Last night my wife suggested carryout from Big Bowl, a dependably decent local outpost of Lettuce Entertain You that has a couple of comfort dishes we like. With Penang, a Boston based chain, having recently opened at Town Center I suggested we try this instead. She agreed and further, not feeling like driving to it tocheck out the menu, trusted me to bring something home she would like.
I parked illegally a half block away and walked in. At 7:30 on Saturday night one dining room was 1/3 full and the other was almost empty. The eight or ten bar seats were almost full. For a restaurant that had only been open a week or two this was notably disappointing, certainly not a sign that a sense of anticipation had preceeded the restaurant's opening.
I asked the bartender who took my order what the most popular dishes were and he suggested, without hesitation, "Beef Rendang" and "Udang Penang." I ordered both along with a third dish, " Masak Lemak," feeling that with a third flavor my wife would certainly like one of the three.
Ten minutes and $60.00 (with tax and a small tip) later I had the food and returned home.
Beef Rendang is "tender beef slow cooked with a paste of ground onions, lemon grass and chili, simmered in rich coconut curry gravy." I am reading from the carry out menu as I type this-what we tasted had little in common with this description. The beef was dried out, the consistency one of serious "glop" and the aftertaste one that I hope not to ever experience again!
Udang Penang is "jumbo shrimp in a spicy borwn sauce with small dried shrimp, lemon grass and chili." Again, I am reciting what the menu says was suppose to be in it. I love lemongrass-I just don't remember tasting it. There were a total of seven shrimp (16-25 count) in this $20.95 entree. No veggies, not even an excess of sauce (as bland and flavorless as it was), this didn't even fill the plastic carry out tray that it was presented in.
For the Masak Lemak I chose chicken; again, reading from the menu: "white meat chicken sauteed with green and red peppers, onions, carrots in spicy aromatic chili gravy." Hmm. This seemed like a rather conventional, safe dish that both my wife and I would really enjoy. A "spicy, aromatic chili gravy." This means it burned the hell out of my tongue, stunk and there was were lumps interspersed in the oily consistency that was called gravy. And, the chicken was overcooked.
There are reasons why this new restaurant, perhaps a one and a half million dollar investment, was almost empty on a Saturday night soon after opening. I was aware of everyone of them as I stuffed the remains down our garbage disposal. As I type this I hope that whoever owns this restaurant chain is told of my thoughts. Hopefully he can rescue the investment.
Postscript: I just read this to my wife who corrected me. "I wouldn't say the remains-the whole dinner was left!" She also just asked me if I wanted to mention the "gloppy rice."