A Malaysian Type of Place

13 Jul

Skyway Malaysian
11 Allen St
Chinatown

After what seemed like much too long, all were in attendance for our appointment at Skyway Malaysian. Tucked in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown, my reservation garnered us a seat perched above the other diners under a pagoda canopy. Whether it was a choice seat or one where the wait staff could conveniently ignore our pleas for beverages and food was open to debate. We had plenty of room and our sometimes booming near-hysterical rants would not impose on the other diners. But from our table we also could not view the obligatory television tuned to Asian dramas with Chinese subtitles. Instead, while perusing the dense, six page menu, we could catch up with Eugene and his new-found love affair with Vegas, especially the bargains at the dining tables. Or listen to Zio bemoan the sudden rise in crime in Astoria where a murder had recently occurred just a few steps from his love nest.

While I tuned out both Eugene and Zio, I couldn’t help but read Village Voice food critic, Robert Sietsema’s review of Skyway that was blown up and hanging on the wall near our table, as well as many other very prominent locations throughout the restaurant. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to Eugene’s typically dour playoff predictions for his beloved Boston Red Sox* instead of reading Sietsema.

Sietsema received maximum coverage at Skyway.

Robert Sietsema is a true explorer, unearthing obscure restaurants in all boroughs and a primary source for our own adventures. But instead of going with my own instincts on the menu, I let Sietsema sway me. Not that his 2005 review recommendations were off course or bad, but this was 2007 and the menu offered other wonders that might have led to our own personal discoveries. Thankfully, I welcomed menu feedback from Rick, Gerry and our persuasive waitress instead of completely following Sietsema’s lead. But when I was originally enticed by the prospect of java mee, egg noodles in sweet and spicy squid gravy (could it be anything like squid ink used in paella?) and shrimp pancake, Sietsema’s rave of banmee hakka noodle led me astray. The noodles, it turned out, were so bland that even the handful of dried anchovies tossed into the soup couldn’t save them. But Sietsema’s suggestion of the house special pork with dried vegetables, a thick, tender slab of pork belly on top of a dense, salty bed of now soggy greens was indisputable.

Before we even began to put together our own menu for the night, we made several attempts to hail a waitress for our “beer” order. Gerry rose to the occasion to summon one of the wait staff hovering below us and we ordered a round of Macau Chinese beer. Instead, we were brought Blue Moon, Belgium-style beer which we drank without complaint.

Since Skyway was my pick, it was my job to attempt to recite our order, badly mangling the Malaysian pronunciations of them, to our waitress. Thankfully she pointed out that there were numbers attached to each item sparing me further humiliation and especially helpful when I had to pronounce the appetizer, Skyway poh piah, a spring roll steamed and stuffed with jicama and served with a hard boiled egg, in this instance the egg just happened to be purple. Mike from Yonkers snared the purple egg and shrugging, pronounced nonchalantly that it tasted like an ordinary egg.

Gerry recognized beef rendang on the menu; a familiar item from our experience at the Indonesian, Upi Jaya; Skyway’s version was a bit less fiery, but no less palatable. To expand on our menu, the waitress suggested the hot and spicy crabs, but not the ordinary crabs—she insisted that we would like the “big crabs” much better. We knew that “big crabs” meantmore expensive crabs but she was so sincere, we couldn’t resist. It would be worth the extra money not to have to use micro-surgery to remove the meat from the smaller crabs. Along with the big crabs, she pushed a fish to round out our meal; our choice from the restaurant’s tanks was tilapia or striped bass. We went with the former and had it prepared steamed in a hot bean sauce. To make sure we had our daily consumption of green vegetables, we ordered a plate of kang kung belacan, watercress-like greens sautéed with a sauce made from shrimp paste.

The Skyway in Malaysia

By the time the monstrous plate of crabs and the whole tilapia crowded our table, we were ready for another round of beer, this time we did get the Macau, though after a few sips I was immediately nostalgic for the Blue Moon. Eugene was suddenly silent and Zio oblivious to any conversation as both worked diligently, picking through the spicy crab, while we made quick work of the tilapia, and is our custom, saving the tender cheeks for Rick. As if we hadn’t eaten in months, the feast was greedily devoured and though the dessert options, ginkgo nuts with barley and buboh chacha, sweet potato and yam with coconut, were intriguing, we were done. After sucking out the last bit of crab from shell, Eugene proclaimed that Skyway was “our type of place.” But only Eugene could really explain what that meant.

The Skyway near Skyway Malaysian in Manhattan

*Despite Eugene’s pessimistic prognostication, his Red Sox won the World Series a month after our dinner at Skyway.

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