* But not in the traditional form

First of all, a little sidebar having nothing to do with the dinner at Malay Satay Hut. Thanks to relatively absent but still always with us member Marnie Maclean for driving, way, way across town to attack my dog with her Furminator and to come to our aid, accompanying us to the dogwash for heavy lifting duties and matted hair removal. As dog washing “assistants” go, Marnie gets a 10 thumbs up for both human kindness and dog handling techniques.

Also, thanks Judy for joining us finally at a dinner. Judy has always commented on the reviews to me (she actually reads them!), but this is the first time she had dined with us, so eventhough you had a hectic week at work, we enjoyed you managing to join us at Malay Satay Hut, and for trying everything (including one too many things). As to the two other new people who once again RSVPed and then for the second time either backed out at the last minute or in this case didn’t show up, you probably won’t be reading this, as you’ve been removed from out list. RR is for people who actually RSVP and show up, not people who RSVP and stay at home. We’re nastier here than baseball, two strikes and you’re out!

The Malay Satay Hut, An Evening of Intestinal Distress*

*but not in the traditional form

There were six of us who met out on beautiful 82nd Avenue for our evening of unusual eating excitement at the Malay Satay Hut. Originally, there was supposed to be nine of us, but one of us subcumbed to the more interesting offer of a camping trip (hey, I’d think about ditching an RR dinner for camping too, just not on a projected rainy weekend), and two new people just didn’t bother to show up, as mentioned previously, and probably won’t be invited again. Afterall, continually flaking on delightful people like our RR group shows a distinct lack of taste on their part. But thanks to the folks who did come out for a dinner of distinctly non-traditional Asian fare, Sara, expert Asian food eater and wonderfully gung ho RR member, Kimberly, now with three RR dinners under her belt, my always willing to try new things former stalwart Christina, attending her 8th RR dinner, my paper pushing pal of at least 10 years, Judy, and our manly presence for the evening, Brian, the KING OF GUSTATORY ADVENTURE!!!! Unfortunately, sometimes you can just be too adverturous. Caution can actually be good, at least when it comes to offal delicacies (or in this case, awful indelicacies). I applaud his courage, however, I am just sorry I psyched myself into the hysteria of mass sampling bravery. But more on this charming eating interlude later.

As all of you probably know who have actually made it through one or two of my mind stunting reviews, I always find it interesting when people rehab older buildings into eateries. As a general rule my interest only applies when the building being rehabed was built before 1930 however, it doesn’t apply to weird shopping malls that became community colleges that then became other somewhat blah shopping malls. I unfortunately know this section of 82nd Avenue like the back of my hand, (yeah, and the back of my hand is not exactly a pretty place these days either), I spent almost my entire pre-and non-prepubescent days eating at least once a week, if not more, at an old fashioned Chinese joint called the New Cathay (where the scary Hung Far Low is now). The new Cathay actually had individual jukeboxes for every booth. How did they do that anyway, did each little jukebox have a whole stack of 45s somewhere behind the wall? I remember they had a ton of selections, but the only things I remember hearing were Elton John songs, especially “Levon”. My father actually met my mother (surprised, I know you thought I came from an alien pod), across the street at a truly dreadful Chinese restaurant called the Canton Grill, a place that’s been in business since long before I was born, and will probably still be pushing its skanky food when I’m pushing up daisies. On the same corner used to a a Bazzar Supermarket, which later became a Builder’s Square and an Albertsons. Next to that was the bowling alley, which later became a cool rock club (the wood floor made for great dancing) called Lung Fung. Lung Fung bit it, and in came the gigantic Chinese behemoth Legin, a Chinese place with a gigantic menu that you either loathe (not just dislike, but loathe), or love, but at least everyone seems to agree, has decor that is shabby bordering on scary.

The Southeast Campus of PCC actually ended up retrofitting the Albertson’s space, and moved a few blocks North to its new digs a couple of years ago, this leaving their empty building to become, viola, the Fubonn Asian Mall, allegedly the largest Asian Mall in Portland. It probably seemed for a bit there like I had just lost my train of thought, and went off into old folks reminiscing mode (someone, shoot me quickly!!!), but I did have some vague thread of a topic going there somewhere. Because my brain is rapidly aging, usually at warp speed each time I write one of these weirdo reviews, I can’t remember who the originally tenant was in this generally unattractive piece of 50-60ish architecture, but I have the vague feeling it was something retail oriented. Then it was PCC, where I actually took an adult typing course, the plan being to improve my employment prospects by actually being able to type (a double flame out). I stuck with the class until the end, but I still can’t type, and employment wise, let’s not even talk about that.

I walked through the Fubonn Mall a little over a week ago, checking out the MSH, perhaps wanting to relive my glory typing days (yeah, so what if there weren’t any), and let me just say, it’s not exactly Pioneer Place. I’m sure the stores in here sell some good stuff, and several people at the RR dinner said the actual market here is an incomparable place for a shopping excursion, but I guess SE Asian is just not my thing. Let me know when the new Moorish Mall opens, and I’m there! But the Malay Satay Hut, despite being a “hut”, is actually a pretty nice place inside, lots of dark wood and good sized tables. It reminds me of a somewhat larger and slightly nicer version of current critic’s darling Whiskey Soda Lounge (Pok Pok), probably the next Asian restaurant RR will get around to. Which is an interesting parallel, (as is of course ANY parallel I make), while WSL is famous for its totally original Thai street food, found no where else here in Portland, MSH also serves a brand of Asian food not seen elsewhere in these parts (although at two places in the Seattle area), a Malaysian melange of Indian, Thai and Chinese.

As I dubiously live around these here parts, I confidently left way too late, and was the second to last person to arrive (not counting those two skanks who never arrived). This is one screwed up parking lot, divided into all these little one way paths, and I don’t mind mentioning, I seemed like the only person in the parking area who had actually taken a driver’s test (at least one where your speed exceeds 15 mph). Surprisingly making it to a spot without incident, just a few close calls with scraggling and scrambling pedestrians, I sprinted to the restaurant with about two minutes to spare, to be greeted by my eager fellow diners sitting around wondering “Where the Hell I Was”, as most of the people there did not know anyone else. Although everyone but Judy had been to at least one dinner, due to the natural precarious nature of RR participation, only Sara and Kimberly had crossed paths before.

As I knew it would be, this is one of those places where the second you sit down, no matter how many empty seats are at the table, someone official run at you saying “would you like to order?”. Many of these Asian places are like this I’ve noticed, set you up and boot you out, which is great at lunch time, but ruins some of the leisurely dinner ambiance one often wishes for after a frantic work week. Obviously the waitress was more adept at judging who was really coming to this dinner than I was, however, as she kept coming back for our order, and I kept motioning to the empty seats at the table (so far, as a general rule you RR folk have been great about showing up when you say you are coming, or letting me know when something came up suddenly and you had to cancel). Our sixth person arrived, and about 10 minutes later, facing the reality that we had two flakees, the ordering began in earnest, or at least the confused menu pondering over cocktails. Like its more famous neighbor less than a mile away, Wong’s King, I had the feeling this would be an Asian joint with more than beer and wine, and sure enough, there on the front page of the menu, typed in rainbow colors, were cutting age cocktails (from 10 years ago). I had a Cosmopolitan, and I must say, I’ve never had a tastier Shirley Temple (but hey, after all my adolescent dinners at Chinese eateries, I grew to adore Shirley Temples, and still occasionally partake of them at home by mixing Hansen’s Natural Mandarin-Lime soda with their Black Cherry soda). What the cocktails lacked in wallop, however, they made up for in price, only $4.75. And at least it was refreshing, if not intoxicating.

Each time I ventured a look in the direction of the doorway/ bar area, I was greated by the steely gaze of the manager, host, owner, whatever he was, an Asian equivalent of Don Knotts if there ever was one, somewhat small, rubbery, and shrunken. He probably couldn’t figure out why this table of stupid folks couldn’t make up their cotton pickin’ minds what to order in a timely fashion. That was easy for him to think, as most of the rest of us had no idea what much of these weird items were (with the exception of Sara, who because of her time in the general “region” was actually familiar with many of the dishes. Actually, I was familiar myself with the dishes, it was the food being served on top of them I found baffling).

The problem with eating at a place like this, a concept expressed in a similar fashion by the insightful Brian, is that while you want to be safe and order something you might know and like, it makes you feel like a weenie, so you want to try at least one of the more unusual items to get in the spirit of things. And even if you don’t splurge in that direction, since this is the type of dinner based on sharing, you take it upon yourself to try a bit of everything, even the most freakish things that people decided to order. This was made extra easy by the fact that many of the large round tables in this restaurant are equipped with twirly Lazy Susan type devices in the center, these objects providing many rotating laughs during the night. That being said, however, who was this Susan person who was SO LAZY she has an invention named after her lack of energy, that’s what I want to know? What a lame girl.

Here, taken directly from our bill, is a list of the things our party of six ordered, and I can tell you, it amounted to a big hunk of nourishment: Yong Chow Fried Rice, Black Pepper Jumbo Shrimp (big, but expensive at $20.95) Roti Telur, Salt and Pepper Small Squids (a special), Mee Siam, Chicken Curry with Potatos (their spelling, just like Dan Quayle, maybe he’s a busboy here now) White rice, Roti Canai, Crispy Pork Intestines, Buddhist Yam pot, Indian Rojak, and Curry Vegetable Soup (?)

So what on that list stands out for you? Perhaps the white rice? It’s doubtful. Surely it must be those yummy sounding Pork Intestines. I admit, when I pondered the take out menu I got a week earlier, my eye kept being drawn back to those Crispy Pork Intestines, (to often be called from here on out CP Icks), as in the photo, they look like a platter of crunchy bacon or something of that nature, maybe some well marbled proscuitto. I admit, now and then I eat something that many people find repulsive, like a raw oyster, a chicken liver, an occasional gizzard, and maybe a turkey tail (nice and juicy). But to be blunt, intestines, don’t those carry poop or something? Gross. But part of what makes an RR dinner fun is when people order crazy things, and otherwise sensible eaters actually agree to try a bite. I know Brian told me he would have really liked to have ordered all safe stuff, but it was just too boring, he wanted to try something really unusual (his other item was the interesting and rather sweet sounding Buddhist Yam Pot). But speaking of the pot, and things being associated with them, yes, Brian threw every little of bit of caution in his entire body to the wind, and ordered The “CP Icks”. I’m sure the waitress was smirking to herself all the time, and thinking, they won’t like those suckers.

Anyway, if my memory serves me (or maybe it’s just the Shirley Temple talking), the first “edible” to arrive at the table was the “CP Icks”. Sara had already psyched herself up, thinking they might be like Pork Rinds, and she had said she was going to try a piece, which of course made me foolishly believe I would be missing out on some great little nosh if I didn’t try a hunk, which naturally shamed all the sensible people at our table into thinking they too should grab a piece while they could. Somehow when the “CP Icks” arrived, however, they didn’t look like a plate of delicious crispy bacon, they looked more like long fatty fried hollow tubes that had been chopped up into smaller pieces (but not small enough!). As it was his selection, Brian was pretty adventurous and took a relatively large tubelette and popped it into his mouth. For some reason I don’t remember his reaction, but I don’t think it was a look of ecstacy crossing his features. Perhaps he had his poker face on, as he had paid $7.95, and wanted to see how many pieces of this thing he could get eaten, especially not by him. Sara was next, and Sara is a pretty nice person, and I think a relatively adverturous eater, so she didn’t say too much other than “really fatty tasting”. Then it was my turn to select my piece of this swiny delight, and by this time it was getting pretty hard to find a piece small enough, although each successive person seemed to be looking for an even smaller hunk. I think I waited until just about everyone had their piece in their mouth, and then I mentioned how repulsive tasting the “CP Ick” was, this comment met by massive agreement and spitting out into one’s napkin and such. Nasty. Much like a sewage/rancid fat combo of flavors saturating ones tastebuds, doesn’t it just sound ultra delicious?

Anyway, this was where the intestinal distress of our evening came from, each time the revolving wheel of misfortune would pass in front of us with the spot filled with those “CP Icks”, we would all feel extremely distressed, and finally demanded the waitress please take the god forsaken items away from our sight.

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea though, our meal was generally a happy one, and everyone seemed pleased by almost all of their food at MLH. Sara commented on how freshly prepared every item seemed, and I noticed she particularly enjoyed the curry dishes, all of them which struck me as being Indian curry rather than Thai curry. Kimberly, who commented before the meal that she wasn’t overly thrilled by too many Asian cuisines and restaurants, had high praise for MSH, and said she would gladly return as she had liked almost everything she had sampled (except for those pesky “CP Icks”, naturally).

As far as individual dishes that shined, the two Rotis were big hits (Roti is a flat, thin, vaguely pancake like bread), both served with rich, flavorful yellow curry sauces (I supppose Indian curry is always yellow). I thought Judy’s Salt and Pepper Squid was probably the best thing at the table, with a delicate coating of the spices crisping up the calmari rather than a thick breading. I also enjoyed my Yong Chow Fried Rice, which was full of Chinese sausage (please, no one tell me what Chinese sausage is made of) and shrimp, and was quite like a less spicy but equally flavorful version of the Thai fried rice I occasionally have from Chaba Thai for lunch. Although they garnered praise from my table mates, for $21 I could have taken or left my Black Pepper Jumbo Shrimp (someone really needs to do something about that term “jumbo shrimp”). They were pretty good sized, but as a stupid American, I really prefer my shrimp cooked without shells and legs on. This was particularly problematic for me because the black coating tended to camoflage the shells, so I kept forgetting they were there, and would grab a shrimp, pull off some legs, and have a mouth full of black shells to delicately spit out on my plate. Each time they would finally make their pass in front of me on the twirly thing, I had forgotten about the shells, and would fall into their shrimpy shelly trap once again (yes, I AM a sharp one). I really should have gotten the coconut shrimp my heart called out for, they were the same price, and it’s unlikely they would be served with coconut coating over shells. Like Brian, however, I fell into the “that’s too normal” embarrassment trap, especially after I had ordered something as ultra conservative as fried rice, and had to get something a bit exotic.

Brian’s Buddhist Yam Pot was a pretty concoction, a sort of round pastry bowl holding the sweet yams and other yummy vegetable chunks. It was almost too pretty to eat, and no one tasted the shell, probably afraid they would destroy its beauty, and/or make a mess by breaching the pastry dam. Christina’s Mee Siam was a stir fried dish of glass noodles and vegetables, somewhat of a combo between a drier Chinese fried noodle dish and a saucier Thai noodle dish. The Chicken Curry with Potatoes, the Indian Rojak, and whatever the soup was that Sara ordered that is simply listed on the receipt as Curry Vege all had a similar Indian curry sauce that was generally appreciated around the table, as well as the Roti sauces. I personally am one of those people who can eat Indian curry, but generally enjoys Thai curries more, so I probably wasn’t as wowed by some of the dishes as most others at the table were. Everyone but one person had substantial leftovers to take home (except Judy, as I ate most of her squid), and while it wasn’t the cheapest Asian outing, no one complained about the prices because everything was so fresh and well prepared (except for me with my expensive, leggy, shelly shrimp). The Lasy Susan table set-up was great for a dinner based on total sharing, but did have its issues, as someone was always try to dish something up or grab something while someone on the other side was trying to spin the wheel at the same time. Messy, but it did lead to even more sharing, since everyone had to wait patiently for their dish to come around again, as there were 12 items in rotation, so while you were waiting, you often had more of whatever was directly in front of you. Except for those infernal “CP Icks”, no one ever wanted those in front of them.

General topics of conversation, although nothing came up as lively as squirrel testicals (sounds like a menu item here) were the best and worst times to shop at Ikea (there are no best times, but just go in with your marked-up catalog and only buy THOSE things. Yeah, right), how most people are forced to shop at places like WalMart and Winco because of the cheaper prices, but don’t want to admit it (I only plead guilty to the second charge), and how it’s hell to live next to a church (courtesy of Kimberly), excessive noise early in the morning and garbage thrown everywhere in the area (those damn discarded bibles again). And of course the prevalent topic of conversation for the evening , how no one wanted more of those Crunchy Pig Intestines, or any other featured GI menu item ever again.