot for Asian food but everyone freaks out when an Asian owned joint does something comparable while probably producing more authentic food? Cmon, no wonder the we're stuck with crummy authentic Asian joints in the US; no support from their own ethnic groups.

                                  It's no wonder places catering to non-Asians do so much better... Mr. Chows; PF Changs etc... If I were to ever open an Asian themed restaurant in the US; I'd probably adopt Mr. Chows strategy and target non-Asians, all the responses here seem to support that decision.

                                  -----
                                  Mr. Chow
                                  344 N. Camden Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                                  1. re: bsquared2
                                    b
                                    bulavinaka Jun 5, 2010 07:32 AM

                                    We're planning on going - hopefully next weekend. I hope others go as well. Malaysian food is an amazing cuisine where some of the flavors offer little or no baseline for so many people. Even more rare is for a restaurant to make the effort to offer Malaysian cuisine at this level. In my experience, it hasn't been done.

                                    The general mindset (particularly for around Malaysia and Singapore, and very apparent in many of the Asian communities around here) considers a decent ambiance, air conditioning and plating to be a luxury - not suitable for most meals. As long as the quality of the ingredients are satisfactory, a hot wok and some doctoring can make up for that.

                                    Again, I can understand the reluctance from those who are intimately familiar with this cuisine to be whip-lashed by the prices. Most of Asia expects the majority of their meals to be at hawker center prices and to be of a certain standard of quality and uniformity. That's reality over there. But the reality over here is Manja isn't one of scores of mom&pop hawker stalls with wobbly plastic stools all vying for your money in the middle of a nondescript marketplace in KL. The typical dishes from a hawker stall can be found in hundreds of thousands of places, their abilities are viewed as menial, and their overhead is a fraction of what a full-service restaurant costs. Like Street, Manja is attemptingto make the long jump from obscurity to respect for a type of food that is long overdue for this.

                                    1. re: bulavinaka
                                      b
                                      bsquared2 Jun 5, 2010 08:24 AM

                                      I think I will give them a try. The point about Red O's $9 guacamole flipped a switch in my head (because I was excited about eating there). I love Malaysian food so I will see if they do take it to the next level. But, I do think that the "happy medium" would make more sense. I like to eat at Quan Hy in Garden Grove and their Bun Bo Hue is more expensive than most places, but I think it has better ingredients and the restaurant is nicer. When we go to VN we eat at a restaurant called Com Neiu Sai Gon and they are more expensive, but worth it. My wife's family used to think we were crazy for paying more....until we started taking them there. Now they love it ;)

                                      Please don't disappoint me Manja. BTW, I would never pay $11 for Kaya Toast. Unless it comes with a soft boiled egg.

                                      -----
                                      Quan Hy Restaurant
                                      9727 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, CA 92683

                                      Red O
                                      8155 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046

                                       
                                      1. re: bsquared2
                                        b
                                        bsquared2 Jun 5, 2010 08:09 PM

                                        OK. Do I get points for taking the plunge? Went there for lunch since they advertised "lunch specials". The lunch specials were $15, which was a little steep.

                                        I"m not one for long reviews...so here you go. My wife had the Laksa. Thought it was good. Not as pungent as we've had in Malaysia, but it was good. The bowl was quite big and they offered another bowl so we could split it. At $16, it is a little much, even for a big portion.

                                        I had the Nasi Lemak, which I thought was pretty good. I was hoping a "lunch special" would be a little cheaper. It was $15.

                                        We also had the Roti, which I thought was very good. Tasted very fresh and the curry was tasty too.

                                        Really nice inside. The service was a little (trying to be nice)...absentminded. We had to ask for everything two or three times. They were friendly, but it got annoying when you had to keep asking for things.

                                        All and all, pretty good food. Was it worth the price of the bill? Not sure. If they had the Laksa and Nasi Goreng (very simple dishes) for around $10, I would probably eat there all the time. We went to Park's last week and the bill was about the same. But the beef at Park's warrants the higher price. Same thing with Pho at Quan Hop in Little Saigon. I don't mind paying a couple of bucks extra for better ingredients. But when the price get's higher, the law of diminishing returns comes into play.

                                        -----
                                        Quan Hop Restaurant
                                        15640 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683

                                        1. re: bsquared2
                                          b
                                          bulavinaka Jun 6, 2010 06:41 AM

                                          You do get extra points for dealing with weekend WeHo traffic, diving in head-first, and bonus points for paying the $5-premium! :)

                                          Setting price aside for the moment, how do you think this place stacks up against the Malaysian eateries (what - all five? :)) in SoCal?

                                          I was hoping they'd offer some of the more different items on their lunch menu. Did you see anything of interest that you would consider ordering?

                                          So is the $5-premium per dish on your satisfaction meter worth the food, the digs (obviously not the service yet), and the trip to WeHo? Here's the three places we hit with any frequency:

                                          From where we live, going out to Yazmin in Alhambra is about the same time travel with usually less effort. We like - not love - the food there.

                                          Little Malaysia in El Monte is an extra 10-15 minutes beyond Yazmin. We like them a lot when they're on, but we've experienced consistency issues there.

                                          Belacan in Redondo is about 25-30 minutes and pretty darned good, albeit price-conscious Malaysian food junkies would consider this place to be a bit high as well.

                                          1. re: bulavinaka
                                            Servorg Jun 6, 2010 06:56 AM

                                            While not the same thing, some of the Indonesian restaurants around the west side can help scratch the Malaysian food itch. Ramayani and the ones over on National, Simpang Asia http://simpangasia.com/ and Indo Cafe should be pretty convenient, location wise, for you Bula.

                                            http://sites.google.com/site/herthata...

                                            1. re: Servorg
                                              b
                                              bulavinaka Jun 6, 2010 07:15 AM

                                              Thanks Servorg. Those places do make good itch-scratchers. :) I've heard Indo Cafe is up and running again. We usually stop by Simpang Asia but making that extra effort to cross the street for something similar but different might be worth it!

                                            2. re: bulavinaka
                                              b
                                              bsquared2 Jun 6, 2010 07:14 AM

                                              I"ve only been to Belacan. Thought the food was pretty good, but from where I am Manja is a lot closer. I liked Tropikal (now another Belacan) in Tustin when they were around.

                                              I wish there was an amazing Malaysian place that was cheap and close. I also wish I had a pet Unicorn. We did eat at the Banana Leaf at the Farmer's Market recently and it was better than the last time I was there.

                                              Manja was really nice inside. The service wasn't so great, but they were friendly, so it was OK this time. A good choice if you watch what you order. I do think there chances of being around too long are limited if they don't address the cost of the items on the menu. $15 Nasi Lemak is a little high as a lunch special. Some items on the menu reach $25+. I'm sorry, but I have to compare it to other restaurant experiences in the same price range. If you end up spending almost $40 for lunch, that will limit the number of times I go there.

                                              1. re: bsquared2
                                                t
                                                tomritza Jun 6, 2010 09:30 PM

                                                We ate there this weekend and found the food a little uneven but pomising. I understand it was not inexpensive however the LAT article mentioned it took two years to bring the building up to code. Its not easy running a business in California, and even less so in LA. It costs alot of money and someone pays for it. West LA is not KL,
                                                We DID however, have very similar service glitches. They said their system was down but that didn't really account for not having utensils or the multiple requests for items. THAT needs to be fixed,

                              2. aching Jun 3, 2010 08:19 PM

                                Sounds amazing. I love me some roti. Can't wait to check it out - thanks for the tip!

                                1. s
                                  Sgee Jun 3, 2010 07:47 PM

                                  sounds veryyyyy promising. The menu sounds more ethnic-Malay influenced than the more common and frankly overdone ethnic-Chinese (i.e 'Penang' chains) influenced menus found stateside.

                                  Will try to check it out this weekend.

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