Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: A Malaysian Expedition with My Ma

1720 W. Algonquin Rd.,
Arlington Heights

What I ate: Malaysian Lemongrass Pork Chop/King Pork Chop, Penang Char Kway Teow (stir fried noodles), Satay Tofu

Through the first 5 months of 2013, I sampled and spotlighted 23 restaurants representing different cultures and cuisines as part of my Chicago Dining World Tour.

Though there are still enough yet-to-be-savored ethnicities to engender dining excursions throughout the rest of the year, I've already picked much of the low-hanging fruit (e.g. Italian, Mexican, Thai, Greek, Chinese). And while the places I've visited have been in 9 suburbs as well as Chicago, I imagine there won't be a surplus of non-city options when it comes to Ethiopian, Turkish, German and Columbian restaurants, to name a few cuisines still on my list.

Thus, I didn't have a ready answer when my mom asked where we might go after catching a puppet opera by Opera in Focus--which turned out to be outstanding, as you can read about here--in Rolling Meadows on the first Saturday in June.

But through a perusal of Yelp for restaurants in the vicinity, I discovered Penang Malaysian Cuisine, just a few minutes away on Algonquin Rd. in Arlington Heights.

The restaurant's website purports that it is "The only Malaysian cuisine in town," while stating that its culinary style is "mainly influenced by four major Asian groups - Malay, Thai, Chinese & Indian."

I'm certainly well aware of how cuisines from nearby countries can overlap, but being rather familiar with--and appreciative of--Thai, Chinese and Indian food, I was hoping to find some choices that were more specific to the country of Malaysia (of which Penang is a state).

Toward this end, my mom and I were guided in our choices by a friendly waitress within the attractively appointed restaurant. She mentioned that satay is authentically Malaysian--though I've long associated it with Thai food--so we ordered Satay Tofu, described as fried tofu stuffed with bean sprouts and cucumber topped with spicy peanut sauce.

Whereas beef and pork satay that I order at Thai restaurants comes on skewers, this was rather different as you can see.

I like peanut sauce, so that made the appetizer enjoyable enough for me, although the fried tofu, while unoffensive, was roughly equivalent to what I perceive styrofoam would taste like. OK, perhaps a bit better, and the bean sprouts didn't hurt me either, but they still don't rank as one of my favorite things.

For my entree, I was torn between Malaysian Style Sweet & Sour Shrimp and a Malaysian Lemongrass Pork Chop/King Pork Chop.

I went with the latter, largely because it was indicated as a "Chef Recommendation." Makes you wonder why the chef wouldn't recommend everything.

There wasn't really anything about it I disliked, except a bit too much fat and bone versus good meat, but I also can't say it was the best thing--or even the best pork chop--I've ever tasted.

But with three good-sized chops, it afforded me another meal to take home, and worked well reheated (and utilizing a sharper knife).

My mother went with a stir fried noodle entree called Penang Char Kway Teow.

The menu describes this dish as stir fried noodles with shrimp, squid, bean sprouts and chives with soy sauce.

Mom cited it as being tasty, and having tried some I would concur, even if I didn't like it nearly as much as I do Pad Thai.

As with many of the places I've tried on my gastro-ethnic excursion, I have to imagine that different appetizer and entree choices at Penang could easily have left me more dazzled, especially if I wasn't aiming for something I perceived as authentically Malaysian.

So although the food we had at Penang was more decent than truly delectable, dining there was nonetheless a pleasant experience, and certainly a worthwhile exploration.

Even if I'm still not sure I could pinpoint Malaysia on a map.

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