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Malaysian Kitchen Docks in Battery Park City, but How’s the Rendang?

Eater critic Robert Sietsema pays a first visit to a downtown Malaysian newcomer.

The appearance of North End Grill, El Vez, Merchants River House, Hudson Eats, and similar caliber institutions have turned Battery Park City into a bonafide dining destination, but it wasn’t too long ago that the neighborhood was a restaurant wasteland. An exception to the rule — and the area’s best kept secret — was Liberty View, a Chinese restaurant whose sophisticated menu seemed aimed at the East Asian businesspeople who kept pieds-a-terre in BPC for use during their visits to NYC. An added bonus was the restaurant’s location right on the water, with an outdoor seating area furnishing dramatic views of South Cove’s blue harbor lights and scenic wooden footbridge.

Malaysian Kitchen interior.

Liberty View had a menu featuring food from diverse parts of China, with particular emphasis on Cantonese, Shanghai, and Sichuan fare. Too often empty during the colder months, the restaurant recently underwent an abrupt change and switched over to Malaysian. I recently went with a crowd of friends to see if the restaurant — now called Malaysian Kitchen — still merited recommendation. The place has been partly redecorated with paintings of Southeast Asian scenes and artsy wall treatments, though the layout and furniture remain the same.

First to arrive at the table was a classic Malaysian app, the Indian-inspired roti canai ($6), a small dish of chicken-and-potato curry served with a fluffy flatbread. The curry was fine, but the pancake, though flavorful, was slightly greasy. Next up was a bowl of mee goreng ($14) — a toss of rice noodles with shrimp, sprouts, and caramelized shallots, with cubes of fried tofu standing in for the usual fried shrimp wontons. It came dressed in a thick soy sauce and topped with crushed peanuts. "Very tasty," was the verdict.

Above: Kang Kung belacan. Below: Mee goreng and beef rendang.

Kang kung belacan (market price, $18) was the real deal, water spinach thickly swabbed with fermented fish paste that you could smell from across the room as it arrived, and so was the beef rendang ($18), a recipe borrowed from the nearby Indonesian island of Sumatra. It features meat cooked down with an extravagant quantity of coconut milk into a thick, dark sludge. The dish was excellent, though one might have wished for chunkier beef. There was no Hainanese chicken on hand that day, a subtle and skinless steamed bird flavored with scallions and accompanied by a soy dipping sauce, so we went for the "crispy fried chili chicken" ($17) instead. Rather than having chile sauce, the chicken tidbits were interspersed with slices of green chile, which did the trick but only if you teased them out of the pile and ate them separately.

The national luncheon obsession of nasi lemak ($14) was nicely executed, consisting of a boiled egg, coconut rice, onion sambal, chicken curry, and fried micro-anchovies on a single platter, a tour-de-force that succeeded in looking paler than it tasted. By all means, get it if you’re dining solo. If the menu has one overarching defect, it’s that the food was not spicy enough, though consistently well prepared. In a city with a decreasing number of good Malaysian restaurants, Malaysian Kitchen is definitely as asset, especially if you happen to be down near Battery Park City and Chinatown seems too far away. And, of course, you might go just for that amazing water view… 21 South End Ave, (212) 786-1888.

Malaysian Kitchen USA

21 South End Ave, New York, NY 10280 Visit Website

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