Malaysian Chain Penang Provides Good, if Not Spectacular, Cuisine in West Covina

For this column, I’ll stick to what’s convenient
to Claremont readers. I stumbled upon a surprisingly good strip mall in West
Covina, which is an easy ten-minute drive from campus. It features a Korean
place, an Asian supermarket, an Indonesian food court, a dim sum spot, a
Chinese noodle vendor, a Malaysian restaurant, a very good Thai place (Krua
Thai, which L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold claims has the best pad thai
in California) and $15 foot massages. I was only able to try the Chinese and
Malaysian. The Chinese was fine, and worth a return trip, but because I was with my
parents, a sit-down spot was necessary. I wasn’t complaining. 

I’ve never had a bad
experience with Malaysian food. I’m also heading to Borneo this summer, so I
was excited about expanding my Malaysian and Indonesian experience. If you’ve never had Malaysian, it’s basically a fusion of Indian, Thai and Chinese.
Combing noodles, curries and Indian-inspired breads usually works out pretty
well. The assumption here is that you probably haven’t tried Malaysian, which
is a good thing, because it means the cuisine hasn’t had a chance to Americanize. This
particular Malaysian spot was Penang, a celebrated Malaysian food chain that also
has branches in New York and other areas of the Northeast. Its slogan—“ You’ve tried the rest, now try the best”—is a little ironic, considering it’s
Malaysian, and “the rest” is mostly unknown. I actually went to a Penang in
Philly a few years ago, which I remember as being perfectly decent, but not
great. As a general rule, I avoid chains. There are a few exceptions, though. Penang
has a good reputation, even if its flavors have less of a kick than they
probably should.

As soon as we sat down, my doting mother decided
to inform the waitress that I was a “famous” food critic and was going to write
an amazing article for them. After that, we got a lot of attention. The entire
integrity of this article may be in question. We had a good meal, so if you
manage to visit Penang and have a horrible experience, I’m blaming it on my
mom’s indiscretion.

We tried both options for roti, a wonderful
bread served throughout the South Pacific and parts of India. The first, Roti
Canai ($3.50), is presented with an aesthetic twist and served with a solid
chicken curry. The second, Roti Telor ($5.95), is filled with onion, leek and
egg. I’d have a hard time saying one was better than the other. The roti was
the highlight of the restaurant, and it is essential for any Malaysian meal,
especially if it’s your first time trying it out. Plus, it tastes great. Order
at least the Roti Canai.

I had high hopes for the beef rendang ($5.95).
When done right, it’s a dish that can make your day infinitely better. This one
was mediocre, but still fairly tasty. The basil chicken ($5.95), probably the
only spicy dish we had, was delicious. The Bah Kut Teh soup ($9.95) was a
little experimental. It ended up being a tasty broth with a submerged cow hoof.
My mother was a little put off by the idea of a cow’s foot in her soup, but it
was perfectly good. We also had a Sambal Eggplant ($9.95), which wasn’t
great. The menu was large, and our stomachs were not entirely up to the task of
combing through it, but it may also be worth trying some of the other dishes
with sambal, a chili paste used throughout the region.

West Covina is worth a visit, if only to test
out the Indonesian and Malaysian and maybe grab a few dumplings in a hidden
food court.

Penang, 971 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 338-6138

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