Asta (Back Bay, Boston)

If you’re an avid follower of  restaurant lists and Michelin stars, the name Noma won’t be foreign to you. Noma is a modernist, locavore, Nordic restaurant from Chef René Redzepi in Copenhagen, Denmark. It has dominated the top spot in S. Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, named the best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. It also holds two Michelin stars. Dishes (or shall I call them experiences?) are influenced by hyperlocal  ingredients interpreted through the artistic and fastidious lens of a chef who has trained at places like The French Laundry and El Bulli in Spain.

What about Boston? Does Boston, a city that historically has preferred steakhouses, New England seafood, and gastropubs, have an appetite for such modern and cutting edge food?
Enter Chef Alex Crabb, previously from L’Espalier, who in January 2013 opened Asta with his girlfriend, Shish Parsigian. Chef Crabb staged (pronounced “st-ah-ged”, meaning an unpaid apprenticeship) at Noma for two months in 2011 to learn from the best restaurant in the world. He came back, ready to introduce Boston to a menu that most certainly pushes the envelope of Bostonian dining.
Asta only serves tasting menus. You choose between a three course ($45), five course ($70 + $40 for optional wine pairing), and an eight course ($95 + $60 for optional wine pairing). None of the menu items overlap, so you really have to try all of the different menus to sample all the food.

The nice thing about Asta is that each party can order a different tasting. We had a party of four, so we ended up getting a mix of five-course dinners and eight-course dinners (we wanted to try as much as possible!). There are also a few optional add-ons you can order for an additional price. Bryan ordered the extra foie gras dish, which cost $24.
Silverware is kept in a drawer right underneath your table, which makes it pretty convenient for the servers. Instead of bringing a new set of silverware for each course, you just get your own. Noma has the same practice.
Our first pre-course, an amuse, consisted of a pickled mussel served with a rye crisp and chili aoili. It was a fun bite full of different texture and flavors.

At this point, our tasting menus diverged completely, so I will describe them separately.

FIVE COURSE TASTING ($70 + $40 pairing)
Compared to the eight course tasting, this one is less modern and more approachable. It might be a good option for those that have never tasted modern cuisine. It’s also a little less food, but not that much less, than the eight course.
The first course was called Octopus with Chickpeas, and consisted of cooked octopus served with crispy chick peas, a deep squid ink sauce, baby greens, and flower petals. Honestly, this was a disappointing dish. The octopus was quite tough (overcooked?), and overall everything was a bit undersalted and light. The dish was visually beautiful, but overall came up short in flavor.
Thankfully, we absolutely loved our second dish, Beans with Fresh Goat Cheese, Relish. A creative take on a four bean salad, this version was filled with fancy speckled heirloom-esque beans, fava beans, and green beans tossed together in a beautifully bright lemony dressing. The texture on the beans was perfect: nice and al dente (I don’t like mushy beans) and perfectly bound together with the creamy goat cheese, which was not at all stinky.
Similarly the next dish, Hake with Corn and Tomato, was also brilliant. The properly pan-seared hake sat in a concentrated tomato “water” that burst with beautifully intense tomato flavors. Fresh corn added a sweet textural component that rounded out the dish really nicely.
Our main course was Beef with Potato and Parsley Puree. The steak was a simple preparation that was properly seasoned but nothing particularly special. The beef quality was fine, but not as nice as what you would find in a steak house.
I really liked the potatoes with the vivid green parsley puree, which was fragrant and well seasoned.
Our final and fifth course, Berries with Milk Bread and Lemon Verbena, was a winner. The dessert reminded me a bit of a deconstructed bread pudding, but made with a fluffier, less dense bread. I loved soaking up the cream with the absorbent bread and enjoying the milk-infused bread with the fresh fruits and almond slices on top.

EIGHT COURSE ($95 + 60 pairing)
The eight course consists of more smaller bites, more of which are a bit edgy and remind me of places like Noma. If you like trying a lot of little bites, this may be the better choice for you.
The first course was simply titled Melon, and consisted of a few slices of very ripe cantaloupe served with a fresh slice of Zebra tomato and wakame (seaweed). An unusual and creative combination, it worked quite well. The umami from the saltier seaweed balanced out the cleaner, bright flavors of the melon and the tomato._DSC9095
The second course was Oyster Stew, and came in a tiny skillet over toasted dried grass (or is that hay?), yet another nod to one of Noma’s most famous dishes. Rich and buttery, the stew overall had nice, robust flavors. You could taste the freshness of the oysters. There were also crunchy bits (maybe croutons of some sort?) that added a fun textural component that made the dish fun to eat. _DSC9098
One of my favorite courses of the evening was the Mushroom + Rock, which consisted of different interpretations of mushrooms on top of a large hot stone. There were three components: a crimini mushroom cracker, a piece of chicken mushroom, and a smoked eggplant purée.

All three parts were excellent. The cracker had a nice, solid crunch and was full of that deep, earthy mushroom flavor from the crimini mushrooms. The chicken mushroom was pretty much served “as is”, but surprisingly really tasted like chicken, both in flavor and texture. It was fun to try. The eggplant puree was deep and smoky. There were also tiny crunchy bits of grated and dried mushroom “dirt” that were really flavorful and elevated the enjoyment of this course to yet another level.
The next course, Broccoli + Lardo, was a single charred broccoli floret topped with a thin layer of lardo and served with a tart horseradish cream. Again, there were small crunchy bits that added a really nice textural component to the dish. I especially liked how the tart cream and crunchy bits added needed contrast to the rich lardo and charred broccoli. _DSC9110
The Sweet & Sour Eggplant was a single roasted eggplant marinated with a sweet and sour glaze, hyssop, and topped with chopped peanuts. The dish was almost reminiscent of a chocolate bar (some say Snickers), with crunchy peanuts and a sweet cream.
Bryan and our friend Peter ordered the extra course, Seared Foie Gras ($24). The foie gras was seared with a coffee crust and served over a slice of sweet potato in a coffee flavored broth. It was excellent. We were surprised that such unusual components would go together so well, but it worked beautifully. The sweet potato paired well with the coffee-crusted foie gras, adding just a right amount of sweetness to the dish.
The biggest fail of the evening was the Pork Belly with Black Walnut. A single slice of pork belly came topped with walnuts and cape gooseberries. The pork belly was inedibly tough. We were pulling at it with our teeth and still having trouble chewing it. It reminded us of jerky, with dried out fat and meat that was more suited to be shredded into pork floss.

We weren’t sure if that was the intent of the dish, so we inquired about it. The server said that the pork belly is meant to be well done: not super soft, jiggly, and fatty (which is common with a lot of pork belly dishes). However, we said it was hard to chew. She said she would ask, but we never heard from her again regarding the disappointing course. She actually seemed a bit confused by our questions, unsure of what to do. Most restaurants would take the offending dish off the check (or offer a free dessert), but I’m not sure how you would handle that when there’s already a tasting menu that includes everything.
The first dessert, a refreshing palate cleanser, was a Concord grape sorbet with rose. The flavors were lovely, with a pronounced flavors from both elements.
The main dessert, Fig Leaf with Tomato and Hazelnut, consisted of a fig leaf panna cotta topped with hazelnuts, fresh apples, and tomato jam. Overall it was a pleasant dessert that was light, fruity, and easy to finish.
The check came with a plateful of cute cookies, which we polished off.

Initial Thoughts
There’s clearly a lot of talent in the kitchen here. Several dishes were superb – creative combinations of flavors that worked really well in surprising ways. My personal favorites were the beans, the hake, the mushrooms + rock, and the foie gras.

Yet at the same time, there were certain courses that were either near misses or total misses. Meat was sometimes overcooked, and certain courses just didn’t have the oomph of other dishes. We also found the bill a bit confusing because it was not clearly itemized. The foie gras extra (which is $24), automatically comes with its own wine pairing if you’ve ordered the wine pairing, but they don’t clearly state that they will charge you an additional $8 for that glass.

All in all, I think it’s a restaurant with a ton of potential. In general, I really like what Chef Crabb has done here, introducing a new, more adventurous style of dining that’s pretty missing in Boston. I think the restaurant just needs a bit more time to iron out execution kinks. I know there’s a ton of creativity going on in the kitchen, and I like that. I’d prefer to have a daring chef that’s not afraid to take risks, even if sometimes those risks fail. There’s serious room for greatness here, and in general, it’s already coming along really, really nicely.

47 Massachusetts Ave
Boston, MA 02115
Asta on Urbanspoon

©2009-2014 Tiny Urban Kitchen
All Rights Reserved

Jalan Alor – Kuala Lumpur’s most famous food street

This is the tenth post in the Malaysia and Singapore! series. Other posts in this series include Lot 10 Hutong – Kuala Lumpur’s Most Famous Hawker Stalls Under One RoofLaZat Malaysian Home CookingOtak, Otak Fish Dumplings in Banana LeafLittle Penang Cafe + Visiting the Petronas Twin TowersRoti Jala – Malaysian Lacy Pancake, and Nonya Malaysian Chicken CurryBijan, and Onde Onde.

A food series about Malaysia would be incomplete without mentioning Jalan Alor, the most famous food street in Kuala Lumpur. The street comes alive at night when many of Malaysia’s most famous hawker stalls set up shop and sell all sorts of street food, from choose-your-own skewers and fragrant noodle dishes to   exotic things like frog porridge and pungent fresh durian.

It’s very conveniently located, right next to Bukit Bintang, one of the busiest shopping areas in Kuala Lumpur.

Unfortunately, I only visited for a short while, and didn’t really have a chance to try any food because I was already too full from our exploration of Lot 10 Hutong (only a 5-minute walk away). Nevertheless here’s what I thought about it, including some links to good resources you can use from others who have eaten there countless times.

The street looks like a pedestrian street, but it’s not. This can get pretty annoying when cars try to squeeze their way through. The streets are jam packed, and cars are not afraid to get pretty close to the pedestrians. You can see there’s very little space for the people to go when a car comes through. I often found myself squeezed right against someone’s table or chair.
The food choices are endless, and the restaurants are popular with locals and tourists a like. There were A LOT of tourists. We saw tons of people taking photos of themselves at the street (us included!), and you could see all different types of people sitting at the tables.
Although I didn’t personally eat there, my research turned up a few places that everyone says are “must visits”.

1. Wong Ah Wah for its barbecued chicken wings or spicy chicken wings
Its popularity has caused it to grow from one stall to five all in a row!
Address 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 Jalan Alor

2. Meng Kee for its grilled fish or other grilled items, like grilled stuffed tofu.
Address: 39 Jalan Alor

3. Frog Porridge
If you dare, this place is hard to miss because there’s a huge sign that basically says frog porridge. Bryan’s pretty squeamish about frog so I’m guessing we would have never ordered it, but I’ve read it’s pretty good.

3. Local fruit
If you dare, try durian! I personally grew to like durian after trying it in Thailand last year. We later learned that Malaysian durians are the most sought after ones in China because Malaysian durians are ripen on the trees, resulting in a richer (stinkier?) flavor.

Here are a few great resources about the area from those that have visited:

Hungry Go Where: Best Jalan Alor Food Part I
Hungry Go Where: Best Jalan Alor Food Part II

If I return to Kuala Lumpur, I will plan on visiting this area with an empty stomach and a stomach of adventure!

And I will try a fresh durian.

©2009-2014 Tiny Urban Kitchen
All Rights Reserved

Tiny Urban Tidbits – Exploring Boston restaurants!

Happy Autumn Friday!

I know I’ve been spending a lot of time on my Malaysia and Singapore! series. It’s hard to condense, partly because there’s just so much stuff to share. Crazy to think that I’m only about 1/3 of the way through all the posts that I plan on publishing from that series. (!)

In order not to alienate my readers who aren’t that interested in Malaysia and Singapore (or who just would like to see some Boston stuff), I’ve decided to start adding some Boston-focused posts here and there, starting with this post which summarizes what I’ve been up to in the past few weeks. If you want to follow my day-to-day activities more “realtime”, you can always follow my Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus account. I update pretty frequently.

Additionally, we celebrated Bryan’s birthday a couple weeks ago with a crazy weekend full of trying a bunch of new restaurants (as well as some old favorites). I’ll begin interspersing posts from this new mini-series, which I’ll call Bryan’s Birthday Weekend Extravaganza, where I’ll highlight some of the awesome meals we tried that weekend.

I’ll give you a sneak peek of that series in this post. :)

1. A New England cookbook from one of our own chefs!
_DSC9263 IslandCreekBookLaunch
_DSC9274 _DSC9267
Congrats to Jeremy Sewall, chef-owner of the ever-popular Island Creek Oyster Bar, Lineage, and Row 34, who just launched his first cookbook, The New England Kitchen, in collaboration with Erin Byers Murray.

Bryan and I had the honor of attending their launch event at Island Creek Oyster Bar a few weeks ago. We enjoyed delicious passed hors d’oeuvres as well as endless shucked Island Creek oysters (they were fantastic!). I purchased a book and got autographs from both authors (as well as a photo!). I’m excited to try out some of the recipes and will report back once I do.
Deep fried Island Creek Oysters from the launch event

2. Newly Revamped Savenor’s 
Gorgeous Japanese wagyu at the newly renovated meat counter @savenors #Cambridge
Savenor’s in Cambridge closed for renovations for about a month in August. We had no idea what they were going to do. The newly revamped space is beautiful and definitely puts their meats front and center. It feels more like a butcher shop than a gourmet market now, with a long meat counter as the centerpiece of the whole store.

We were thrilled with the really interesting offerings – everything from Japanese Wagyu beef (at a pretty penny!) to dry-aged grass-fed prime beef. We’re definitely looking forward to stopping by and trying some on the grill.

3. It’s Fall! What I’ve Been Cooking in the Kitchen
Oven roasted carrots

It’s autumn! That means my CSA from Siena Farms has been delivering a lot more root vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (hello broccoli and kale!). I’ve been making tons of kale chips (all different kinds), as well as butternut squash soup (like this recipe but without the maple), which tastes phenomenal with a bit of Jonah crab and Serrano peppers sprinkled on top.

Another favorite is oven roasted carrots, which are seriously addictive and taste quite different from raw carrots. They almost remind me of sweet potato fries, which is why I titled my post on how to make them “Carrot Fries.”
I took the plunge and finally tried making my own Bo Ssam from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. Yes, it took 8 hours, but the overall result was delicious. I easily served it to 25+ people (along with many other dishes), and everyone loved it.

4. Bryan’s Birthday Weekend Extravaganza Sneak Peek!
_DSC9252 Finally made it here for @bryanwche bday @tororestaurant #vscocam
This year Bryan’s birthday fell on a Monday, so he decided to take that day off from work, essentially creating a three-day weekend. Originally we had considered a driving trip of Vermont (to taste beers and cheese!) or a quick eating trip to New York City. However, after realizing how much time we’d spent in transit for the short weekend, we decided to stay in Boston and explore our own backyard.
_DSC9152 _DSC9154
For lunch on Saturday, we tried out Shabu & Mein, a new restaurant in Kendall Square by the same group that owns Fuji at Kendall and numerous other restaurants in and around Quincy. We were extremely impressed with the ramen, which had a nice tonkotsu broth and chewy, properly cooked al dente noodles. They also had Kobe beef shabu, which was delicious (though a bit pricey).

The ramen’s probably the best I’ve had in Cambridge, and definitely one of the top ones in Boston at the moment. I’m looking forward to going back and then writing up a proper post!
Bryan enjoying Pig’s Head for Two at the ringside seats at Craigie on Main

Bryan had always wanted to try the Pig’s Head for Two at Craigie on Main. We found an available reservation late on Saturday night, so we took it.

Yes, it’s a bit weird and definitely not for the faint of heart, but I can attest that it’s really, really good. The skin is beautifully crispy, the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, and the flavors are spot on. It’s definitely not something you would eat everyday, but it’s worth trying at least once.
On Sunday evening, we had a lovely dinner at the ever-so-cozy Mamma Maria, an old North End favorite. Bryan enjoyed his favorite (the osso bucco), and we tried a variety of pasta dishes (all excellent). Our server and friend Jason was so generous as to give us four desserts to try, complete with candles for Bryan and our friend Peter (whose birthday is just one week earlier).
On Bryan’s actual birthday, he decided he wanted to “try all these places I can never get into . . .” – in other words, places that don’t take reservations and usually have crazy lines.

On Monday morning at 11:15am, we “got in line” at Neptune Oyster (we were basically the second and third people in line). We waited 15 minutes and immediately got seated. _DSC9217The food is still as fantastic as I remembered it the first time I visited. I still love the Johnny Cakes (pictured above), and we finally got to try the hot buttered lobster roll.
_DSC9244  _DSC9255
For dinner, we stopped by Toro at around 5:15pm (can you see our strategy?) and waited at the bar for about 15 minutes before getting seated immediately. We ordered a ton of tapas plus paella. Everything was really good, and I plan on writing up a proper post for that meal.
It was a great birthday weekend, and I’m glad we stayed in Boston to better explore the city.

Happy belated birthday to Bryan, and with this, we kick off a new mini-series! Of course, the Malaysia and Singapore series will continue going along on its merry way.

Disclaimer: there are some links to Amazon within this post. If you click on it and purchase something, I get a tiny commission as an Amazon affiliate. Additionally, I also received my Siena Farms CSA at a discount. I did not pay to attend the launch cookbook event at Island Creek Oyster Bar, although I did pay for my own book.

©2009-2014 Tiny Urban Kitchen
All Rights Reserved

Onde Onde (sticky rice balls) LaZat Malaysian Cooking School

This is the ninth post in the Malaysia and Singapore! series. Other posts in this series include Lot 10 Hutong – Kuala Lumpur’s Most Famous Hawker Stalls Under One RoofLaZat Malaysian Home CookingOtak, Otak Fish Dumplings in Banana LeafLittle Penang Cafe + Visiting the Petronas Twin TowersRoti Jala – Malaysian Lacy Pancake, and Nonya Malaysian Chicken Curry. and Bijan.

I have a horrible weakness when it comes any dessert made with glutinous (sticky) rice. Whether it be simple homemade mochi, matcha mochi cupcakes, or tang yuan (boiled rice balls in a soup, like red bean soup), I just can’t get enough of its addictive chewy texture.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that this phenomenal Malaysian dessert called onde onde became one of my favorite new discoveries during my trip to Southeast Asia.

Just imagine: rice balls flavored with aromatic, floral pandan, filled with warm palm sugar, and covered with fresh coconut shavings. The palm sugar melts a bit from the boiling process, which results in a fantastic “pop” of flavor when you bite into one of these things. I absolutely loved it, and am thrilled to discover this dessert.
Pandan is a flavor that comes from the pandanus plant, also known as the screwpine. The leaves of this tropical plant have a sweet aroma, almost like vanilla, and are often used in Southeast Asian desserts.

In Malaysia, where pandan leaves are available everywhere, people blend fresh leaves with water to make “pandan juice”. Without access to the fresh leaves, it’s possible instead to use a few drops pandan flavoring essence in water.

The first step is to place glutinous rice flour in a mixing bowl and slowly add pandan juice. Mix together until a kneadable ball of dough forms.

According to our instructor, rice flour is one of the most finicky flours when it comes to the way it absorbs and mixes with water. Humidity, temperature, speed of mixing, and other unknown factors greatly affect how much water you need to add. The amount varies all the time, so use your judgment to decide when the ball of dough is considered “kneadable.”
Knead lightly and stop the moment it seems right. You don’t want to overwork the dough.

Once your ready to start forming rice balls, heat up a pot of water to boiling.
Form small balls by pulling a piece of dough and rolling it between your fingers. Ideally don’t use your palms because they are warmer and will soften the dough more quickly.

Flatten the sphere slightly and fill each one with a piece of palm sugar. Close it up and re-roll it back into a sphere.

Our instructor said, “I like to fill it with lots of palm sugar because I love sugar.”

At first I thought that she just had a sweet tooth, unlike me. Boy, once I tasted the deep, rich intensity of palm sugar from Malaysia, I totally changed my mind. Palm sugar in Malaysia is so different from anything I’ve found in the States. It’s super dark, intensely deep in flavor, and fantastic in this dessert. I especially love how the slightly melted palm sugar bursts in your mouth with a huge pop of flavor when you take a bite.
Your saucepan full of water should be boiling by now. Drop the ball into the boiling water and let ut cook it until it floats. Once it’s floating, pick it up with a slotted spoon, drain well, and throw it into a bowl of fresh coconut shavings. Cover with coconut, set it aside on a plate.

You can do this serially – as you continue to make balls, drop them into the water and take them out as soon as they are done (to make room for new ones that need to boil!)

Let cool and serve!

I know that the ingredients for this recipe may be a bit challenging to find for many of us. I think it’s not too hard to find dried pandan leaves or pandan flavoring, though from what I’ve been told, use small amounts of the flavoring because it is quite potent! One of these days I may try recreating this recipe with ingredients I can find in the U.S. Maybe I could try using pandan oil and brown sugar or something.

Onde Onde 
Source: LaZat Malaysian Home Cooking
Serves 1-2 people
Makes 8-10 rice balls

Pandan Juice
10 large pandan leaves
100 mL water

Rinse pandan leaves and cut them into 1 inch pieces. Blend leaves and water in a blender. Pour through a fine sieve strainer and discard solid.

100g (3.5 oz) glutinous rice flour
100 mL (3.4 oz) pandan juice
60g (2.1 oz) palm sugar
60 g (2.1 oz) grated coconut mixed with a pinch of salt
700 mL (24 oz / 3 cups) water

Place glutinous rice flour in a mixing bowl and slowly add pandan juice and mix together until it forms a kneadable ball of dough. This amount varies all the time, so use your judgment.

Knead lightly

Form small balls. Flatten them slightly and fill each one with a piece of palm sugar. Close it up and roll it into a sphere.

Bring water in a saucepan to a boil and slowly cook each ball as you form it and cook it until it floats.

Drain well and roll in coconut shavings. Cool and serve!

©2009-2014 Tiny Urban Kitchen
All Rights Reserved

Bijan (Malaysian restaurant)

This is the seventh post in the Malaysia and Singapore! series. Other posts in this series include Lot 10 Hutong – Kuala Lumpur’s Most Famous Hawker Stalls Under One RoofLaZat Malaysian Home CookingOtak, Otak Fish Dumplings in Banana LeafLittle Penang Cafe + Visiting the Petronas Twin TowersRoti Jala – Malaysian Lacy Pancake, and Nonya Malaysian Chicken Curry.

There’s no doubt that Malaysia (or southeast Asia for that matter) is known for its street foods. Much of Malaysia’s rich and colorful cuisine comes from the melding of flavors from neighboring countries with a strong street food culture: India, Thailand, China, and Indonesia.

Naturally, as a food-oriented traveler, I was most interested in checking out all the streetside noodle shacks, open air restaurants, and mom-and-pop stalls. Similarly, I was highly suspicious of high-end, beautifully decorated restaurants that seemed to cater to Westerners.

Nevertheless, it is hard to just eat street food for an entire week. You get tired of feeling sticky and sweaty from being outside. The flies buzzing around your food gets old fast. Sometimes it’s nice just to sit down after a hard day of sightseeing (or business meetings!) in a comfortable, air-conditioned setting and having someone serve you really good food. Bonus if they also have some local beer or wine.
After our first full day in Kuala Lumpur, Bryan said he really preferred a sit-down place for dinner. (I bet he was afraid I would arrange only hawker stall dinners for us all week long!) We stopped by the hotel concierge and asked for a recommendation.

Without missing a beat, the concierge immediately recommended Bijan and asked whether we wanted him to make a reservation. Although I was a bit hesitant (I hate making rash decisions without doing any research), we said yes, thinking we could always cancel later if needed.

It ended up not being necessary. We ended up enjoying Bijan so much that we actually went back for a second visit on the last day of our trip.
Bijan has been named the “Best Malay Restaurant” by Tourism Malaysia and “best Malay food” by Timout KL. It is very well known for serving excellent Malaysian food. They say they serve Malaysian food “with a modern twist”.

It’s not super high end, but it’s definitely a nice and classy restaurant. The ambiance is cozy, rustic, and romantic. There’s a lovely outdoor terrace where you can dine under the stars (which is surprisingly comfortable once the sun goes down). Conveniently located, Bijan is located just an 8 minute walk from the center of the lively shopping district Bukit Bintang, tucked in an area that’s a little off the beaten path.

The prices for such a nice restaurant are surprisingly reasonable, probably due to the strength of the U.S. dollar. Most appetizers were in the $3-$4 range and entrees in the $7-$10 range.

Below I’ve summarized the dishes we ordered from two separate visits (lest you think we eat a ton in one sitting!).

Cucur Bijan (RM12 or $4 USD) is a classic Malaysian appetizer that consists of crisp fried vegetable “fries” of tofu, sweet potato and tempeh matchsticks together with bean sprouts and spring onions. These are all served with Bijan’s homemade peanut and chili dipping sauce.

Being a deep fried dish, it was pretty heavy, though satifying. The peanut and chili dipping sauce was flavorful and went well with the “fries.” It reminded me of tempura, a bit, but with a heavier and more flavorful batter.
Kerabu Pucuk Paku Daging Salai (RM22  or $7 USD) is a wild fern salad tossed with char grilled beef slices in a dressing of lime, torch ginger, and crispy shallots. The wild ferns are very local and are typically harvested from the nearby mountains and rainforest regions (for photos of the wild ferns at the market, see photos from my outdoor market trip in Malaysia). 

I loved this salad. The flavors were bright and floral, and I loved the textural differences from the wild greens, crispy shallots, and marinated beef. Additionally, it just felt healthy and I felt good after eating it. All in all, it was probably my favorite dish.
Because Bryan can’t have coconut milk (which is quite limiting in Southeast Asia, to say the least!), we focused on dishes that used other types of sauces. Ayam Ketumbar Sambal Tomato (RM30 or $10 USD) consists of crispy fried chicken pieces served with a spicy tomato sambal.

Sambal is a spicy sauce typically made from grinding together chili peppers, aromatics (e.g., garlic, shallots, ginger, scallions), an acid (lime juice or vinegar), and an umami component (e.g., fish sauce or fermented shrimp paste). This version was made with tomatoes and had a lovely sweet but deeply flavored umami that was delicious with the chicken.
Water spinach (or hollow heart vegetable) is very common in Malaysia. A classic Malaysian dish is Kangkung Goreng Belacan (RM15 or $5 USD), water spinach stir fried with dried shrimp and belacan, a fermented shrimp paste that is commonly used in Malaysian cuisine.

We generally like this dish a lot and order it often. This version was solid.
One of Bryan’s favorite dishes was the Sup Ekor, an oxtail stew braised in an aromatic broth full of potatoes and Malaysian spices. It was hearty and satisfying. The oxtail was fall-off-the-bone tender and the overall flavors of the soup were perfectly balanced.
There are many different types of rice in Malaysian cuisine, and we were able to try several of the non-coconut milk varieties. Nasi Ulam (RM10 or $3 USD) is white rice tossed with dried shrimp, salted fish, anchovies, belacan, herbs and spices. It is a very herbaceous dish and could be an acquired taste if you’re not used to the strong flavors of anchovies, fermented shrimp paste, and other Malaysian herbs. I enjoyed it, but it did feel a bit foreign to me as well.
Nasi Goreng Kunyit (RM23 or ~ $7 USD) is fried rice made with prawns, sambal tumis and turmeric leaves. Sambal tumis a [articular type of sambal made from stir-frying together chili peppers with belacan shrimp paste, onions, garlic, and tamarind juice. This dish came with chicken satay and fish crackers, both of which were very good.
_DSC8792Because I was in Malaysia, I felt like I should have some sort of durian dessert. Although I was tempted by the Durian Chocolate Cake (which is one of their most famous desserts), I decided I was too full for something so heavy and opted for the simple homemade Durian Ice Cream (RM7 or $2.50 USD) instead. It was OK – the durian flavor was definitely there, though the quality of the ice cream was subpar to what I usually get in Boston (which is a high standard!).

General Thoughts
All in all, we really enjoyed our meal. The service was excellent, the space was really nice, and the food was very good. The restaurant is very foreigner-friendly (I think it shows up in a lot of guidebooks and English language websites), and thus is filled with quite a bit of tourists.

Despite the fact that this would usually bother me, I was actually OK with this. Being “touristy” or popular with foreigners doesn’t necessary mean bad food. One thing we learned while we were in Malaysia is that Malaysians love to cook and most of them eat at home a lot. It’s not surprising that you don’t see that many of them at a restaurant like Bijan, which serves a lot of home cooking type dishes on western-style dishware. Furthermore, the prices at Bijan are still higher than open air restaurants or streetside stalls. Most local Malays would probably opt to go somewhere without the fancy atmosphere.

From my perspective, the overall prices at Bijan were still very, very reasonable compared to most fancy restaurants in other countries. I didn’t mind at all paying a bit more for something in a much nicer atmosphere. It’s definitely a nice alternative and can still be easily mixed into a week that also includes lots of street side vendors and open air restaurants.

Bijan Restaurant
No 3 Jalan Ceylon 50200
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Tel + 603 2031 3575
Open Mondays to Sundays, 4:30 – 11pm

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