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Dec 2, 2010 07:47 PM

Laut is unreliable

I went to the now bizarrely Michelin 1-starred Laut tonight with a friend for his birthday. He was very happy with his meal. I was not. I had the lack of luck to have a waitress who doesn't know me or my taste and is clearly not from Malaysia, Singapore, or Indonesia. (I know because she pronounced roti canai "roti ke-NAI," rather than "roti "CHA-nai.") The best thing we had was probably the roti telur, which had some hot pepper in it. The sauce for the roti telur and roti canai was pretty good and had some spiciness. But the kangkung belacan needed to be renamed "kangkung with not much belacan and no hot pepper." We were brought some sambal belacan on the side, asked for and got much more, but it still didn't taste right because it wasn't wok-fried with the sambal belacan. The acar was decent, and the shrimp Malaysian curry was not bad, but I just found the experience disappointing. To make matters worse, I couldn't help but remember the wonderful inexpensive meal my girlfriend and I had at Rasa Sayang in London's Chinatown in August, which tasted like some stall in Malaysia. I also found Laut overly loud this time; I really don't mind a convivial level of loudness, but there were a couple of extremely loud and rowdy groups of drinkers who were encouraged by the staff to, shall we say, express themselves (the staff participated in extremely loud toasts and drank shots with the parties). I really will hesitate to recommend this restaurant again. I now doubt there is any consistently reliable Malaysian restaurant in Manhattan. I guess I should try New Malaysia in the Chinatown Arcade again before giving up.

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  1. I have had similar experiences at Laut from the beginning. I do not speak Malaysian, have not been to Malaysia nor do I look remotely South East Asian. However I do cook with belacan, know what it tastes like and love it. When I cook at home I put enough into a dish so that you can taste it (well depending on who I'm cooking for). Despite begging and pleading I have never even been able to discern it at Laut. Like you I have asked for it on the side but it really isn't the same.

    The same has been true at New Malaysia, I have tried to like the place but they too all but leave out the fermented funkiness I crave.

    However there is one place that actually delivers both spice and belacan funk, Nyonya. I know that many people will disagree with me here but this place has continually provided me with really good strong tasting and to my mind not Americanised food. I do not always get the same waitresses there but my orders manage to be mostly consistent. Besides explaining I want real Malaysian taste and that I have been to Malaysia (a white lie) I usually order appetizers and dishes that I suppose are not common among Westerners. this seems to indicate that I am serious. Every time I go I have to get the Crispy Pork Intestines, the dried Spicey Squid Appetizer and the Assam Ikan Bilis amongst other dishes. All are marked with "please ask your server for advise" next to the description on the menu. If the waitress is new, she will try to steer me away after which I will repeat my taste preferences. This little dance seems to work for me.

    i have yet to try Overseas Asian that Lau recommended so cannot comment there.

    Again I am not Malaysian nor have I been there but I know what I like and that is a lot of fermented shrimp and a good spice level. Nyonya has consistently delivered while some of the more well regarded places here have not. Maybe I have ordered wrong at Laut or New Mayasia but those are my experiences. I am sure others will disagree.

    24 Replies
    1. re: MVNYC

      Well, my experience at Nyonya on Grand St. a few months ago was much worse than my experience at Laut yesterday. Their "kangkung belacan" had NO belacan AT ALL, or at least I couldn't taste any (the dish was watery and vaguely salty, with no belacan or hot pepper taste).

      I went to Oversea Asian recently and had, I think, roti canai and asam laksa. The food was mediocre, so this may be the one exceptional case in which I disagree with Lau. I have no plans to rush back there.

      1. re: Pan

        I order the kangkung belacan too and had the same experience at New Malaysia. There was no belacan or hot pepper at all.

        At Nyonya I have had success with this dish though not every time. I have noticed it depends on what else the table orders. The pork intestines are really good there, very crispy on the outside.

        199 Grand St, New York, NY 10013

        New Malaysia
        48 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

        1. re: MVNYC

          I lived in a Muslim village in Malaysia. When I order Malaysian food, I never order pork. When I had pork intestines in Malaysia, it was in a Hakka restaurant.

          1. re: Pan

            I thought the point of Nyonya was that it wasn't fully Malay, rather that it was the food of the Chinese immigrants to Malaysia? Regardless the pork intestines are good if you go there and you like that sort of thing.

            199 Grand St, New York, NY 10013

            1. re: MVNYC

              If it were serving real Nyonya cuisine, yes, that would include pork dishes. But I'm telling you that my viewpoint of what's Malaysian is influenced by my experience of living in a Malay village. So when I order Malaysian food, I, myself, never order anything with pork.

              1. re: Pan

                They sometimes do a similar presentation with goose intestines if you might like that better. I wasn't trying to cause an issue here, just pass along what is tasty.

                1. re: MVNYC

                  No issue. By way of explanation, I spent most of my time in Malaysia living in a kampung in Terengganu, and during the months I was in KL, mostly ate at Chinese or Indian restaurants, or stalls specializing in this or that food (lots of trips to Mamak stalls for roti canai and chapatti). Had I spent more time living in Ipoh or Penang, I would have a very different attitude about what foods I think of first when I think "Malaysian food."

                  1. re: Pan

                    Sounds like a wonderful way to spend a couple of years. Singapore and Malaysia is probably going to be my next long vacation so I will definitely be in need of tips.

                    1. re: Pan

                      What an interesting sojourn you must have had. Thanks for the explanation.

                      I would only murmur that the Chinese restaurants and even the Indian restaurants you ate in in KL would be "Malaysian-Chinese" places and the food would have been Malaysian-Chinese food or (at least) "Malaysian-influenced Indian" food (Mostly South Indian I would say; largely Tamil food). Unless, of course, you went to specifically "pure" Chinese places that made a serious attempt at producing "pure" Chinese food. Perhaps you did both.

                      Did you have stuff like that bak kut teh or hokkien mee I mentioned, or pork ball soup (there used to be a very famous one on the second level in a row of stores in the Leboh Pasar Besar/Maybank building area many years ago; with a famous Hokkien mee stall at night round the corner), or assam laksa, and etc etc, a lot of which you would have got from places that would have looked like Chinese restaurants for all intents and purposes?

                      1. re: huiray

                        BTW I would consider things like:
                        Klang Bak Kut Teh
                        KL Hokkien Mee
                        Penang Har Mee
                        Ipoh Popiah
                        Nyonya food
                        Malay food
                        Assam Laksa
                        to be all "Malaysian" food.

                        1. re: huiray

                          Sure. And Mamak food is also Malaysian. I'd add Hainanese Chicken Rice, and nowadays, some Thai items like Tom Yam Soup.

                        2. re: huiray

                          Yeah, that's absolutely right: Chinese and Indian food in Malaysia is definitely influenced by what's available and fresh in Malaysia, and influenced by other ethnic groups' cooking techniques. The same is much more true of Malay food, which is heavily influenced by Indian styles, and also Thai and Chinese styles.

                          I lived in Malaysia from 1975-77 and returned for about 4 1/2 weeks in 2003. Most of my stay was in a place called Kg. Merchang, at Batu 25, 25 miles from both Kuala Terengganu and Kuala Dungun on the East Coast Highway. Malay food in the village was mostly not so great in those days (it's way better now!), but actually, the Canteen in my Sekolah Kebangsaan (Malay-language public school) was great and made tasty Mee Goreng, Keropok Lekor, and Kueh Bakar, all of which I washed down with Teh O. We went pretty often into Kuala Terengganu, where we had a favorite restaurant in Chinatown where we were regulars. Our typical meal there included sliced red roast pork and chili udang galah (giant prawns that are really, I believe, a kind of langoustine). Another place we frequented was Restoran Biriyani, which of course specialized in Biriyani. I went to a Chinese restaurant in Dungun for two birthdays, and I remember they specialized in pork innards (I loved a dish they made with pork liver).

                          For the months I lived in KL, I frequented the Hotel Merlin (and in 2003, Xin in the Hotel Concorde) for dim sum, the Imperial Room in the Hotel Malaysia for fantastic Cantonese banquet food (we almost always started with Pigeon with Peanuts), Bangles and Akbar for North Indian food, a Mamak stand near the Pasar Chow Kit for roti canai and chapatti, Restoran Alim near Masjid India for very spicy North Indian (I believe Punjabi) Muslim food (liver curry, goat curry, chicken curry, dal, etc.), and the satay stands on Jalan Brickfields in the 70s and at a place in Petaling Jaya near the hotel where I was staying in 2003.

                          I also have spent some time in Kota Bharu and other places in Kelantan and love Kelatanese food.

                          I am sure I've had pork ball soup, and I did visit Penang briefly and do believe I've had asam laksa in Malaysia, but I am not sure whether I've ever had bak kut teh.

                          1. re: Pan

                            Ah, Hotel Merlin...Never ate there much, although my sister had her wedding bash there, also my mother's 70th BD dinner. Sure, we went there for the occasional dim sum but tended to get our dim sum and other eats from Petaling Street and its immediate environs.

                            Never did go to Brickfields much to eat there, as it was a bit out-of-the-way but my folks would take us all there once in a while.

                            Campbell Road was a favorite place to go makan-makan. Hated it when they tore down the old strip buildings - and the stalls that set up business in front of the shops at night - and replaced it with that "new" sanitized food complex. It wasn't the same. Hmm, what do they call this road now...Just did a googlemap search and located the old Campbell Rd (from where I remember it to be) - it's called Jalan Dang Wangi now.

                            1. re: huiray

                              Jalan Brickfields is called something else, too. We could reminisce for a long time. I realize in my previous post, I didn't mention Hilltop on Jalan Bukit Bintang, a steamboat and seafood specialist, from what I recall, or the Western-style steakhouses that were also on Jalan Bukit Bintang. But I suspect our reminiscing will be cut short quickly if we continue. :-)

                              1. re: Pan

                                Heh. Cheers.

                                (Brickfields Rd is now Jalan Tun Sambanthan, I think, if I am looking at the correct road on the "new" maps...)

                  2. re: MVNYC

                    well nyonya is the word for women used by peranakans, who are chinese descendants of chinese who arrived in malaysia a long time ago, most of them are mixed chinese and malay, they had their own language, but i think its dying. most of them speak english, malay, maybe mandarin and maybe hokkien (a fujian dialect). i think their culture is sort of dying and being assimilated back into either malaysian or singapore chinese culture.

                    nyonya in NY has some peranakan dishes, but is certainly not a pure peranakan restaurant. if i remember right, there weren't even than many pure peranakan restaurants in singapore, alot of their very specific dishes are somewhat difficult to find.

                    i'm not than impressed with laut, i think its decent, but nowhere near the praise it gets sometimes. I'm going to write a long post on it relatively soon. you are also right that their waiters are clearly not from malaysia, im not sure where they are from. alot of their dishes are written in english w/o their malay or chinese names, so i wasnt 100% sure that some of the dishes were what i thought they were, so last time i ate there i was trying to figure out if the "spring roll" was popiah, but she didn't know what popiah was, which i was sort of suprised by. Although popiah is technically a chinese dish, its super common in singapore and malaysia, id be surprised if anyone from any major city in malaysia didnt know what that was

                    1. re: Lau

                      Lau, don't generalize too much about the waitstaff at Laut. There's a woman from Indonesia and I seem to remember another was from either Singapore or Malaysia, and both speak Malay/Indonesian fluently. The problem is, if I don't get one of them but get a waitress who doesn't speak Malay/Indonesian and doesn't know or understand my taste, it's not worth going to Laut.

                      1. re: Pan

                        well ure right, i shouldve said "some of their waiters" instead of "their waiters"...their owners are definitely from malaysia. they actually won some award in malaysia, but i think it was b/c they are promoting malaysian culture abroad, i think they got the keys to KL or something like that

                  3. re: Pan

                    What years did you live there, Pan?

                2. re: Pan

                  too be clear, i dont think overseas is great malaysian food by any means, but its decent with some pretty reasonable dishes and better than other malay places ive been to in ny which have generally been bad (with the exception of taste good in elmhurst). i do think it is better than laut from my experience, but im going to go back to laut one more time to see if there are any gems in their menu that i missed.

                  pan - from my experience the roti canai at overseas is much better than laut and im not much of a fan of asam laksa (love kari laksa though), so i cant comment for it one way or another

                  1. re: Lau

                    Based on my trips there several years ago and my recent return trip, my general take on Overseas is that it's mediocre, so we'll have to agree to disagree.

                    1. re: Pan

                      Or, rather, "Lau is unreliable"? I keep misreading the title of this thread!

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Lau is very reliable. :-)

                        It's exceptional that I disagree with him.

              2. Thanks for the review... I have wanted to go to Laut many times because it's close to the parking garage I use but I never went inside either becaues there isn't a lot of people dining there or because it somehow gave me a vibe that it's not very good, despite a lot of positive review (it was just my gut feel... ). Now with your review, it makes me even less interested in going.... I guess I will be eating at other places around Union Square next time I am in the area.

                15 E 17th St, New York, NY 10003

                1 Reply
                1. re: bearmi

                  To be fair, I had several good meals there. I just am not willing to put up with a Malaysian restaurant where the quality of my meal depends on who the waitress is.