I recently re-reviewed Homi two years after my first report. Next week I’ll have a return visit to a Thai restaurant in St. Paul that I first reviewed last year. In between those here is a second review of a restaurant in Minneapolis that I first reviewed four years ago. Peninsula remains the pre-eminent Malaysian restaurant in the Twin Cities metro area—though it must be admitted that that is not saying very much. Of the two other Malaysian places we’ve been to here, one is just about passable (Satay 2 Go in Apple Valley) and our meal at the other was atrocious (Singapore in south Minneapolis, now closed). As far as I know, there are no others; please correct me below if this is incorrect. Anyway, Peninsula, I am glad to report, remains pretty consistently what they were four and even ten years ago and if you navigate their menu carefully it is very possible to eat a good meal.
I should say again that for those who’ve eaten Malay food in Malaysia or Singapore, or even Australia or London, are not going to be blown away by anything at Peninsula. But their best dishes come close enough to sate cravings for the food available in cities with larger Malay populations than exist anywhere in the US. These best dishes are distributed around their large menu. In our opinion, forged of eating here for more than a decade, it is best to steer away from the non-Malay dishes. The highest concentration of the proper Malay dishes is in the “Peninsula Specials”, “Stir Fried Noodle” and “Noodle Soup” sections of the menu but even in those sections not everything hits the mark. I offer you therefore the following guidance (to be taken in conjunction with the notes on some other dishes in my previous review). These dishes were eaten at a couple of meals over the last few months.
- Chicken and beef satays: Each order comes with six skewers. More turmeric and more depth of flavour than in most Thai versions in the Cities. Our kids devour them and we like them a lot too (when we can sneak a bite).
- Roti Canai: Canai is pronounced “Chennai”, which is the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. There is a very large Tamil diaspora in Southeast Asia and the food of this diaspora is one of the major contributors of the composite cuisine of Malaysia and environs. Peninsula’s roti canai is very good: the roti is a proper flaky paratha and the chicken curry it comes with is a proper homestyle Indian chicken curry. You can also get a side order of just the rotis to eat other curry dishes with.
- Indian Mee Goreng: It’s not going to rock your boat if you’ve eaten this in one of the aforementioned non-American locations but this noodle dish with shrimp etc. and a very mildly spicy sauce is a decent version for the Twin Cities.
- Char Kway Teow: Ditto for the classic Malay stir fried noodle dish.
- Hainanese Chicken Rice: Usually quite dependable and very kid-friendly (we get it steamed rather than fried), this is a mild dish of chicken steamed with soy sauce and ginger. The rice cooked in the chicken broth is served alongside.
- Crispy Onion Braised Duck: We got this for the first time at a recent lunch. Duck braised to yielding in a sweet and spicy brown sauce; plus what are basically onion rings over the top.
- Mango Tofu: This was ordered for the kids of friends who dined with us on one occasion. I do not recommend it unless you like sickly sweet food.
- Asam Ikan: This should be fish in a spicy and sour sauce (see the example from Rasa Sayang in London) but, alas, is more sweet and sour than anything else and not very interesting.
- Indian Style Spicy Chicken: A disaporic Indian dish rather than an Indian-Indian dish, this is tasty and quite good with rotis on the side.
- Ayam Rendang: Their rendangs are quite solid; on the whole, I think I like this chicken rendang the best of the three they offer (also available in beef and lamb). Very good with rice or mopped up with roti.
- Nyonya Laksa: We almost always get this classic Malay/Singaporean soup with coconut milk and it always satisfies.
- Beef Brisket Curry Noodle Soup: But this noodle soup, which we got at our most recent meal, is very good too.
Here is the requisite slideshow of images of the restaurant and the food. Please scroll down for comments on price, service etc. and to see what’s coming next.
If you’re eating “family style”, which we do whether eating just as a family or with friends, it’s hard to go past $25/head (without alcohol) and it’s easy to eat well closer to $20/head as well. Which makes it pretty good value considering there’s no other viable Malaysian option that I’m aware of in the area (again, please correct me if I’m wrong, which I would not be surprised to be). The service is fine and the ambience is also nice—though it’s nicer if you’re sitting at one of the tables at the front of the restaurant, which is brighter, than if you’re in the rear where it’s dark. And with the open kitchen you can see the chef make the roti. All in all, a meal with our favourite dishes here makes for good comfort food—and the richer noodle soups in particular are made for the Minnesota winter (which is almost upon us).
Coming next from the Twin Cities: a return to Thai Cafe in St. Paul. After that I’ll have a review of Martina in Minneapolis.