With respect to NYC Malaysian joints, we’ve all become accustomed to the stock menu featuring scores of items spanning a greatest hits mélange of Malay, Hakka, Peranakan, Singaporean, Chinese and even Thai dishes. The result is that the kitchen tends to be spread very thin in trying to do all these dishes well, and winds up excelling at few to none.
The folks who opened up Mamak on May 8th, on a commercial stretch of Farrington Street just off of Northern Boulevard in Flushing, are doing the opposite. These guys are, in the words of the owner, specialists.
The menu, which features what I estimate to be no more than twenty to thirty items, reflects the Penang upbringing and background of Nani, the gracious and friendly chef-owner. Her specialty is Indian Malay dishes, each lovingly prepared with a variety of herbs and spices; the aroma grabs you the minute you enter the place. You won’t find Char Kwey Teow or Hainanese Chicken Rice on the menu here, nor for that matter any pork items, as the place is Halal. But that’s okay. These guys hone in on what they know, and something tells me we’ll all be the better off for it.
I did a solo lunch here yesterday, came in happy, left happier. Had I had a few more diners with me, I would have ordered the fish head curry ($28) in a heartbeat. Being on a solo budget, though, and wanting to try a few items, I mixed things up a bit.
Here’s the line-up:
-Indian crackers with a sweet and hot brown sauce (complimentary): crackling good fun, and I dug the sauce
-Rendang Chicken (complimentary): the owner saw that I’d been waiting a while and brought over this small bowl. The rending was a nice combination of sweet and hot and went well with rice; the bird was fall-off-the-bone tender.
- Sambal Ikan (Sambal Fish): the sambal wasn’t as spicy as I’d expected, but it had a decent amount of heat and a really nice depth of flavor. The mackerel was meaty, moist and not overly boney. Good stuff.
- Fried Cabbage with garlic and turmeric: This had a nice clean taste, wasn’t oily at all and brought good balance to the spicy fish.
- Tomato Rice: When I ordered rice, I was asked if I wanted white rice or tomato rice. I went for the tomato rice. Can you blame me? It was a light-red coated jasmine and was nice and aromatic and absorbed the other flavors very nicely.
- (Ipoh) White Coffee: I’m pretty sure this was instant, probably the same brand I have at home and can get at pretty much any Chinese supermarket, but, hey, these guys are the only restaurant I know of that serve it at all. Even the instant version has a light, unique taste and is an excellent way to cap off a meal like this.
In perusing the menu, there are very few items I don’t want to try. The fish head curry, for one, is calling my name. But then so is the Assam Pedas and the Sambal shrimp. I wouldn’t mind having a halfway decent Mee Goreng either, which is one of only two fried noodle dishes they do here; the few times I’ve tried it in other NYC joints, it has always pretty much sucked. I have higher hopes for Mamak’s version.
There is a palpable feeling of excitement here. Nani told me that, just the night before, there was a long line of homesick Malaysians waiting all the way out the door. On the dreariest, rainy Sunday we’ve had all year, as I was eating, the place filled up pretty quickly.
Mamak is a small, rectangular shaped place, with brick walls, bigger booths lining the walls on the left as you walk in, long and narrow two-tops on the right. The two-tops in particular are so long as to make you feel you’re very far away from your dining partner, but charm and good food will hopefully continue to win the day. At this point, there appear to be some awkward and minor service issues which are made up for an overall, genuine feeling of friendliness and desire to please. At one point, the waitress, noting that I had been waiting a while for my food, looked at me and said, “so how is your day going?” “Good”, I replied.
I didn’t lie.
Thanks to Joe DiStefano for tipping me off to Mamak in the first place. Here’s his post on Chopsticks And Marrow:
There’s also an early Yelp buzz: http://www.yelp.com/biz/mamak-queens#....
Here’s Mamak’s website, with complete menu: http://www.mamakhouse.com.