Malaysia Kopitiam

It was a gloomy, cold and rainy evening when I was walking down M Street, and I was looking for a place to get out of the rain, as well as a quick bite to eat. I passed Camelot.

Hmmm...I hear they have good burgers there.

Then I passed Malaysia Kopitiam. Since I might be the only person who hasn't been there, I figured it was about time I tried it out. It was on Washingtonian's Cheap Eats last year, it gets very positive reviews from just about every food critic and gets very good word of mouth. Just a couple weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who said he went there and had a great meal. This was someone whose opinion in food I respect very much, so I figured I'd better try it.

Malaysia Kopitiam is on the the basement level, but it's hard to miss with the big sign above its door. Since it was 5:30, the restaurant was pretty empty. The only people there were one couple and what seemed to be a bunch of family members of the restaurant staff and owners. I recognized one of the owners from the pictures and articles hung on the wall out front. My first impression of the interior of the restaurant was that of one of the restaurants on the Food Network's Restaurant Makeover, before the makeover. It just goes to show that looks aren't everything.

I sat at a table by myself. The server handed me a, not a menu, a three-ring binder. The menu comes in two parts, the regular menu with the list of dishes and prices, and then a three-ring binder with the pictures of the dishes. I found this very convenient when ordering because the descriptions on the menu were not the best at explaining what the dishes are actually like.

This first trip, I wasn't so happy with my choice of appetizer. The roti canai, or flaky layered Indian bread with spicy Malaysian curry chicken, would've been great except for the rubbery chicken. The sauce was a wonderful hot-spicy blend and the bread couldn't have been better. I loved how buttery and flaky it was. A friend of mine later told me this was their favorite dish at Malaysian Kopitiam. I guess I just had a bad batch of chicken -- mine was fatty and over-cooked.

The spicy tamarind beef, on the other hand, was pretty good, but wasn't anything to write home about. Unlike the chicken, the beef was lean and tender. This beef was cooked for a long time, and had a consistency of the beef that I make in a slow cooker all day. I'd say that it was either brisket, hanger or skirt steak.

Out of the kindness of my heart, I ordered some takeout for Amy, and chose extremely unwisely for her entree. I think of all the dishes on the menu, I chose the most bland and unsatisfying of them all -- vegetarian stir-fried mix noodle. I'm not sure why, but I think I chose the dish that's on the menu for the unadventurous vegetarian diner who thinks they're a vegetarian, but doesn't want to try any "weird" vegetables because they're actually just a picky eater. Yeah, I'd say that about sums it up.

On the other hand, the appetizer that I chose for her made me want to return a second time. It was a little spring roll called a Po Pia. This was a thin crepe filled with jicama (pronounced hick-e-mah), lettuce, eggs, dried shrimp, and topped with a hoisin sauce. I'm not sure what it was that made these rolls so good, but I'm pretty sure it was the hoisin sauce. As I ate them back at our apartment I said to myself, "Well, if these are this good after sitting in these takeout containers for a half hour, then I've got to try these fresh in the restaurant!"

This is going to be another one of those reviews where I describe each dish I ate in detail...If you are short on time, you should stop reading now. :)

I returned a week later with Amy and Noah and had a great time with him there. Malaysia Kopitiam, I have to say, is very baby friendly. They have high chairs, the restaurant staff were very friendly to Noah, and the casual atmosphere makes me feel at ease having Noah there. Especially since Noah's been getting experimental with the volume of his voice lately. 

My choices of dishes was better this visit. Maybe it was Amy's influence over the ordering, but we ordered some really incredible dishes. Of course we started with some of those incredible Po Pias which were sooo good -- fresh and hot unlike my first time eating them cold after takeout.

The raja chicken was an very similar to the General Tso's chicken that you find at every Chinese takeout joint. Somehow, the chicken seemed to have this double-fried chicken texture to it, almost like they'd fried the chicken without the breading really quick, dipped it in batter and fried it again. It'll be hard to get crappy MSG-y Chinese takeout ever again after eating this dish.

We also ordered some curry pork rib noodle. Imagine pork ribs so tender you could suck the meat right off the bone. Now add curry sauce and rice noodles.

Yeah, I want to go back too.

Both meals were under $40 after tip and this is with us ordering beer (Singhas to be exact.) I really wish I'd gone to Malaysia Kopitiam before now. Perhaps I'll head back there this weekend.

Malaysia Kopitiam
1827 M Street NW
Washington DC 20036
(202) 833-6232

Mon - Thu: 11:30 am - 10:00 pm
Fri - Sat: 11:30 am - 11:00 pm
Sun: 12:00 noon to 10:00 pm

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: No Valet. If you time it right, there is a ton of parking that opens up on M street right around 6:30PM
Closest Metro: Dupont Circle or Farragut North
Reservations: Not Taken
Amy's Bathroom rating: Need for improvement. They were a little rundown, but hey, you're not going here for the ambiance.
Baby-Friendly Rating: 3 out of 4 diapers. A casual environment, friendly and accommodating wait staff make this place ideal for taking an infant to. Noah had a meltdown after about an hour and a half and no one even batted an eye. The rundown bathrooms mean there's NO place to change a diaper though.

Straits of Malaya

So I could start this review out telling you how Straits of Malaya in Adams Morgan used to be Wazuri and how at he beginning of the year the owners of Wazuri decided to close and reopen Straits of Malaya after 5 years, but EVERYONE knows this. If you don't know, you can read all about it here, here, and here.

Anyway, last Friday, Amy and I went to Straits of Malaya.  I was really in the mood for something new last weekend. We'd been to the places in our neighborhood way too much lately, and it was time for a change. After reading some interesting things about Straits of Malaya, I thought Malaysian food would be an welcome diversion.

At about 8 PM we arrived at the restaurant. There was a short wait to get a table on the roof top deck or the front sidewalk, so we just opted to sit at a window inside. The first thing we noticed once we were sat was the extremely friendly service from all the staff. Everyone from the bus boys to the manager were eager to serve. One of the people serving us turned out to be the owners sister who was visiting her brother and was helping out at the restaurant. She was very friendly as well.

The menu was atypical from other places we've been and that was to be expected since we've never had Malaysian before. My first impression was that all of the dishes had hints of Thai, Chinese and Indian influences on them. The appetizer that caught my eye as well as Amy's was the five-spice roll. From the description on the menu, it sounded like an Indian style meatloaf - and I love meatloaf, so we ordered it. Another appetizer I'd like to try is the beef-stuffed curry puffs - Maybe next time. For an entree, I ordered the "signature dish", a spicy chicken and eggplant curry with rice and carrots. I forget the Malaysian name for the dish and I seem to have misplaced the menu I grabbed on the way out. Oops. Amy ordered the Cha Kway Teow, a spicy Chinese-style rice noodle dish with sprouts and chicken.  The only reason I know the name of that dish is because everyone else who has reviewed Straits of Malaya has written about it.

As we were waiting for our food to come out we were people watching. I can't think of a better place to people watch than Adams Morgan. There is always such a huge variety of people there. Looking around the restaurant and seeing all the empty tables at Straits of Malaya, and then looking across the street at the tourist trap we call Lauri-hole Plaza, we laughed. There's no reason there should be such a wait for that place.  Anyway, there...I said it. Just like everyone else who has reviewed this Straits of Malaya. So? Sue me.

The five-spice roll came out and it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but non the less it tasted great and turned out to be the highlight of the meal. Basically, it is a thick, Malaysian-style beef sausage, sliced thin and served with a spiced soy sauce. This dish was like nothing else I've had and Amy and I both really enjoyed it. We almost ordered another one, but then our main courses came out. Another comment is that the food always came out promptly and with good timing.

The entrees came out similar to the way entrees come out at an Indian restaurant. They are served in little dishes on trays and meant to be shared among everyone at the table. My first impression of my entree was that it would have been better without the eggplant. The eggplant was really overcooked and had an overall mushy texture. Maybe it is cooked this way on purpose, but I just did not care for it. Other than that, it had some really good flavor - spicy, hints of curry, etc. The chicken was not overcooked which is always a good thing and the carrots were a nice touch. Overall though, I would say I have have better dishes that were similar to this.

I like Amy's Cha Kway Teow better than mine. The noodles had just the right texture, and everything was cooked to perfection. The sprouts were not overcooked, the chicken was tender, and the sauce had just the right amount of spice to make you have to take a drink every couple of bites. This dish, I would say, is worth a second trip to Straits.

The portions are fairly large, so we had no room for dessert, although, there was nothing on the dessert menu that really peaked out interest. As I said before, the service was very attentive, and the check came out as soon as we were ready for it. The bill came to around $70 with an appetizer, 2 entrees and 4 beers, and tip. I would say that it was pretty reasonable given it's location and the quality of the food. Most entrees were priced between $10-15 and the appetizers were all below $9.

Dress was casual. Most people there were wearing jeans although I spied an occasional sport coat. I was wearing a nice pair of dress slacks and a nice shirt and I fit right in.

My final judgement. Straits of Malaya is probably on of the better restaurants in Adams Morgan. I'd put it up there with the likes of Meskerem. As far as service goes, it is probably the best in Adams Morgan. We'll probably go back, but I just wont order the same entree again.

Straits of Malaya
1836 18th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 483-1483

5:30pm-10:30pm Sun-Thu
5:30pm-11pm Fri-Sat

Dress Code: Casual
Reservations: Accepted