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Restaurant Review: Penang Offers Great Food, Lacking Service

Unique Malaysian Cuisine Brings Many Cultural Dishes to Harvard Square

By Jillian Berry


57 JFK Ave.

Harvard Square

Cambridge, MA

(617) 234-3988

Penang is a Malaysian restaurant with Massachusetts branches in Harvard Square and Chinatown. Having never eaten Malaysian food before, I was unsure what to expect. Based on the menu, the dishes combine many different types of Asian cuisine, from Indian to Chinese, and everything in between. The Harvard Square location was busy on Friday night, and seemed popular with the college crowd. However, we were seated within 15 minutes. The atmosphere was a bit chaotic, as the dining area is one large room with waiters zooming around the tables, although it was not so loud that you could not have a conversation.

To start, our group ordered the Homemade Roti Canai (Indian pancake, $3.75) and the Penang Poh Piah (steamed Malaysian spring rolls, $5.75). The Indian pancake was similar to a thin piece of naan and came with a chicken curry dipping sauce. The sauce was not overpowered by the curry and was a perfect blend of sweet and spicy flavors. The spring rolls were stuffed with jicama and shrimp and then topped with peanut and spicy sauces. These spring rolls were unique in that they were served warm. The filling was good, but I felt the spicy sauce was a little much and took away from the flavor (although others at my table did not mind the hot sauce).

For an entr�e, I had the Singapore Rice Noodles ($7.95). This dish consisted of thin rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp, bean sprouts, egg, vegetables, and Chinese sausage in a mild sauce. The dish was a little oily, but flavorful. The dense and salty chunks of Chinese sausage were a good complement to the soft egg and noodles. My friends ordered the Penang Pah Thai ($8.95) and the Sizzling Beef ($10.95). The Pah Thai was a stir fry of flat rice noodles with shrimp, tofu, squid, bean sprouts, and peanuts in a spicy sauce. The dish was sweet with a spicy kick. The Sizzling Beef came as thin slices of beef with peppers in a thick sauce served on a hot plate. The sauce was almost a glaze and was wonderfully sweet over the tender meat. All the servings were a good size and reasonably priced. However, the meals did not come all at once, but over the course of about 15 minutes. We were not sure why this happened, but it seemed to happen to everyone. Unfortunately, the delay in some of the dishes created an awkward situation as one person ate and the rest of us watched.

Our final course was the Banana Split ($6.75). Three flavors of ice cream — ginger, green tea, and mango — were topped with chocolate sauce, bananas, and crushed peanuts. The ginger ice cream was good, although it could have used more candied ginger. The mango was tasty and had the right balance between sweet and tart. The green tea ice cream, which I had never had before, was better than I thought it would be, with a cool and refreshing taste which was not overly sweet. Overall, the food was quite good, but the service could use some improvement.