Thursday, January 10, 2013

Banana Leaf Review

I completely understand why some would be leery or at least apprehensive about venturing into Chinatown. Whether you're in Philadelphia, NYC, or LA - the Chinatown's and Koreatown's of these big cities are mystifying outposts filled with unfamiliar lettering. Seeing crabs littered about the sidewalks and roast ducks hanging in the windows can certainly be disconcerting. However, let loose the explorer and adventurer inside of you - and be rewarded!

Case in point - Banana Leaf. Just on the outer boundaries of Chinatown, located at 10th and Arch Streets, this restaurant specializes in Malaysian cuisine. Banana Leaf highlights milder flavors that are not inundated with garlic (not that that's a bad thing!) and offers curries that have depth of flavor. An added bonus? It's BYO!

Banana Leaf boasts a spacious dining area that is well designed to transplant you into a new continent of cuisines. This ain't the dilapidated streets of Philly no mo! Service is brisk, yet friendly and the dishes come out quickly and do not put in a dent on your pocket. A steal of a deal if you ask me.

Homemade Roti Canai ($3.75)
Pancake and Curry Chicken

Do start your meal with the roti canai, which is an Indian-influenced flat bread often found in Malaysian cuisine. The pancake is crispy, yet chewy (trust me - you won't understand the dichotomy of textures unless you simply try it) and served as one whole gigantic circle of glutinous flat bread that may, at first glance, not seem like enough to sop up the curry. But trust me - it gets the job done.

The accompanying curry had a nice depth - clearly from a nice stock. There were a few morsels of creamy potato chunks and chicken, which was fine, but there were also tiny bones that were somewhat annoying. It's nice to know that this was made from a proper stock, but I could do without the tiny bones.

Prawn Mee ($7.50)
Egg noodles, shredded pork, shrimp, vegetables, bean sprouts

For those afraid of spicy soups - don't be alarmed by the beguiling red tinge of the broth. It's milder than it looks. Advertised as Banana Leaf's favorite - the broth had an intense flavor of the sea - briny, deep, and delicious. The bean sprouts and spinach provided a nice fresh element to the dish, which was quite savory and filling. The 'shredded' pork seemed to be more sliced and was a tad dry. The shrimp were small, but tasted fresh, not frozen. It's quite the task to finish this dish - you'll need some help!

Curry Chicken with Rice ($7.50)

Definitely get a curry dish at Banana Leaf. While the creamy curry sauce may look intense, the mild flavors of the underlying coconut milk help to assuage the spiciness. The chicken chunks were moist and mixed with the accompanying huge scoop of delicious, yet simple rice, this dish is a winner. The GF was hoping for a bit more veggies in the dish, but of course, Banana Leaf does offer other curries, which will certainly be ordered on future visits.

Overall, Banana Leaf offers a cheap, yet satisfying meal that takes you on a journey of Malaysian proportions. I would eat anything mixed with that curry sauce and the perfectly made roti is a nice way to start your meal. The portions will keep you satisfied, but it's the tastes and flavors that will keep you coming back for more.

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