9889 Bellaire @ Corporate, # 311
We lost several of our Malaysian restaurants last year, at least three I think, including the two I was familiar with, Nyonya Grill down in Sugar Land and Kuala Lumpur on Bellaire. There's been a lot of buzz about Banana Leaf in the interim but I'm just getting around to trying it out. Got a craving for roti canai, what can I tell you?
I was surprised at the size of the place when I walked in. To tell the truth, I don't pay much attention to those details in the reviews I read (actually, I just look at the pictures), but I expected a banquet hall sized-room, packed with a throng of people. Instead, it's the size of your typical Houston hole-in-the-wall eatery, though much more nicely appointed than many. There was a throng - the tables are rather close together.
The roti canai was heavier than what I'd had before at Nyonya or K.L. and had picked up more oil than those, as I remember. Still I had no trouble finishing it off. While that's a bit of bad news the good news is, because of that I may actually have the will power to forgo one of these on every visit, thereby saving 5 or 600 calories, probably, and have room to try some dessert. The ginger dipping sauce was great.
I tried to order the Malaysian Buddhist, a vegetarian stir-fry, but the pretty and helpful young waitress said it wasn't very good and tried to steer me to some other dishes. I realized she might be assuming I'm not very adventurous but I didn't want to leave on my first visit actually having had a bad dish so I went with her advice and settled on the Eggplant/Shrimp stir-fry.
Whether I had been steered toward a dumbed down, Americanized dish or not became irrelevant when I tasted this; it was great. I'd had some very good dishes at K.L. and Nyonya but I believe this topped them all. I couldn't wait to go back.
This came with a separate pot of rice, about 4 cups worth and I also got the Hot Black Rose tea which has a very delicate, wonderful aroma. I dug into the rice the way the proprietor of Nyonya said is the way Malaysians do it, picking up clumps of it in the fingers. I noticed I was the only one in the restaurant doing this.
On another visit a few days later I wanted to order something off the lunch menu as I wasn't very hungry; I did forgo the roti canai but the dish I wanted - I think it was the Masak Lemak - the waitress (same one) said was not available. Hmmm. She tried to steer me toward a tofu dish or a pork chop dish but I wound up settling for a shrimp curry. It was a wonderfully savory curry, only mildly hot, not quite as awesome as the eggplant dish but still quite good.
While waiting, I saw several of their sizzling platters coming out and they looked incredible. I know what I want the next time (assuming it's available).
There are small flat screen video screens next to the tables along the walls on both sides which show a progression of pictures of their alluring dishes but both times the ones nearest me have been stuck on the crispy, fried calamari. Maybe they're trying to send me a message?