A peninsula of flavor

Peninsula has been flourishing as an Eat Street icon for four years now, a spacious, warmly decorated haven for Malaysian food, and the first of its ilk in these parts, bringing the flavors of Southeast Asia to Southwest.

Having slurped up the street food in Kuala Lumpur on the mainland and also shared a multi-course feast — blessedly vegetarian — with a headhunting tribe on its jungle island, I’ve welcomed a reprise of those vibrant soups and curries as my antidotes to a Minnesota winter. (But I’ve also dined, back in the day, in Iron Curtain countries, where management considers customer service akin to consorting with the devil. Alas, Peninsula seems to share that Cold War credo when dealing with its customers.)

But let’s talk about the food. It shimmers with lively spices, warming abundant portions at most affordable prices. As testimony, tables — and there are multitudes — were packed on a recent frigid Tuesday as people matched hot curries with cold beer.

Peninsula’s lengthy menu proffers dishes from Thailand, Singapore and so on, prepared by cooks in view through a window wall; so my partner was free to indulge in a craving for Chinese, while I favored the Great Hits of Malaysia. Among them, the Nonya Laksa, a meal-sized (and then some) soup blazing with lots of red chilies and a tempering current of coconut milk. “Nonya” refers to old-time “grandma” cooking, and those wizened ladies clearly knew a thing or two about food. The resulting tureen is thick with long, floury, spaghetti-like noodles topped with a mélange of tenderized chicken strips, perky, tail-on shrimp and pearly tubes of squid, along with a flurry of crunchy bean sprouts and “tofu puffs,” more like flat tires here — a chewy and deflated accessory.

Then what? The Hainan chicken — succulent stewed chunks in soy sauce, mild enough to please even the timidest Norwegian — or the Peninsula red curry lamb shank? The hotpot, starring beef brisket in coconut milk? (Sorry, I’m drooling all over my computer as I type.) I settled for a richly spiced red curry (choose shrimp, chicken, tofu or whatever), bobbing with sweet chunks of tomato and onion and wedges of pineapple, sweeter still, in a thin broth fueled with red curry paste. Spoon it over rice and smile.

Or grit your teeth, because here it comes, before you’ve even seen your appetizer. Despite instructions to our sweet but harried server, who also conveyed his apologies because, he said, the cooks refused to listen to his explicit directions. Thus, my pal’s main course also was nearly digested when her eggroll starter made its debut.

And it shouldn’t take 15 minutes after the bill is delivered (unbidden), for the requested take-home cartons to arrive. Actually, they didn’t. We had to go searching at the counter. Takes the glow off the evening. Still, with two of us eating and drinking enough for four, the bill was only $40. Free dinnertime parking, too.

Here’s another option. Drop in for lunch Mondays through Thursdays for eggroll, rice and choice of seven entrees, $9.


2808 Nicollet Avenue S.