Penang. Sometimes I miss Los Angeles for the variety of great ethnic restaurants and people. In this case, I'm glad to live here in this simulacrum of a city. Penang's West Covina location isn't as good as the one we're lucky to have here in Las Vegas. So for that, I'm thankful. I've got access to authentic Malaysian food within a spitting distance.
With ample seating for at least 100 people and a spacious layout, I'm told Penang knows large groups and handles them well. I've been working on this menu for weeks, pouring over every ingredient, agonizing over every detail with repeated visits to the restaurant to check for consistency and to ask questions. I add a dish, I scratch it off, I try another, I add it. Food is a passion of mine and no one has a stranger assortment of condiments and ingredients in their kitchen than I do. When I show up to a potluck, people groan because they know my dish won't be comforting. True to the roots of Adventures in Dining, the chef's special BLACK CHICKEN must be on the table as our gothic centerpiece even if no one decides to touch it though I suspect a few of us will, out of morbid curiousity.
Tropical Malaysia sits underneath Thailand with Singapore as a little speck on the tail end. Malaysian
cuisine has strong Chinese, Thai and Indian influence but with a style that is uniquely their own.
The menu I finally settled on represents all Malaysians from the Indians to the Chinese who co-exist together peacefully celebrating each others holidays together as one.
Penang Malaysian Menu
(No Substitutions, that would be like telling your grandma you really don't want the ambrosia salad she lovingly made for you)
Roti canai - a flakey flatbread sold out of mamak (Indian Muslim) roadside stalls in Malaysia, we get a great version here accompanied by potatoes and chicken steeped in curry to act as a dipping sauce. Use your hands for the bread and just dunk it in the sauce. No utensils required for this one!
You'll be sipping that curry right out of your little bowl, too.
Wonton Soup - you've had one wonton soup, you've had them all, right? Wrong! This is a great one - the wontons are filled with pork and shrimp both. A surprise hit and will serve as our Chinese Malaysian influence.
Hainanese Chicken with Broth Flavored Rice - simply steamed fall-off-the-bone chicken with soya sauce broth and ginger chili sauce. Cucumber bites soak up the sauce underneath the chicken and make for a nice finish.
Char Kway Teow - stir fried flat noodles with shrimp, squid, bean sprouts, eggs, soy sauce, and chili paste. Total Malaysian street food with a sustained heat that never overpowers the dish.
Sambal Ikan Bilis - literally translated, it just means anchovies in chili paste and it pairs beautifully with soothing Nasi Lemak, their coconut rice cooked with cloves & perfumey screwpine leaves
Rendang Ayam - chicken served with a spicy lemongrass galangal (type of ginger) sauce over it
Belacan String Beans - delicate strings beans cooked in shrimp paste
Black Chicken - IF YOU DARE. The chicken requires no explanation whatsoever. Once you see it, you'll immediately decide if it's gonna be in your life (or in this case, your stomach) or not. Brace yourself. It's not easy on the eyes.
Coconut pudding - pure, rich and refreshing to end it all. I'd rename it suicide pudding but it'd turn everyone off. Good stuff.
Your soft drink or an unsweetened strongly brewed Jasmine Iced Tea is included this time. The people at Penang are good folks who've offered to throw in our drinks as a sweet gesture to our group. Malaysian sweetened milk tea is also available on a cash basis.
AMBIENCE: The place has a country feel with rustic wood everywhere and a huge open dining room. The bathrooms are completely separate from the dining area. You'll see a heavy wood door with the words "NATURE CALLS" carved into it and then head down the hallway for the restrooms. It's the little details I adore including the squiggly metal light fixtures with parachuters, helicopters and hot air balloons overhead and the framed art of folded fabric textures and colors.
FORMAT: $20 CASH when you walk through the door at the onset of the meal for appetizer, soup, main dishes, dessert and a soft drink or iced tea plus tax and tip included! Unless you want additional drinks or a specialty drink, you're all set.
GOOD TO KNOW: Don't feel glued to your seat. There are SO many seats in this restaurant. Feel free to join other tables throughout the meal. Get up and mingle. Adventures in Dining is all about mingling over the course of the dinner and getting to know new friends.
No rush here so please allow up to 2 hours for dinner.