Monday, August 23, 2010

Smiling Banana Leaf (Thai) - Morningside/Highland Park

Smiling Banana Leaf
5901 Bryant St
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(412) 362-3200
Menu list

Smiling Banana Leaf on Urbanspoon

When it comes giving out my thumbs up for restaurants, I am picky, especially for Thai food. Ever since I visited Thailand a few years back and tried their authentic finger lickin' awesome food I just can't settle for anything less anymore. Especially because I know how to cook too, so if I go to a restaurant, they better serve me something equal or better than what I can cook at home or it's going to be on my "Don't waste your time and money on that restaurant list," yes, I have that list and many restaurant is in that list for various reason, mostly bad food.

Smiling Banana Leaf menu is pretty standard, but I can't think of anything I don't like in their menu.

There is only one thing missing that I wish they have on their menu, which is Tod Mun. Since they make everything else so good, I secretly wish that someday they will put it on their menu, it’s not easy to find a good Tod Mun. A lot of time they turned up rubbery.

My favorites on their menu are: Fresh spring roll, Tom Kha Soup, Som Tum, Panang Curry, and of course Pad Thai. Their Noodle Curries are also excellent, It's just the portion is too big for my belly.

My rule of thumbs on judging a Thai restaurant when it’s my first visit is to try their Steamed White Jasmine Rice, Peanut Sauce, and Pad Thai. I believe a good Thai restaurant that deserves my second visit must first get my thumbs up on those three dishes.

Rice you might think is a simple food to prepare, but it could be tricky if you are not familiar with them. Growing up eating rice, I am very particular with my rice. The texture of White Jasmine Rice is very unique and when cooked well it's very good. If a Thai restaurant can't even make a good Steamed White Jasmine Rice, I doubt they can do any other dishes well. Smiling Banana Leaf definitely serves excellent steamed rice.

Peanut sauce is another signature Thai food. Even though it's common in South East Asia in general, peanut sauce had always been associated with Thai food for as long as I can remember. The key to make great peanut sauce is fresh ingredients. Restaurants in general prepare their peanut sauce in big batch, enough for a couple of days or so. Since Thai peanut sauce is mixed with coconut milk and serves warm, it could be tricky for restaurant to keep them fresh. Days old cooked coconut milk have a distinguish flavor and smells and they are not pleasant, even the slightest hint of it will turned me off. Another issue that I found often is the ingredient's they are using. There are at least three ingredients that I think will make awesome peanut sauce, but most restaurant either only use one of them or very little of them. They are Tamarind Juice, Spices, and Palm Sugar. The Tamarind juice should be used instead of vinegar, that way there is no need to add tons of sugar, and don't be shy on the spices either, I also love it when I can taste a hint of cutcherry in it, and Palm Sugar (Sugar derived from Palmyra palm) in addition to regular cane sugar as needed. I think smiling banana leaf only missing the palm sugar, their peanut sauce is simply finger lickin' awesome.

The last one is Pad Thai, need I go any further? It’s a signature dish, again, many restaurant use sugar mixed with vinegar or lime juice to substitute Tamarind juice. They don't taste the same. And yes, Pad Thai is best paired with shrimp, always, unless you are allergic to it. Smiling Banana Leaf definitely make awesome Pad Thai.

Smiling Banana Leaf, great food, nice location, friendly service!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sun Penang (Malaysian) - Squirrel Hill

Sun Penang
5829 Forbes Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15217

Menu list

Sun Penang on Urbanspoon

Trust me on this one, I grew up eating malaysian food, I know how to cook it and definitely how to eat them. This restaurant serves awesome Malaysian food.

Roti Cenai
My all time favorites for apetizer: Roti Cenai, Roti Telur, Crispy Pork Intestines (of course ....), and Pasembur. The curry sauce that comes with Roti Cenai and Roti Telur is just perfect. It's finger lickin' good all right, don't be shy, it's that good. I don't think Crispy Pork Intestines needs further explanation, just awesome. Pasembur is another variation of those South East Asian peanut sauce dishes like Thai salad with peanut sauce, Gado gado, Pecal, Batagor, etc. It's basically a mixed of veggies and protein (tofu or tempe is commonly used) top with peanut sauce. Come on, you can dip anything in to an awesome peanut sauce and it will taste good, even my husband's stinky rubber shoe sole "probably."

Beef Rendang
For main entre, Beef Rendang is a must! Hot, spicy, tender, just the way I like it. Although their Beef Rendang is slightly different than those you will find in Indonesian Restaurant, they are "Finger Lickin' Awesome," and yes, I have to eat it with my hand, that's the best way to eat Beef Rendang with Rice. The next best entre is Penang Char Kway Teow - stir fried noodles penang style. The minute the server handed me this noodle, I knew it was very authentic, the smell of stir fried bean sprouts with a hint of fish sauce in it reminds me of my childhood memory and just makes me so hungry. I lived in NY for about 5 years and have never come across something like this, so Kudos to you Sun Penang for bringing the awesomeness of Penang to Pittsburgh. One vegetarian entre that I really like is the Malaysian style green bean, it's a spicy dish, but again really good. If you are a vegetarian, the green curry would make a great choice. For those of you fellow spicy food guzzlers, ask the server for the malaysian hot sauce "Sambal" on the side.

No doubt there are huge influence of Chinese cooking in Malaysian food and Sun Penang serves a lot of chinese dishes as well, but I would stick with the Malaysian origin menu. Simply awesome Malaysian food.

Penang Char Kway Teow
Sambal (Terasi)

Roti Telur
Malaysian style green bean