Since I've never been to Malaysia, it was an odd sensation to feel like I was at home at an auntie's house, slurping housemade laksa noodles out of the murky orange broth. Equally disorienting was doing so while surrounded by the faux-talian décor of Perche No, which, aside from one Monday a month, is not a Malaysian restaurant, but rather an Italian one. From the friendly greeting, shouted from four feet away, to the constant checks if things were going well, the experience was loud and comforting at the same time, like dinner with extended family.
We watched least one confused couple get seated in the restaurant and then leave before ordering, upon learning that their usual tortellini wasn't on the menu. I, on the other hand, was pleasantly surprised by the options listed on the menu, reading it between discussions with the owner, the chef, and various members of the waitstaff. At any given moment an order suggestion or a comment was as likely to fly out of the open kitchen as an actual dish. A wide array of Malaysian favorites like hokkien mee, nasi lemang, and laksa mixed into a menu with rarer finds like rabbit curry and stewed baby back ribs.
The food itself was also much like being at a relative's house. Some dishes hit the spot--I'd snack on the fried anchovies over beers for hours--and some I'd be less likely to order again. Many of the dishes lacked the punch I've come to expect from Malaysian food. Despite a traffic-stopping orange color, neither the laksa nor the rabbit curry brought the walloping flavors the hue promised. The kari puff--a hand pie or empanada-like item--was a much bigger hit, cleaning the palate with a not-overly-subtle smack of kaffir lime.
Other than the adorable antics of the family which owns the place--this was the first time a restaurant owner has wanted to take a picture of me eating their food for their online gallery--there was one thing that most reminded me of authentic Malaysian cuisine: the hot sauce. Spooned by itself in a lonely pile on a large white plate, it glows with the freshness that only homemade versions can offer. It hits hard, but the flavor is worth it. Sriracha would be the closest comparison, but tying the two is a little like saying homemade mayo is like Miracle Whip.
If you're interested in joining my new Malaysian extended family for a meal, the next Monday Malaysian night is April 30th.