Saturday, 9 July 2011

Portuguese Pleasures

Written weeks ago, this review of popular, well-reviewed Cristang Restaurant is finally out in the papers. On the day of the Big Yellow Rally. What timing.

However, I feel I have to clarify and point out a few things which were in the original copy: The chef's name is Gerald G (as in Gordon) Oei, not C; the "devils on horseback" dish is described twice; a "noodle incident" about "crossed wires" should've been removed, but wasn't; and technically, the Cristang aren't exactly Portuguese but I was groping for words for a little article alliteration.



Portuguese pleasures
It’s a different kind of foreign occupation when memories of the food at Cristang Restaurant can’t get out of these diners’ heads

first published in The Star, 09 July 2011


We arrived at the restaurant at 8 Avenue around dusk. As Alex whipped out her camera to photograph the exterior, she pointed at something. "Look," she exclaimed, "there are pigs above the doorway!"

As I examined the pigs, a Cristang-looking fellow appeared at the door. "It’s the first time anybody noticed the ‘guardians’ since I opened," he observed. Alex can be sharp-eyed when she wants to be.

We take in the décor: chairs with chequered cushions, wood panelling around the front doorway, and glass panels with the current specials written in dry-erase ink. Sitting in front of each fake brocade cushion was a half-filled pig head-shaped bean bag. The atmosphere was quite subdued, with Portuguese/Latin American guitar playing over the sound system. At the time we were there, we were the only patrons.

Chef-owner Gerald C. Oei told us that Cristang has been open for two years.

"Our opening hours are on Facebook, and behind the counter. I don’t open on Mondays," he said, adding that there were exceptions. "If Tuesday is a public holiday, I will open on Monday."

Though named for the descendants of the Portuguese who dropped by in the 16th century, Cristang’s restaurant’s menu also has Italian, Spanish and other influences from continental Europe: pastas and protein-starch-veggie dishes. It seems as though the restaurant is still trying to figure out what it wants to be. Or perhaps it’s a reflection of the owner’s eclectic tastes and repertoire.

In a radio interview, Gerald seemed to suggest that Cristang was the lab/playground to test and try out his culinary experiments, his own takes on his grandma’s recipes. He was almost vibrating with glee as he told a customer about a dessert he was trying out.

"I love what I do," he beamed.

Alex avoided the carbonara despite the promise of crispy, smoky porcine pleasure in the ingredients list. She settled on a "basic" pork burger, a Cristang signature that had a number of different "grades" from P1 to P10. I picked a tapas dubbed "devils on horseback" - bacon-wrapped sticks of asparagus, baked in a sauce of garlic, onions and red wine. The menu whimsically noted that for this item, "Sorry, angels are not available."

Similar displays of humour were in the menu, lost in the anticipation of a splendid meal.

Alex didn’t like the "devils on horseback" much, mainly because the bacon wasn’t crispy. The dish - three asparagus spears wrapped in bacon and swimming in a garlic and red wine sauce, was likely baked. It was delicious, a great appetiser.

Alex found Cristang’s pork burger much finer than another establishment’s. It was nice and juicy, and the tiny potato wedges were roasted with rosemary. Definitely a higher class pork burger. The full-on version, which had petai (stinkbean) mixed into the patties only got better with the addition of cheese, chilli con carne, and other add-ons, all of which made for a pretty dish one would feel reluctant to cut into.

My Avenue Fried Rice was a decidedly upmarket, larger and tastier version of a mamak stall nasi goreng kambing. A lamb curry fried rice with crunchy fried anchovies and slivers of cucumber, it was, to my dismay, mild – but tasty.

I was surprised, however, by how bitter my D’Tox Red fruit juice combo was. Wasn’t a mix of watermelon, orange and carrot supposed to be kind of sweet? I also wondered why they served water in a tequila glass until I took a sip and got a mouthful of sucrose syrup instead.

Oh yes... didn’t the waiter say, "Sugar is separate"?

Almost full, we toyed with the idea of dessert. The Apple Strudel looked nice, but Alex was worried about the sugar content. Nor did she find the fried banana dessert appealing. We eventually settled for something different, a Butter Cake Anglaise: five pieces of fried butter cake with cream Anglaise, strawberry purée, arranged around a scoop of vanilla ice-cream garnished with a mint on top.

The notion of a fried butter cake drove Alex into mental overdrive, even before she’d had a taste. Oh, it was so good. Sinful decadence on a plate. It helped that the butter cake was already good, but when you pan-sear the outside to crisp it, then drizzle strawberry purée over it and eat it with a bit of good cold vanilla ice-cream...

Alex’s mind was, to my imagination, afire with visions of animated slices of butter cake, falling into and leaping from their frying pans, complete with yelps of pain.

Despite being stuffed, we kept stealing morsel after morsel, and in no time the plate was clean, we were happy, and the tension caused by our crossed wires vanished. It was money well spent.

I popped RM1 plus change into a tip jar that rather brazenly suggested, "Afraid of change? Leave it here!"

Memories of the food, particularly dessert, continued to haunt us as we drove home.

"Oh God, the cake was so sinful," Alex groaned. I couldn’t tell whether she was grumbling or gushing. Our minds would be aflame with visions of butter cake, petai-infused pork burgers and rosemary-tinged potato wedges for the next couple of weeks.

Talk about a different kind of Portuguese invasion.



Cristang Restaurant
Unit B-G-19, 8 Avenue
Jalan Sungai Jernih (8/1)
46050 Petaling Jaya
Selangor

Non-halal

CLOSED FOR GOOD

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