Once a center of charcoal production, the Malaysian coastal town of Port Dickson now attracts weekenders from Kuala Lumpur seeking a bit of sea, sand, and sun. From all reports (we didn't actually make it to the coast) the town's beaches are a disappointment and the waters off their shores polluted.
Fortunately, however, seafood in the PD (as it's known to Malaysians) area does not disappoint, and even justifies the hour-and-a-half drive from KL.
Gim Men Teppanyaki will be known to most local readers, if not by its proper name then as the 'seafood place with the painted tires out front' (the owners have employed old rubber as landscape design elements). It's a casual, open-air place set back from a quiet road in sleepy Kampung Arab. It's also often crowded, and every table seems to order heaps of food. So be prepared to wait for your meal.
The Japanese name is a bit of a mystery; the owner, Mr. Tan, is Malaysian Hokkien Chinese. According to a few framed, faded newspaper articles hung around the cash register, he went to Taiwan with the aim of learning a few tricks with seafood, then came back to open the restaurant.
Tan's signature dish is griddle-grilled fish with three sauces. We chose hong zao yu (red snapper), and marvelled at its perfect state of doneness. Choosing a favorite from among the intensely aromatic ginger sauce, the soft and sweet caramelized shallot sauce, and the bite-y, belacan-full sambal proved difficult (being a lover of hot-spicy and fishy flavors, I eventually came down on the side of the sambal). The fish was served with crisp-tender lady fingers (okra) and, based on our choice, the restaurant's fish balls.
The latter, a hard-to-find Hokkien specialty are stuffed with ground pork and worth ordering on their own, served in a light broth with plenty of Chinese greens.
Tan's prowess in the kitchen extends beyond fish to prawns and squid as well. We skipped the former in favor of the latter, which arrived cut into big chunks, skillfully griddled with loads of browned ginger and shallot, with a lovely mound of sambal on the side. Squid can turn to rubber in the wrong hands, but the kitchen had prepared these specimens to perfection, at a heat high enough to sear nubs of ginger and shallot right onto the pleasingly tender pieces.
It's not all seafood here. The restaurant's stir-fried mee huen kueh (wheat flour cakes) are worth a trip in and of themselves. These wide, extra-thick pieces of dough are now our favorite noodle. Wok-tossed with slices of fish cake, crispy dried shrimps, tofu skin, scallions, and bean sprouts and soaked with black soy, they absolutely reeked (in a good way) of smoky wok hei (the 'breath' of the wok) and evinced a very fine chew.
All this, plus tea, proved enough to stuff three hungry diners. Dining companion S advised that Malaysians would probably find the price tag of 64 ringgit (about US$17) on the high side, but we'd gladly head back to the place with the painted tires for another round.
Gim Men Tepanyaki, 103 Kampung Arab, Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan. Tel. 06-647-4271. Thursday-Sunday 10am-230p and 5-10pm. Closed Monday-Wednesday.