It takes enough effort just to leave the house on a cold January day, so a Verona friend and I decided not to stray far for a mid-week lunch date. But we wanted something a little out of the ordinary to lift us out of our mid-winter ennui. Could Pahang, the Malaysian restaurant in the center of town, satisfy our craving for the exotic–without the pressure of parking in Montclair?
It was clear from the moment we pulled up to a parking spot directly in front of the restaurant, slipped a quarter in the meter and stepped inside, that we had made the right choice. The place exuded warmth, from its rich orange walls and burnished wood, to the pleasant, attentive service from Beyanka Cheng, the owner and chef’s wife. An inveterate tea-drinker, I ordered a cup on arrival, and a piping hot mug was quickly delivered, sweet and rich enough to qualify as dessert. Beyanka explained that Malaysian tea, typically made with sweetened condensed milk, is considered by some to be the best in the world, and I wouldn’t take issue. The beverage menu alone nearly satisfied our yen for variety: Among the offerings were drinks made from lychee, its cousins longan and rambutan, coconut, and smoothies that included unusual ingredients like jackfruit, mango and avocado. (There’s also a durian smoothie for folks who like the pungent taste of that southeast Asian fruit.) We tried the lychee drink and found it pretty to look at, but over-the-top sweet. Note to self: Come for smoothies after a walk in the park on a summer’s day.
The lunch menu is not as overtly Malaysian as the dinner menu, and contains some generic Asian offerings, such as Beef with Broccoli and Chicken with String Beans. Beyanka helped my friend select the Pahang Chow Kueh Teow: rice noodles with shrimp, squid, bean sprouts and rice noodles in a black bean chili sauce. She loved the variety in the dish, but, being a chili-head, wanted a bit more spice.
I settled on the Pineapple Chicken, which arrived artistically arranged on a square plate large enough for the chicken, a generous scoop of rice and two miniature egg rolls drizzled with sweet and sour sauce. The sliced white meat chicken with chunks of fresh pineapple and red onion was subtly seasoned with a rich, mild sauce flavored with kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, and galangal, a citrusy-tasting Asian root vegetable. My only quibble was I wish I’d had a little more of the sauce, and that it had a little more bite. Still, it was so good I cleaned my plate, a no-no, I know. If I’d had more of the rich sauce maybe I’d have stopped sooner. It felt luxurious to have plenty of rice on my plate, too, unlike the inexplicably paltry portions in so many Asian eateries.
The coup de grace, however, came after our entrees. After indicating that we’d pass on dessert, we took a look at the options and capitulated at the idea of Roti Kaya, described on the menu as a “Malaysian crispy pancake filled with coconut jam and served with ice cream.” The pancake was indeed crisp, as over-sized as the plates, and utterly delicious. Maybe not a light dessert, but the bill, at $32 for two (tax and tip included), indisputably was–even when you factor in the quarter for parking. [mappress]