Graduating from take-out window to full-service restaurant, how does the ever-popular Kedai Makan compare in its new digs?
Kedai Makan has been a hot spot — pun intentional — for Malaysian food ever since Kevin Burzell and Alysson Wilson began peddling roti canai and nasi goreng at farmers markets in 2012. A year later they moved into a storefront on East Olive Way and began dispensing sambal-assisted sustenance from a takeout window to crowds of Capitol Hill bar-crawlers and pod-dwellers.
The crowds are still there, only now they gather around the corner outside of the former La Bête space, where Kedai Makan moved last September, finally becoming a full-service, sit-down restaurant.
Managing the rowdy carnival that is the front of the house falls to Wilson. She juggles the waitlist (they don’t take reservations) and customers waiting for takeout (yes, you can still pick up chili pan mee in your jammies) with such aplomb I wondered if her secret is regular doses of “Strength & Stamina.” One of the bar’s several herb-infused shots that promote health and healing, it put me in mind of Ricola. My medicine of choice would be the Jungle Bird cocktail, a mix of black strap rum and pineapple with a bitter undercurrent of Campari, ideally consumed with a bowl of peanuts, roasted with lime leaf, crispy little dried anchovies and, of course, chilies.
1802 Bellevue Ave., Seattle
Reservations: not accepted
Hours: 5-11 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; closed Tuesdays
Prices: $$ (snacks and starters $3.50-$7.50; noodle and rice dishes $10.50-$15.50)
Drinks: cocktails, shots infused with Chinese herbs, beer, wine, sodas
Service: swift and good-humored
Parking: on street; be prepared to walk several blocks
Who should go: thrill-seekers looking for a meal that’s easy on the wallet
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Burzell, the chef half of the couple, found the move liberating. “We can finally, for the first time, cook; no home stove, no outdoor grills and tents. My soul needs it,” he said. Burzell cooked previously at Poppy, Monsoon and Ba Bar, but it is the couple’s travels, documented in dozens of framed black-and-white photos nearly covering the restaurant’s vivid teal green walls, that largely inform the menu here.
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Many nationalities have influenced Malaysian cuisine over the centuries. The country straddles the South China Sea, bordering Indonesia and Thailand. Singapore sits at the peninsula’s southern tip. Seafaring traders from India and China stopped at its ports long before the British, Dutch and Portuguese took an interest in the area.
Here you’ll find aromatic curries, Indian-style flatbreads (roti) and noodles (mee) made locally by Tsue Chong Company, family-owned for generations. A glorious coconut milk curry, animated with lemongrass, kaffir lime and laksa leaves, showcased their thick wheat noodles, along with clams, squid, shrimp and fish balls. The same chewy noodles are the foundation for “chili pan mee.” It’s sort of a Malaysian bibimbap, with toppings that include ground pork, green onions, crispy fried shallots and tiny anchovies, and a poached egg.
Slices of char siu pork and steamed yu choy joined thin wheat noodles tossed with ginger, soy sauce and five-spice. Called “wonton mee,” the dish includes a bowl of pork-filled wontons in a light-bodied pork broth, both somewhat bland. (Not so the pickled serrano peppers, also on the side.)
Roti babi is an egg-dipped flatbread wrapped around a savory mince of pork and mushroom mildly spiced with nutmeg, coriander and galangal. Roti jala is flatbread that looks like a lace doily. Use your fingers to pull off pieces and dunk them into the curry of your choice, dhal or lamb.
Sambals, hot and spicy condiments meant for dipping, add a jolt of flavor in much the same way as Indian chutneys and relishes. Small containers of sambal goreng, an oil-based mixture of roasted chilies, garlic, ginger and lemongrass, traditionally accompany takeout orders. At the table you’ll find chili ginger sambal. It will add a light, bright spark to any dish, though few need it.
Some dishes are already paired with a sambal or sauce. Rempah, a paste made of chilies, lemongrass, galangal and shallots, erupts from the moist, bronzed belly of a whole, oven-roasted mackerel. Half a roasted chicken, dark-skinned and wonderfully juicy, arrives with an entourage that includes rice, a side bowl of dark, rich chicken broth and a tray of pungent condiments to play with: dark, salty soy sauce, grated ginger and chili lime sambal.
Vegetable dishes are just as flavor-packed. Chili, lime and mint pervade a salad of long beans and tomato topped with a pair of prawns. A cucumber and pineapple salad with peanuts and basil wears a funky-delicious dressing of fish sauce, dried shrimp and kersik, a paste made of dry-fried coconut flakes. A terrific add-on to any dish is a small bowl of tart, crunchy pickled mustard stalks and leaves.
Rice (nasi) is a staple food in Malaysia. The restaurant’s signature dish, nasi goreng kedai, is fried rice. Dense with chunks of tofu, darkened with kecap manis (an Indonesian sweetened soy sauce) and topped with a fried egg, it’s wildly popular for good reason.
Cucumber and pineapple salad $7.25
Nasi goreng kedai $10.50
Chili pan mee $11.50
Seafood curry mee $12.50
Whole mackerel $15.50
If you aren’t stuffed to the earlobes at the end of the meal, reward yourself with coconut ice cream melting into sweet black rice pudding.
The kitchen sends out food with astonishing speed. If you want a slower pace, order in stages. With affordable prices and portions so generous almost everyone leaves with a big brown bag of leftovers, it’s no wonder there’s a line.