Pasar Malam (CLOSED)
Time Out says
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New Yorkers routinely scour Asian cuisine with gusto, digging into fish-sauced Laotian larb, garlicky, MSG-splashed Szechuan and sweet-and-sour Filipino fare like gastro globetrotters. But Malaysia’s sambal-and–shrimp-paste backbeat never quite hit the hype levels of its buzzier brethren.The city’s few Malay hubs have faded in recent years—rollicking, PBR-sloshed Fatty Crab is now the last man standing of the Fatty empire, and Salil Mehta’s Union Square refuge Laut, which nabbed an out-of-left-field Michelin star in 2010 alongside heavyweights like Aldea and Del Posto, has since lost that sparkler.
Mehta, however, hasn’t abandoned his post as a Malay ambassador on New York’s restaurant scene—he follows up Laut with Williamsburg haunt Pasar Malam, a multicolor hodgepodge of Buddhist altars, faux-marigold garlands and glowing signs hawking “satay” and “laksa” in an effort to evoke its Panang night-market namesake. Like the melting-pot Malaysian at its focus—brimming with Indian, Chinese and Thai flavors—the restaurant is all over the place, but when it comes to Malay classics, it proves a quality primer to the country’s underrated eats.
The open kitchen bustles with cooks stretching house-made roti to order, a flaky Indian flatbread that comes in eight varieties here. Steer clear of the gimmicky fusion mess that is the peanut-butter-and-banana roti Elvis ($9) and instead opt for the simple, standard canai ($6), as paper-thin and buttery as good French viennoiserie, primed to sop up the accompanying zingy coconut-milk curry. You’ll order a second helping before the entrée even arrives.
Rojak ($8), a traditional salad of raw green mango, tart pineapple, crisp jicama and torn hunks of fried Chinese cruller bread, is really a vehicle for the pungent belacan sauce (pounded, sun-dried shrimp paste), all umami funk and caramel cling. It is initially off-putting to a first-timer but it preps the taste buds for mains like Malaysia’s national dish, nasi lamak ($15). A mess of offerings come presented on a thali platter around a neat cone of coconut rice: creamy curry chicken, shrimp sambal, tangy pickled vegetables and a hard-boiled egg. Load up your fork with a bit of each for a medley of sour, sweet and spice that’s singularly Malay.
Some dishes swerve unnecessarily to American tastes—the Hainanese chicken rice ($15) is less South Pacific and more Deep South, with a crackly-skinned fried bird swapped for the customary boiled chicken. But the should-orders are ones that are tougher to unpack, stuff like curry bobbing with fish heads ($19), an oyster omelette studded with bean sprouts ($6.50) or the intensely licoricey lo honko drink ($4).
Pasar Malam is far from a comprehensive study, but for the average hungry Joe, it proves there’s more to Malaysia than takeout tom yum.
208 Grand St
|Cross street:||between Bedford and Driggs Aves|
|Transport:||Subway: L to Bedford Ave|
|Price:||Average entree: $15. AmEx, DC, Disc, MC, V|
|Opening hours:||Daily 3pm-midnight|
|Do you own this business?|