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New Haven, CT 06510
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I was reading through the New Haven Guide on Design Sponge earlier this week and realized that I never wrote about the dinner I shared with my father at Bentara in honor of Malaysian Restaurant Week. For me, Bentara is an old favorite. My first job out of college was in New Haven, just up the street from the restaurant, and I would have lunch there often with coworkers. In fact, we all loved the food so much, we would call the restaurant to place our orders ahead of time so the food would be ready (or nearly ready) by the time we walked there. For me father, however, dining at Bentara would be a first.
For his first course, Dad ordered the Shrimp Fritters. The fritters aren't normally on the menu at Bentara, so he decided to take advantage of the opportunity. I had never had them before, and I was eager to try them, too. Let me tell you this -- the Shrimp Fritters were fantastic! Despite being fried, the fritters were really light in texture, and you could actually taste the shrimp. No reason to complain about the fritters being mostly batter because the shrimp was definitely in there. We couldn't stop talking about the Shrimp Fritters all night. Definitely the favorite part of our meal.
I ordered the Popia (Spring Rolls), which were fried to a delicious golden brown and filled with fresh, crunchy vegetables. Just like I remembered them.
In addition to our appetizers, Dad and I shared an order of Roti since he had never eaten it before. With a slight bite on the outside and a warm tenderness on the inside, the Roti soaked up the flavorful peanut sauce that accompanied it. If we had to do the dinner all over again, I think the two of us would have been ridiculously satisfied to just eat appetizers all night. All three dishes were delicious!
For his main course, Dad chose the Kelantanese Kerutuk with Chicken. The chicken was simmered in a mixture of spices (coriander, fennel seed, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and chiles), along with baby potatoes and coconut milk. The depth of flavor in this dish was indescribable. Simply, simply amazing.
My main course, on the other hand, was sort of a disaster. When Dad and I decided to have dinner at Bentara, I immediately knew what I wanted to order. I wanted to order the dish that caused me to label Bentara as a favorite, the dish I think of fondly every now and then when I start feeling all nostalgic for home. I wanted the Nasi Goreng, stir-fried rice with bean sprouts, cabbage, shredded carrots, yu choy and scrambled egg flavored with soy sauce, tomato sauce, garlic, and onions. I eagerly ordered the dish with tofu and sat back in excited anticipation of finally being able to enjoy the food I had been dreaming about.
Unfortunately, what came out was not Nasi Goreng with Tofu ... It was Nasi Goreng with Seafood. Our server was hardly apologetic about bringing me the wrong dish. She told us that the kitchen had been making the seafood version "all day" and didn't realize that I ordered it with tofu. Would I be willing to accept it "as is"?
Since the main dishes had taken a lifetime to come out, I didn't want to send my food back and wait for them to get it right. I was hungry and didn't want to make my father wait to have his dinner. I begrudgingly told our server that I'd eat it and battled my way through the overcooked seafood. Overcooked or left to sit under a heat lamp until some sap agreed to take it off their hands. Either way, what I ate for dinner that night was not what I was expecting and it killed my enthusiasm for dessert.
Photos of my dessert didn't survive, which is probably just as well because I didn't like it and I don't remember what it was called. So, all I can really write about it Dad's dessert: the Fried Banana Spring Rolls. Pieces of banana were wrapped in spring roll wrappers and fried, then placed on a plate of chocolate sauce, topped with a caramel sauce, and then topped with vanilla ice cream. Bananas aren't usually my thing (except when I'm running and I need the potassium), so I only took a little bite of one of the spring rolls. They were actually pretty tasty, but Holy Sugar Shock! Just one bite had enough sugary sweetness to make my teeth ache. Dad was in heaven and would have devoured the whole plate had I not reminded him to watch the sugar intake.
If this had been my first trip to Bentara, I probably would have been turned off by my experience, opting to never return. But I know Bentara. I know the food. Although the service was kind of spotty and the food I ordered had missed the mark, I shrugged the dinner off as an anomaly and silently prayed that Bentara hadn't morphed into a restaurant that had lost its stuff.
One day, I will go back and I will order my favorite dish, and it will be just like I remembered it. One day...