For almost five months we've been mourning the closure of a neighborhood bookstore and cafe that served a lip-tinglingly spicy laksa Kedah (the operators also read horoscopes, but that's another story). As soon as the doors closed for the last time a sign went up in the window, encouraging customers to patronize the restaurant that would take its place in 4 weeks. A month later, no indications of life -- week after week the storefront remained darkened behind papered-over windows. There's great food all over KL, but we missed having deliciousness so close at hand, just down the hill.
Happy New Year to us! Just after 2005 receded from view the little shopfront re-opened as Pinang Masak, a cafe serving food crafted from "traditional kampung recipes". Lacking a Malaysian kampung background - and still with less than six months of KL eating under my belt - I'm not in a position to judge the veracity of that claim. But our first meal at Pinang Masak last weekend was promising enough to assure our return.
PM's owners have got an orange kind of thing going on here - bright orange awning, orange and white sign, sponged orange walls on the inside. Makes me think of a creamsicle. A few tables outside on the fan-cooled porch, and about 8 more inside. For tube addicts there's a flatscreen that's visible from just about any table (indoors or out); luckily the sound is rarely on. For food addicts there's a glass case just inside the door filled with delectable kuih and a nasi (rice) and sides serving station with a fairly extensive selection of dishes opposite to the TV.
On this visit we stuck to one-dish meals: laksa Penang and lontong Singapore. As we sat at our outside table, sipping mango juice (keeping with the orange theme) and peeling our complimentary rambutan (nice touch) an obviously satiated foursome trundled out the door and, after determining that we were not reporters (the tripod, the notebook) but just generic nuts who take pictures of and notes about everything we eat, wished us a good lunch.
Dave's laksa Penang was a joy to behold, and to taste.
All the elements were there: a couple of prawns, lip-puckering gravy (truth to be told I could have gone with a bit more sour), a good hit of chili heat, thick and toothsome fresh rice noodles. Despite the insufficient sourness this version struck a high note, for me, with the abundance of shredded fish floating about the sauce. The dish arrived with every component draped in a sort of fish-thread coat, making for a satisfyingly rich mouth feel.
I'd like to go into more description but this was Dave's dish, and neither of us were much into sharing this time around.
My lontong was a pleasant surprise. I'd been expecting rice rolls something like lemang, with a thick, meaty curry on the side for dipping. What I got was a bowl of very thin and not too coconut-y curry "soup" crowded with stubs of green bean, strands of
mee xin bean thread noodles, half a hard-boiled egg, chunks of what might have been jicama, and soybeans three ways (firm tofu, dried and reconstituted tofu, and tempeh). All crowned with shredded coconut dry-fried with palm sugar, dried chilies and, if I'm not mistaken, chopped peanuts.
Intact semi-circles of pressed rice (the lontong) his underneath it all, soaking up the soupy goodness.
A dish notable in several ways. First, I'd never heard of it before. Maybe it's a creation of PM's cook's imagination - lontong Singapore. Maybe a it's a true Singaporean dish. Maybe a reader can enlighten: is lontong often served in this fashion, as the base for a thin curry?
Second, the coconut-palm sugar topping was hot - and thus, quite fragrant - when the bowl arrived at the table. This is a laudable bit of attention to detail, frying the condiment garnish to order rather than scooping it up from a prepared pile at the workstation. Third, the tempeh was not fried, the first time I've ever encountered it so. It may have been blanced before it was added to the curry, but without a crunchy coating its slightly fermented, soy bean-iness came through deliciously.
Finally, it's served with a scrumptious sambal that's fiery, fishy and slightly sweet, smoothed with tomato (roasted, perhaps?) and chunky with strands of onion and nubs of garlic. One taste and the whole saucer found its way to my bowl of curry pronto.
Gluttons that we are, we couldn't pass up the offerings in the kuih case, and so finished the meal with a couple of dadar and a glutinous rice/pandan/coconut cream treat.
The dadar's palm sugar-coconut filling was marvellously moist but the pancake wrappers, while fresh, weren't quite springy (or pocked with air holes) enough for me. I've no complaints about dadar's companion.
Pinang Masak has a fairly extensive menu. Other noodles dishes include mee kari, laksa Johor, and mee rebus. The restaurant whips up fresh roti jala at high tea, as well as offering bubur (sweet rice or grain-based porridge), pulut kuning (yellow rice) with rendang or sambal, and satay. ABC and tapai pulut (fermented glutinous rice - a taste I have yet to acquire but hey, I'm willing to give it another try) are on the dessert menu.
Preparing this morning to write up my PM post, I realized that I couldn't possibly draw judgment on the place having tasted only noodles, lontong, and sweets. So in the interest of science - for you, reader - a few hours ago I picked up a bit of rice and samplings of a couple of dishes, to go. PM's rice, unfortunately (for my tastebuds - fortunately for my waistline) is not lemak (cooked with coconut milk or water) but plain white rice. Stink beans dry-fried with sambal and lots of chewy, salty ikan bilis (dried anchovies) is a winner, as are the savory clams stir-fried with sliced onion, chili, a bit more ikan bilis, and a green vegetable that just might have been what I know from Thailand as garlicky cha-om. Both spicy, but not so much as to leave my tongue burning. And both well satisfying.
So far, so good. Further investigation to follow.
Pinang Masak, Langkat Tunku in the complex apartment near Jalan Duta. Tel. 03-6201-1964. Open 7am-7pm, closed Sundays and public holidays.