Malaysian food can be a little of everything: A little Indian, a little
Chinese, a little trendy
by Robert Nadeau
There's no evidence that the Malaysian fad is wearing thin -- in fact, it's
getting more elaborate as it goes along. Consider Tiger Lily, which boasts
Indonesian-like food, an open-kitchen bistro layout, Chinese-like seafood, a
lotta bamboo décor, Indian-like food, Thai-like elaborate stuffings, and
cute dish decorations of red agar-agar hearts and green agar-agar Buddhas.
Taste-wise I prefer the Buddhas, but it's not like there's not enough to eat
Tiger Lily |
8 Westland Avenue (Symphony), Boston
Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
AE, DC, Disc, MC, Visa
Smoking at bar
Ramp access from sidewalk
One could, for example, start with satay in various forms, of which the new
one to me is "satay tofu" ($4.95), which is actually three big wedges of tofu,
artfully scooped out and deep-fried to a crisp, the better to hold a stuffing
of vegetables and bean sprouts. Or there is roti canai ($3.95), an
Indian-derived flatbread here impressively stretched out like phyllo dough, the
better to dip into and wrap around a little yellow chicken curry. Satong squid
with spicy salt ($6.95) is sort of like the old Hong Kong-style calamari, where
the spice is in the batter rather than dribbled on at the end, but cut
differently (smaller) and thus focused more on each morsel. And achat ($3.95)
is a simple, addictive fresh pickle of cabbage, carrots, and red bell peppers
cut in long strips, with a fine balance of crunch, fire, savor, and spice. I
bet a lot of Malaysians eat achat and rice for light meals, and I bet they're
on to something.
Cumulatively, these appetizers are quite salty, and this reminds us that this
is a bar as well as a restaurant. It even has a
wine list, although wine with
Malaysian food is an
acquired and practiced taste.
There are some good imported
beers, and the menu wisely includes lassi, the Indian drink of thinned yogurt
that must have come to Malaysia with Tamil contract laborers many years ago.
Moving on to main dishes, we realize one reason why Malaysian restaurants will
keep appearing -- the trimmings and surroundings enable them to charge bistro
prices for Asian entrées. That said, you would consider it a major find
if your local bistro served anything like Tiger Lily's "double ayam" ($15.95).
I remembered that "ayam" is chicken in the languages of Malaya and Indonesia,
and guessed that "double ayam" meant "cooked two ways," and if one of the ways
was fried -- well, cooks from these countries make some of the best fried
chicken in the galaxy.
I was right in principle, but wrong in semantics. Tiger Lily's double ayam is
a re-creation of Peking duck, using tender chicken meat, crispy chicken skin,
hoisin sauce, scallions, and -- drum roll here -- fluffy sweet steamed buns
instead of those Peking pancakes. The server assembles these ingredients at
tableside into three sandwiches that combine the best points of the classic
Peking duck and the savory pork snowball of Southern China, the char siu bao.
Eat your heart out, Stan Frankenthaler.
Beef Rendang ($12.95) is an Indonesian dry curry that has worked its way onto
Malaysian menus, and Tiger Lily's version is especially richly flavored with
ground coriander. Malaysian restaurants have earned a reputation for prawns big
enough to challenge the Men in Black, but the Tiger Lily rendition of what I
would describe as shrimp in onion-curry gravy (kari udang, $17.95) holds back
to maybe the size that would be selected as defensive lineman in the
second round of the NFL draft.
The special dish of lobster grilled in banana leaves ($24) will attract a lot
of attention, but I think the kitchen should change it a little bit. As
presently served, the lobster is split and stuffed with white starchy stuff.
The sauce, a yellow curry with a dry, spicy flavor rather like that of the roti
canai chicken curry, is served on the side. I think the starchy stuff should be
omitted in favor of either some kind of simple aromatic herb --a spear of
lemongrass or a slice of fresh galangal, say -- or a vegetable stuffing
incorporating the yellow curry. The cooking technique for the lobster is fine
-- the meat is done but not dried out. The chef just needs to put a little more
thought into a dish that a lot of customers will consider the restaurant's
signature (unless they remember about the double ayam).
Desserts aren't much yet, and Tiger Lily may never need them, since much of
the crowd will be off to the symphony, or looking for something light
thereafter. One could hoard up the red and green agar-agar garnishes for a hint
of sweetness at the end.
We found service pretty good as the restaurant was filling up on a weekend
evening. Our servers did quite nicely with the tableside work on the double
ayam and with dividing up some odd orders. The decorations are something like
those at the Chinatown Malaysian restaurant
Penang, and tastefully short of the
Trader Vic standard: a lot of bamboo and pine, large oil lamps, kites, musical
instruments, and urns in glass cases. There doesn't seem to be background
music, and low ceilings dampen some of the impact of a crowded restaurant with
a semi-open kitchen. The one difficulty I noted was that the bar, where smoking
is allowed, is at a lower level than the dining rooms, which tends to draw old
smoke into the larger back dining room toward the kitchen's exhaust fans. This
was noticeable even when there was no one actually in the bar! If you don't
like the aroma of smoke, ask if you can have a table in the smaller front
dining area. It shouldn't be impossible to fix this, probably by adding exhaust
fans or "smoke eaters" in the bar.
Tiger Lily adds a lot of fun eating to the Symphony zone (which also includes
the Huntington Theatre and isn't that far from the Berklee Performance Center
and the Hynes Auditorium). But don't miss it just because the area isn't
already on your list -- just keep an eye open for gaps in the Symphony Hall
schedule, or reserve for later seatings.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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