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Restaurants & Bars 5

Penang Garden, San Mateo

PekoePeony | Jan 5, 2004 01:49 AM

Around 7.30pm on a Sunday night, my boyfriend and I decided to give this newly-opened restaurant a try. It was pretty full and a bit loud when we arrived; most of the patrons were Asians. We were seated promptly. My boyfriend says there's a Penang Garden in Milpitas, but we're not sure if they're related. The restaurant advertises itself as Malaysian, Thai, and Singaporean cuisine, and the posters are all for Malaysia so I assume the owners are from there, though I noticed our waiter writing Chinese for our order.

The first dish we tried was the Roti Canai ($2.95), a very thin (between paper-thin and crepe-thin) round piece of dough with crispy, papery edges. It was served with a small dip of watery peanuty red curry. By itself, the roti was a bit tasteless but it was really delicious with the curry! The more I ate, the more I liked this dish. Straits Cafe (various locations) and Banana Leaf (Milpitas) both have a similar dish, but their rotis are much thicker (almost naan-thick) and the curries are more like peanut satay sauce. I prefer the one at Panang Garden since it's much airier. I saw that almost all the tables around me had ordered Roti Canai as well, so it's definitely a popular dish.

"When my parents visit from Atlanta, I'm taking them to this restaurant," I pronounced after finishing off most of the roti. My boyfriend looked like I was being a bit presumptuous to make this declaration after trying just one dish, but he didn't say anything.

Next came the Belechan Kang Kung ($8.95). I don't know what kang kung is, but it looked and tasted very much like baby on choy (cong xin cai, or "open heart vegetable" in Chinese). I love on choy, so this is a good thing. It seemed to be sauteed with some bits of anchovy and maybe some pork. My boyfriend pronounced it too fishy, but I thought the saltiness was fine (but I also love anchovies), though the vegetables were a tad more cooked than I prefer. Our coconut rice ($1.50) had good fragrance and taste of chicken stock and coconut -- while not as coconuty as some other places (Tamarine, Straits Cafe, or Burma Cafe), it was still very good and more strong and earthy-tasting than other renditions. "I could eat this rice by itself", I proclaimed, and later proceeded to do just that.

Hot and Spicy Jumbo Prawns ($16.95) were not hot and spicy at all, but rather the sauce seemed to taste of tomato and mild chilies with a bit of sweetness. It reminded me of a chili crab dish I had in Singapore. "Ugh, the prawns have heads on them", my boyfriend said when they came out. "Oh good, the heads are on," I said. The prawns were deemed to be okay, but there were many other things we'd want to try on the menu before ordering them again. Our final dish was Chow Keuh Teow ($7.95), which is exactly like Pad Thai but spicier and with more soy sauce. We were surprised by the spiciness of this dish -- it wasn't super-spicy, just unexpected since it didn't look spicy at all. This was my boyfriend's favorite dish of the evening but I thought it was just okay.

I also ordered a Watermelon Drink ($2.50), which tasted like real watermelon juice, not very strong. The tea was watery. Service was confused, with dishes of ours served to the wrong table on two separate occasions. The tables were quite close to each other. The total was $44 before tip, which was a bit much but still reasonable considering that we were really stuffed and took half the noodles and kang kung home. I'd definitely go here again, and yes, I'd bring my parents :) They're available for take-out as well.

Penang Garden
2450 South El Camino Real (at 25th)
San Mateo, CA 94403

650.345.6288

Mon-Thu 11a-3p, 5p-10p
Fri 11a-3p, 5p-10.30p
Sat 11a-10.30p
Sun 11a-10p

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