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  1. In a perfect world, Malaysian would be the new Thai. If everyone considered the truism that cuisine is largely a product of geography, and that Malaysian food is thus heavily influenced by Thai and Chinese cooking with significant, but less assertive, Indian cuisine influences, they might decide that Malaysia Kopitiam is worth trying. And if everyone in the D.C. area ate at Malaysia Kopitiam a couple of times, Malaysian restaurants might start springing up in equal numbers to Thai restaurants. Malaysia Kopitiam is where I head when I am downtown and want to grab a fast, inexpensive dinner with a buddy or by myself. It is not a first- or second-date restaurant. It is not a business-lunch restaurant. And it is probably not a restaurant one can get his or her parents to try, as "Malaysian" to them probably sounds as alien as "Martian." One enters the restaurant by going down a few stairs. The dining room is divided into two main dining areas, but the restaurant is still not much bigger than one's family's basement rec room. The wood paneling, worn carpet, kitschy decoration, two-person mini-bar, and casual atmosphere evokes thoughts of a standard 1970s-era Chinese restaurant in New York City. The tables and booths were probably last replaced during the (first) Reagan administration. The menu is a place-mat-sized laminate, and the accompanying picture menu is bound in a black binder straight from Staples. But when one opens the binder, and actually sets eyes on pictures of the roughly 100 menu options, the surroundings become immaterial, and food becomes the focus. My most recent visit to Malaysia Kopitiam was with four other people. One had eaten there with me once before. The other three had never eaten there or any other Malaysian restaurant. I started out by ordering some safe appetizers for the table. Three orders of curry puffs (two to a plate) at $2.50 an order is a great way to start the meal. The curry puffs are close cousins to Indian samosa, the main differences being that they are not quite as large as standard samosa, and they are somewhat crescent-shaped, as opposed to the pyramid shape of most samosa. They are hot, doughy, and filled with curried potatoes and peas. I also ordered a round of roti canai. When one orders roti at an Indian restaurant, the expectation is that what will come out will be a baked whole wheat flatbread. At Malaysian restaurants, roti is a flatbread, but the similarity ends there. It is fried, flaky, and lush. An order of roti at Malaysia Kopitiam brings out warm flatbread, and ordering roti "canai" translates into a bowl of curried chicken accompanying the bread. While the chicken chunks floating in the curry tend to be tough and chewy, the "canai" is worth ordering because the curry itself is wonderfully spicy and rich. Any bit of the liquid that is not sopped up by the bread will almost certainly end up being used as a dip for an entree. I ordered achar salad for two of us to split. Achar salad is one of those dishes that suffers from an off-putting description on menus, but wins one over when it materializes. The achar salad at Malaysia Kopitiam is described as "pickled pineapple, jicama, carrot, cucumber, [and] cabbage in a spicy, sweet & sour sauce top[ped] with peanuts and sesame seed." The salad comes out in canoe-shaped bowl, and it is just big enough for two people to share. The dish never strikes me as spicy, and the sharpness of the components' pickling gives way to the sweetness of the salad's sauce. The salad is covered in a generous serving of crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. This is one of those dishes in which individual flavors give way to the whole, and it is so satisfying that leaving a bite is not an option. Though there were five of us at the table, we ordered only three of the entree options. Two people ordered the black pepper chicken, one person ordered the assam sambal shrimp, and two of us split the curry gluten. The black pepper chicken is a "safe" dish, a simple stir-fry of vegetables and chicken (of a far better quality than that used in the canai curry sauce) in a pepper sauce. It is not far removed from its cousin on a million Chinese menus, and its preparation at Malaysia Kopitiam is competent, if not adventurous. The assam sambal shrimp plate produces a number of thick, well-cooked shrimp stir-fried with red peppers and onions in a spicy and sour sauce. I did not try the dish, though the person who ordered it enjoyed it. The curry gluten is a unique dish, mixing stir-fried chunks of super-chewy gluten, soft, pillowy tofu triangles, and green and red bell peppers in a creamy yellow curry that is sweet with just a hint of spiciness. The gluten is an acquired taste (or, more accurately, texture); most diners will leave the chewy gluten aside and concentrate on the tofu. I find the gluten to have such an interesting mouth-feel that I keep grabbing chunks of it with my chopsticks despite my appreciation of the flavorful, curry-soaked tofu. We cleaned the plate, with the last of the still-warm curry serving as a dip for the last few remaining pieces of roti. Malaysia Kopitiam deserves its perpetual placement in the Washingtonian Top 100 Cheat Eats. All of the aforementioned food for five people, plus three sodas, came to a total of $90.00, and that includes tax and a restaurant-added gratuity, plus our rounding up to an even number. Five appreciative diners walked out of the restaurant happily chatting about our meal and ready to spread the Malaysian gospel to our friends.
  2. Our visit to the West Village Fatty Crab was probably the most fun dining experience of the weekend. We sort of stumbled upon the place; I knew it was in the general vicinity but wasn't expecting to see it when we did. We were gently encouraged to go on in by a guy we had passed on the sidewalk, notable for his baggy shorts and knee high socks , who was on his way back in the front door. Base on a little research, I believe he was Zak Pelaccio, partner and chef (and resident "Dude"). Surprisingly enough for just before 7:00 on a Friday night, we were seated immediately. The place is tiny but has a bustling, cozy vibe with red walls and tables close very to each other. I started with the StoneFashioned - an Old Fashioned made with stone fruit infused bourbon - very good, with lots of plum and peach coming through. I can't recall the name of the +1's drink, but it was a can of Tecate served with a shot of tequila and a shot of Sangrita. We ordered a few things to share: Green Mango Dips - a stack of green mango 'sticks' served with a dish of salt, sugar, and chili for dipping. Simple and refreshing. Jalan Alor Chicken Wings (roasted, kecap manis, chili, cumin, fennel) - Sticky, sweet, and spicy. I love wings and these were a different take. Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork - one of their signature dishes, for good reason. The pork was great, the mild sweetness and crunch from the pickle went well with it - not a lot to say. Simple ingredients, well executed. Our brief chat with the guy on the sidewalk resulted in a totally unexpected (and very generous) amuse being sent over before our dishes came out. We were each brought a generous splash of prosecco and a lovely bite of uni. I didn't see this going to any other tables, not sure why we were singled out, but it was certainly a nice surprise! He also stopped by our table to see how we were doing. Overall, the service was great. I have great respect for service staff who keep a good attitude while negotiating tight, noisy spaces. Our waiter was helpful and food came out as it was ready, as we had been told it would. The couple at the table next to us had the chili crab, which I am definitely going to try next time - because I know I want to go back!
  3. Sooooooo I don't want to give the impression I am just working the nytimes grind. I do use like 7-8 different sources and could use more BUT I decided to try this resto recommended by the NYTimes. Nevertheless, I was disappointed!! Did I taste it wrong?? Have I not been eating enough Malaysian or perhaps I ordered wrong?? Firstly, I found the menu very boring. It was a few choices that were basically beef or chicken curry with rice or noodles. There was more then that but not like much more. They didn't even have Nasi Lemak, at least that I could find on the menu. When I got the Chicken Curry it not only was very bland but was also soooooo under spiced. Further, there was just nothing really special about the dish. I think to those amazing curries and dishes you read about and this was just so....boring compared to what I've had and seen. Perhaps I am wrong here or maybe I ordered badly but I think the NYtimes really misfired on this one. Nevertheless, the night was redeemed by going to have Malaysian desserts after which I have been meaning to try for awhile. Soooooo verdict: avoid!!!
  4. Fatty Crew has teamed up with Stephen Starr to bring Fatty Crab to DC, perhaps as early as later this year.
  5. I went to New Malaysia yesterday to try Asam Laksa for the first time, and chili crab for the first time. I ordered in Chinese, and the waitress promptly asked if I've had it before. When I responded no, she said it's hot and spicy, can I handle it? That actually sounds promising. I said of course I can handle the heat. When I asked for chili crabs, they said they don't have crabs, how about chili shrimp? I said okay. The laksa turned out to be pretty wimpy. I liked the flavor but wasn't in any way enchanted by the noodle soup, which had lots of sardine or anchovies in the soup. The shrimp was tasty, more sweet than spicy. The restaurant is in an arcade, but the interior is pretty nice, for a place in Chinatown.
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