So I finally get to Asam House last week (sorry – no food pictures. I hesitate to take them when I’m with friends). Asam House is located in the same space as the former Shin Dong Yang, which unfortunately died a long, slow and uncomfortable death. (Years ago it was THE place for Hot Braised Cuttlefish…). Honestly, I don’t see a much different future for Asam House. On a Wednesday evening, our dining party was outnumbered by the front of the house staff 5 – 3. We had the place to ourselves the entire time. Not a good first sign.
The menu however was promising, with a lengthy selection of traditional Malaysian dishes. The Thai portion of the menu seemed a bit “Americanized” – Massaman curry, satay with peanut glop – - – - OK, time to pause – I KNOW that Massaman curry and satay are “traditional” Thai dishes – it’s just that you rarely see this food done in a “traditional” way in the US. I should probably take the time to do a full post on the problem with the so-called Thai food you find here (never mind the exorbitant prices you get charged for it), but I swear I could microwave a jar of Skippy, pour it over a left over box of mealy fried rice and call it “Authentic Thai” and it would be a best seller on most menus.
There was quite a list of specials (maybe 12-15), including a few Hakka dishes (quite common in Malaysia and Singapore), but I hesitate to try specials in an empty restaurant. With any restaurant I’m unfamiliar with, I try to go with the… well, familiar.
As an appetizer, the Roti canai (a flatbread, served with a yellow chicken & potato curry as a dipping sauce) was excellent. The roti was light and flaky – the curry had a nice balanced flavour without the excess oil floating on top that you usually find. My only complaint is that the sauce could have been thinner. Oh, and it did come with the obligatory argument at the table over the pronunciation of canai (it is pronounced channai – I don’t care that there is nothing in the Western spelling to indicate that – it’s a Malaysian word and that’s how it is pronounced. Channai).
For an entrée I went with what is probably one of the most popular traditional Malaysian dishes – Hainanese Chicken Rice. For some reason, it seems that almost no one is familiar with this dish. Perhaps it’s because Malaysian food is relatively uncommon in the U.S.; perhaps because it’s a cold dish; perhaps it’s the appearance – Hainanese chicken is referred to as Báijī (白鸡) or “white chicken” in Mandarin because the skin is – white, and to the uninitiated, it looks uncooked. Funny thing, this dish is served over “oily rice” (which is rice cooked in stock made from the chicken – the “oily” part refers to the chicken fat in the stock, which gives the rice a nice sheen), but the menu, perhaps attempting to appeal to Western sensibilities referred to it as “buttered”. Regardless – a very traditional, tasty dish, served with sambal and dark soy.
Unfortunately, my dining companions didn’t fare too well, having gone with the aforementioned Massaman curry (described as “too light”) and beef rendang – which I usually find gritty and lifeless (any time you cook meat for hours until the liquid is gone – just doesn’t work for me…).
The overall verdict – not too sure I’ll go back. There are some decent (Little Malaysia) and OK (Penang) Malaysian restaurants in town that are pretty predictable. But it may put me on the hunt for the best Hainanese Chicken Rice in town…