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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Belacan Grill - Malaysia in the South Bay

It has been a while since I’ve blogged favorably about a restaurant in the South Bay. Although my hubby and I consider ourselves seasoned restaurant-adventurers, there are too few places in and around our area that are worth dedicating a space to on my blog. Last weekend, we managed to stumble across one that deserves mention. I had read about a Malaysian restaurant called the Belacan Grill tucked away in a residential section of Redondo Beach. I had read several internet and print reviews all raving about the place, the food, and the service. I was intrigued.

Belacan Grill is not an easy place to find. From the outside, the place is small, clean but pretty non-descript. Inside, it is a pleasant surprise. The interiors are elegant with crisp white tablecloths and napkins, sparkling silverware and stemware, and illuminated by tableside candles in glass votives. The décor was decidedly “Southeast Asian/Malaysian” inspired with a very colorful, lifesize tricycle-cart (similar to Chinese rickshaws) at one end, a nipa hut façade on the other, large artwork depicting Malaysian panoramas, native figurines, and hanging fabrics with interesting patterns. It was authentic and vibrant in a non-kitschy way. Despite being dimly lit and having large pieces or artwork strewn around, the high ceilings gave the place a spacious feel.

Service was prompt. We were greeted and seated right away. Our server was attentive in taking orders, giving recommendations, and keeping our water glasses filled. But in true Asian fashion, he was far from being overly-friendly and could be described as remotely aloof – which works out great for me. I am annoyed by servers who are too in-your-face and who hover around watching you eat!

We started with fresh coconut juice served in coconut shells. It was light and refreshing. We nibbled on the coconut meat while waiting for our food. Our first course was the house specialty, Beef Rendang. It is a popular Malay dish – similar to curry but without the strong curry taste. It is reminiscent of our local Beef Caldereta but with a hint of coconut milk. The beef was very tender as a result of long hours of slow-cooking over a low flame, reducing the sauce to a thick paste that coated the meat. I loved the sauce - I could taste exotic flavors that remind me of ginger, turmeric, and even a hint of cinnamon, plus a host of others that I could not distinguish. Whatever they were - the dish was perfect with steamed white rice and crisp green beans sprinkled with Belacan paste (a salty paste made of tiny dried shrimp). Our next dish was Wild Serai Shrimp which was stirfried with wild serai (lemongrass), green and red peppers, garlic, onions and a sweet oyster-sauce-like paste. It turns out it was kecap manis, a Malaysian dark soy, which is thicker and sweeter than other soy sauce varieties. The shrimp was large and fresh and the sauce was sweet and quite pungent. I thought the dish tasted like a well-prepared Chinese stir-fry, but was not as great as the Beef Rendang. Our last dish was Mamak Mee Goreng, a classic Indian style noodle dish with a dash of curry, dried red chili peppers, chicken, tofu, shrimp and bean sprouts. It is sort of like Singapore style rice noodles – with sate sauce. This version was very good, quite spicy, very flavorful, and had lots of meat and veggies to go with the long, thin yellow noodles. Perfect.

Malaysian food, as I’ve come to understand, is a mix between Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine. Belacan Grill was a great way to sample each of these 3 cuisines. We decided to pass on dessert although I was sorely tempted to try the Ice Kakang, a dessert made with red bean, sweet corn, grass jelly, syrup and topped with shaved ice. Maybe next time. I am actually looking forward to a return trip to try the other interesting things on the menu. I am just hoping my high praise and rave review does not jinx our next visit!

Click HERE to see Belacan Grill's website.


jol said...

A fine food review that makes me want to visit this place. Your
vivid description leaves little to the imagination.

jml said...

Funny but beef rendang is also a favorite of mine. It is the one dish that makes me look forward to visits to singapore. Yes cinnamon is present in the dish along with curry,cumin, coriander, lemongrass, kafir lime leave sand coconut milk. I have tried doing it and the result was quite good but it is a long and tedious process. Much better to just have it in a restaurant.

Sareet said...

I LOVE malaysian food. I just don't know where to find it, particularly on my side of town (I live in West Hollywood area). Will have to check this place out sometime!

Junarakasa said...

Mom, I don't think I would attempt to make it any time soon either. It seems complicated and the list of ingredients a bit intimidating!

Sareet - yes, you shoud try the place out - let me know when you do and maybe we can meet up since it's not too far from where we live :)