Weddings are great. Biting into a three-inch piece of beautifully-decorated wedding cake tends to be somewhat disgusting though. This is unless, of course, you relish the taste of chocolate-flavored cardboard iced with inches of lard.
Ordering pork at an Asian restaurant tends to be the same kind of toss-up. There’s nothing more repulsive than awaiting a sweet and tangy piece of pork and actually ending up with a mouth full of gristle.
That’s not going to happen at Chinatown’s
Penang restaurant. I don’t know if it’s their multiple successful locations or just excellent training, but the chefs there know how to handle a pig.
Exposed metal pipes in the high-set ceiling
of Penang are just the first elements you notice in a restaurant that seems more appropriate for an architect convention.
Something about its nontraditional approach to the kitchen and dining room setup in the heart of Chinatown makes it all the more appealing. I might love food, but choosing one out of more than 15 choices for appetizers on a dinner menu was excruciating. It had been some time since I had shrimp, so I chose the phoenix shrimp served with taro.
Taro root is used in many Hawaiian dishes like poi, similar to potatoes or yams in American cooking. Raw, it looks like a big, hairy potato. Mashed, it’s just as good, if not better than its American tuber cousins. Crispy shrimp is pretty hard to dislike, and this Malaysian spot did not disappoint.
My entree choice was a bitter battle between pork and duck platters.
Penang has several duck options. The one I favored most on the menu was flavored with ginger and scallions. I knew it was a safe bet, since I’ve never had a shockingly terrible experience at an Asian restaurant with duck before. Yet, the pork ended up winning me over. Yams paired with pork were a combination I’d never sampled at a Malaysian restaurant and I was ready to give it a try.
Listed as doubly cooked, the pork was as tender as if it were slow roasted over a fire pit butterfly style all night long. North Philadelphia was far behind as I imagined myself on a breezy beach with margarita in one hand and fork in the other.
It was a nice vision until the server bumped into my table, causing some of my ice water to cascade down my left leg. Interruption of my fantasy didn’t matter because in all honesty, I’ve never had better pork. It was tangy, a little spicy and almost melted within the earthy orange yams. Some menu selections didn’t fully describe the entree, instead telling patrons to ask for advice before ordering.
I almost felt part of a super-secret operation, as if ordering the hot and spicy crabs would be like accepting a mission for the CIA. Other than this, Penang felt like a trendy eatery flying under the wire of the traditional places to frequent in Chinatown. Don’t let this one pass you by.
Brianna Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org