It started with a cup of hot lemon tea. It was sweet, and served with a lime wedge. I was not expecting the sweetness, but it lent itself in a pleasing way. Asian cooking is all about contrasts. Different flavors, different textures, different feelings in your mouth. This simple tea opened up my palate to the food journey which was to come. Penang’s large menu encompassed cuisine from Malaysia, China, Thailand, and even India. I did not know where to start. There were the curries—my favorite—and also an enticingly spicy Indian chili chicken. But I wanted something different. Yes, they have a couple of takeout classics scattered around the menu. However, if you order chicken and broccoli here, you should be shot.
Our appetizer was a puffed roti which came with a cup of curry sauce. In that sauce were potatoes and chicken. Overall, it was rich and flavorful, the kind of sauce I would not mind drenching any dish. The bread was light and airy, and good for tearing apart and sopping up that beautiful sauce. The roti had an almost dessert-like quality (like a thin zeppoli), but that is soon smashed by the savory aspects of the dipping sauce. This was one appetizer out of many choices, and sometimes, when you are presented with a lot of interesting dishes, you end up with the most simple of them all.
We figured we would share three cheaper entrees in order to get a sampling of what Penang has to offer. There was fried rice with bits of salted fish. Neither of us ever had this before. Not being a fan of fish (shellfish aside), I have gradually been opening myself up to more. The fish itself resembled white-meat chicken. It was sliced thin. But upon chewing it, a mild fish flavor comes through and then you get the saltiness, which totally makes the dish worth it. Next came the Thai basil drunken noodles (a staple at most That restaurants). These were thick and luscious. As an Italian, I’m not much of a fan of regular basil, but the Thai one has always been a pleasant addition.
Lastly, there was a noodle dish called Mee Goreng. I took a chance with this one. The description boasted of noodles and bean sprouts cooked in a squid sauce and topped with shrimp, onions, tomatoes, and potato. Like I said earlier, I wanted different. I found this to be really good as well, though it could have used a bit more salt. The squid flavor was so understated that I could barely taste it. That might not be a bad thing after all. The sprouts were shredded and left in long pieces. They melded together with the noodles so it was chewy and crunchy at the same time.
I am looking forward to my next visit to Penang, and while I enjoyed everything I had, I would like to try all new dishes—except for the roti, that will be a mainstay. They get 4 out of 5 stars from me. The inside was beautifully decorated and had great atmosphere. I also want to comment on the service as well. One might say it was rushed, another could say efficient. My opinion is on the fence (everyone was friendly). They work by committee here. I think every server stopped by at least once. All hands on deck, whoever is nearby helps you and whoever is at the window when your food comes out brings it. But even with all of this and the fact that nothing was written down, no order was messed up and food was delivered in a timely manner. That takes skill.
Penang is located at 505 Old Post Road in Edison, New Jersey.