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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Belacan Grill - Highly Recommended Restaurant in LA area

Recently, LA Times' CounterIntelligence column ran a great review on this hidden gem of a restaurant in Redondo Beach, CA. My wife and I, along with two other couples paid them a visit last night, and oh, man, I am still raving about its delicacy!

This is one fine restaurant. The service was very fast! Well, it was a rainy Saturday night and the restaurant was not filled up so that might have helped.

We ordered seven dishes to share among ourselves:
  • Wat Tan Hor (Fried flat, white rice noolde, covered with a rich egg based sauce with seafood).
  • Belacan Crab (Fresh crab deep fried to perfection and then stir fried with belacan - a shrimp paste).
  • Fish Head Curry (Fresh fish head cooked in curry powder, spices, chillies and cooconut milk.
  • Datin's Beef Rendang (Fresh beef cutlets marinated and cooked in a rich, dry curry paste)
  • Ampang Yong Tau Foo (Stuff bean curd, egg plant and peppers coooked in claypot)
  • Belacan Kangkong (Fresh water spinach vegetable stir fried in a light belacan shrimp paste sauche)
  • Malaysian Curry Chicken (Moist morsels of chicken meat, slow cooked in a rich coconut milk based curry sauce.
We had steamed white rice to go with the sumptuous dishes.

When the first dish arrived, the Wat Tan Hor. I was surprised at the smaller serving than usual. There was enough only for about a couple of spoonfuls each for the six of us, but the authentic taste more than made up for the smaller serving. We needed to save room for the other dishes as well! The noodle was soft and crisp, fried to just the right consistency, and the sauce was very smooth; the egg white was not overcooked and blended in with the sauce without being lumpy or hard. It was perfectly done. There were ample servings of juicy shrimps and the bok choy was crispy and fresh. Since leaving Malaysia almost 25 years ago, I have never tasted such authentic fare until now! If I had to leave at this moment I was already satisfied, but what was to come was more of the same! It was really good!

Each of other dishes were relatively smaller in serving sizes than your regular Asian restaurant, except for the Fish Head Curry, and Belacan Crab. The Fish Head Curry was served in a good sized claypot filled with huge morsels of fish, egg plant, aubergine, green bean, bell peppers and onions cooked in perfection in a luxuriant coconut curry with just the right blend of spices. The taste was delicate -- not too spicy, with a hint of sweetness from the coconut base and the fragrance of tamarind. My family were out at another famous Malaysian haunt, the Penang in West Covina and their Fish Head Curry was memorable, but this was a cut above. Highly recommended.

The Belacan Crab was deep fried and then stir fried with belacan, fragrantly enhanced by a noticable portion of roasted dried shrimps, providing a really exotic taste to the tender crab meat. Each bite was as juicy, and tender as the next. The crab was meaty and the meat was cooked to the right consistency. Delicious!

Although the Ampang Yong Tau Foo was not particularly outstanding, the serving size was reasonable for the six of us, and the ingredients tasted fresh. Each piece of yong tau foo (stuffed bean curd) was lightly seared and the stuffed eggplant and peppers were juicy and crisp, while the fish paste was moist and tender. The sauce for the Yong Tau Foo was just right too, making the entire dish well balanced and satisfying.

The Belacan KangKong was classic - when the dish was brought out, the color of the vegetable showed that it was cooked just right, leaving the leaf fresh and the stem crunchy. The vegetable was stir fried, and tossed in a light belacan sauce, garnished with crisp cut red chiles on top. It was simply yummmm!

The Beef Rendang was simply sensational! The pieces of beef was tenderized with a blend of the rich spices and the dry curry paste with firm chunky pieces of potatoes were well blended together just like what you'd expect at a Kampung makan feast back home. The beef rendang simply melts in your mouth and the only complaint I have is that the serving size was a tad on the small side.

The Malaysian Curry Chicken tasted as if it was served by the hawker stalls back at Medan Selara in Petaling Jaya! Heavenly!

I had a glass of the teh tarik. While the tea may have looked a little darker than the tea you get from the Mamak stall next to the KL Hilton, the taste sends your senses right back to the roadside extravaganza! I simply loved it!

For desert, we had the Ice Kacang and the Cendol. The Ice Kacang looked and tasted like any you would get from the side stalls of any Malaysian marketplace or hawker center. The Cendol was a disappointment, but by then we did not mind it a bit.

To finish, the restaurant brought out complimentary bowls of Bobo Cha Cha which was served hot, but the taste again! It was sensationally close to the original that you could get in Malaysia.

Having lived in Malaysia the first twenty years of my live, I haven't been able to get such authentic fare any where else, and I have been eating all over the world - both coasts of Australia, Hong Kong, both coasts of the US, and after twenty-odd years of being away from Malaysia, this is the first time I have tasted food from a restaurant that I can truly say is authentic Malaysian. Yet, as I said, it was not overpoweringly spicy. Before we left, each of the three couples at our table made a pact among ourselves to return, together, as well as with our individual families/friends. I would highly recommend anyone who wishes to try the blends of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine for which Malaysia is so notable.

So if you guys are in the SoCal area, you must get out there soon. If you are not in the SoCal area, well perhaps you can put it down to a must-visit when you next come over to LA-LA-LAND. The ocean is only a mile or two from that location.

Here is the Address:

Belacan Grill

2701 190th Street

Redondo Beach

Tel: 310 370 1831

P.S. I may only have one or two other regular readers in the LA area, otherwise, we could organize a the outer... blog culinary experience, what say you folks?

Failing that, perhaps you can tell me what your favorite eating out place is...