March Madness

Eat Street Malaysian Restaurant Peninsula is a perfect antidote to late-winter blahs

2608 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis

For me, I know that the madness has set in whenever I start obsessing on what to call those stalactites of ice and mud that build up behind the wheels of the car. It happens every year, like—well, not like clockwork, but like calendarwork. Sometime in late March, sometime in early April, when the great regional crack-up sets in, I drive hither and yon, looking at them dangling behind every truck or car's wheels, and I think: Why is it that something we have for half the year has no name? You could call them crudcicles, of course. Or albatrice—as in albatross plus ice. Or, in keeping with the way they both point out us special chosen Minnesotans and display our suffering, we could call them frigmatas—frigid stigmatas, don't you know.

Sometimes they drop off a 16-wheeler on the highway, and one day they will kill someone. Probably someone who spent half an hour kicking at one in one of the only socially approved outlets we have for being winter fed-up-to-here. Of course, there are other ways to express this sentiment, besides mangling the language: You could buy ridiculous bejeweled summer sandals and drive yourself crazy not wearing them through April showers and May mud. (Oh, and what did you think the "resort" collections in the stores were for? They're for ladies with cabin fever, not cruise ship passengers.) You could pick fights with your loved ones over trivial, meaningless little nothings, or you could break up altogether. This is a popular pre-spring activity, to judge by the number of men I've noticed walking the streets of Uptown with grocery bags full of clothing and coffee makers.

Something wholly new on the menu of Twin Cities tastes: Peninsula's pataya fish
Allen Beaulieu
Something wholly new on the menu of Twin Cities tastes: Peninsula's pataya fish

Location Info



2608 Nicollet Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

Or, you could find a new restaurant. Is there anything to relieve the unrelenting sameness and grind like a food you've never tasted? Or, in the case of Peninsula, the new Malaysian restaurant that opened on Eat Street, a hundred you haven't?

Maybe 200. Or 300. Peninsula has one of those menus that goes on for pages and pages, and conceals within it many wonderful treats, and enough disappointments that two parties could sit at adjacent tables and walk away with completely different impressions of the place. So let's let yours be the happy table of the two.

The first thing you need to know is that Malaysian food is a cuisine of one of the world's great crossroads. Peninsular Malaysia is anchored on the land mass that holds Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and such, and has in its colonial history been controlled by both the Dutch and the British, and even had some Japanese influence. Over the years its native population was significantly increased with immigrants from China and India, which is to say that authentic Indian food, authentic Chinese food, and authentic Thai food are all in fact authentic Malay foods, in addition to Malay foods. It's also a culture with a love for outdoor food plazas; much of the greatest food in Malaysia is said to come from hawker stands.

How does this information help you? Well, I've come to think of Peninsula, the new restaurant on Nicollet, as offering food that would be available to us if we had access to a few dozen of the best hawker stands representing all the contributing cultures. There are just that many dishes, and there are just that many diverse cooking preparations.

Here's my short list of great Peninsula picks. The appetizers aren't as uniformly wonderful as the entrees, so think about just ordering entrees. If you do get appetizers, the roti—variations on traditional Indian pancake breads—are excellent. The roti canai ($3.25) is a fresh, pan-fried bread that comes with an incredibly tasty little bowl of curry sauce with a bit of potato and chicken in it. The roti telur ($3.95) is similar, but here the pancake is filled with egg, onion, and jalapeños cut into matchsticks. The achat salad ($3.95) is one of my favorites; here lightly pickled vegetables are tossed with a cloaking dressing of ground peanuts, giving them a sweet and rich accent.

Three sorts of satay are on hand: chicken, beef, and tofu. And the tofu here is far more than an afterthought for vegetarians; it's house-made, silky, and incredibly fine. This tofu is particularly well showcased in one of my must-orders from Peninsula, namely the spicy salted golden tofu ($8.95), in which squares of this singularly silky bean curd are cut into cubes, dusted with salt and spice, and fried until their exteriors have the light crunch of, say, a toasted marshmallow. They're so salty, creamy, and utterly snackable you practically want a cone of them to walk around the state fair with.

Another must-order are the volcano pork ribs ($10.95), little short ribs rubbed with red spice and roasted until they're as salty, spicy, rich, and delicious as any napkin-happy finger food you can name—Cheetos, buffalo wings, and, uh, yeah, rib tips. They all but cry out for a television, a beer, and a sporting event. Peninsula has the beer, in fact. Happily, they have a short wine list and decent number of beers, including one I've never noticed locally: San Miguel, the leading beer of the Philippines and Hong Kong.

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