penang, nj

Its interesting how experiences at establishments can be linked to its environment. Like when I've shopped at Urban Outfitters, I associate it within the context of its city (original store in Philly and locations in NYC). When I came across an U.O. in a suburban Pennsylvania mall, it felt strange and out of place. Of course U.O. is an overpriced caricature of what it wants to be...but that another issue for anotherday.

Anyway, over the years, I've enjoyed the flavorful Malaysian/Thai cuisine at Penang Restaurant. While I'm aware of their many east coast locations, my personal dining experiences have led me to associate it with an urban environment - primarily from living in Philly's Chinatown and on trips to NYC. So, I was curious to check out the new Penang opening in the suburban South Jersey.

We prefer their appetizers more than the entrees, so we placed our usual order of Roti Canai (indian style pancake with curry dipping sauce), satay beef on skewers with peanut sauce, and spicy seafood tomyam soup. It was all very good as expected. My wife says the interior layout exhibited good feng shui but it just took me a while to get used to this particular environment. Maybe its because I'm used to a Penang with a cramped interior which forces you to literally rub elbows with neighboring diners and share conversations. This Penang is cavernous with sky high ceilings and tons of personal space. The decor eschewed the urban edge of its Philly location for a soothing ambience anchored by a central waterfall, appropriate brown and red tones, and interesting sculptures made out of noodles. It was so relaxing that I was slightly unnerved - again mainly because I associate the restaurant with a more hectic atmosphere.

All of these thoughts were cleared by a magnificent dessert called Ice Kacang. Its a huge bowl of shaved ice with several sweet goodies including red beans and brown coconut syrup. A Malaysian version of Filipino halo-halo or Vietnamese rainbow ice. I can imagine it being even more delicious on a hot summer day. On hot days at this location, I won't have to worry about rubbing sweaty elbows and I could easily jump in the waterfall to cool off.


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