Thanks to the advice of the hounds on this board, I had a GREAT meal at Penang in Chinatown on Monday. Thought I'd share what we had...
Caveat -- my dining partner is not fond of fish or shrimp. The majority of dishes at Penang are made with some combination of the both -- and the sauces are made with shrimp sauce, the noodles are in shrimp broth. If you are dining with a non-shrimpy, you will need to pore over the menu more than usual and be sure to check with your server on hidden unadvertised shrimp. In retrospect, I wish I'd been with someone with fewer restrictions, but c'est la vie!
We started with the divine Roti Canai -- odd shaped thin pancake to dip in delicious curry chicken sauce. I agree it's difficult to know just how to eat it, but the sauce is so tasty and it's such fun to eat with your hands that we just went for it. **Beware the curries and sauces tend to have bones in them -- little chicken bones -- which does not detract from the experience unless you aren't prepared and chomp down on them with gusto. Anyway, the Roti is a MUST for all future visits to Penang. It was the best dish we had.
Then we had two curries -- Penang Dried Curry Chicken and Beef Randang. Both were prepared in similar ways -- dry curry rub, not saucy -- and both tasted very similar. They tasted great -- lemon grass, coconut, mildly spicy, but if we could have had fish, there were so many other options that would have been better. The beef was better than the curry -- it was falling apart tender and relatively good quality beef. We had a noodle dish -- Mee Siam, which is like a pad thai with a sweeter hoisin-like sauce. (Note, we asked for it without shrimp, but the shrimp were right there on top when it was delivered to the table. Not a good sign if you are allergic not just non-shrimpy) The noodles were delish, and had that sort of smoky fried in the wok taste that my favorite noodle dishes have. We also had some watercress with preserved bean curd paste sauce (the recommended Belacan has a shrimp paste sauce, alas). The watercress was very good as well -- very light and a good contrast to our heavier dishes. A little white rice for eating with the curries, and that was that.
We didn't order dessert since we had obviously over-ordered (for 2, I'd recommend one app, one curry, one veg, and maybe one noodle if you have a hollow leg) There were lots of opportunities for table-ogling what the primarily asian clientelle had ordered. Most folks had started with a soup and then had some kind of casserole dish. They didn't go hog wild like we did and most tables were in and out pretty quickly. We had no problem getting a table at 7 and there were empty tables the whole time we were there.
We each had some sake, and got out of there for about $30 a head. Not cheap, but I've been eating the leftovers since then. I think it's a great spot for a new years chowhound gathering -- so many dishes to try it would be nice to go with a group. Plus, there are many "ask your server" warnings so that the adventurous could have some fun.