Overseas Taste Restaurant (f.k.a. Overseas Asian Restaurant) is an enigma. Like a number of Chinatown restaurants who've been around for a few years, it rests on some former fame and glory, but it's sometimes unclear whether this glory survives (or ought to survive) in the present. It seems, based on a few visits, that the menu runs the full gamut from dishes that are downright awful to dishes that are much better than average.
At a recent weekend lunch, Justin ordered the roti canai, which came with a buttery, fragrant crispy-on-the-outside, soft-and-chewy-on-the-inside roti and curry chicken sauce for dipping. The roti was very good, about on par with Rhong Tiam's excellent rendition, which I consider to be the best in the city. The curry sauce, which included two bone-in pieces of chicken, was a bit oily and thin in my opinion, but Justin said he enjoyed it.
A plate of sambal udang / sauteed shrimp with spicy Malaysian shrimp paste was more sweet than spicy, without much evidence of belacan (shrimp paste). I can understand why the restaurant would be very conservative in its use of belacan, to avoid scaring away those unfamiliar with the cuisine, but I missed the in-your-face pungency. Without it, Malaysian food tastes bland and undifferentiable from your run-of-the-mill Chinese American stirfry with brown sauce. The large, tail-on shrimp in this dish were tender, juicy, and well cooked, generally, but they were also slightly fishy and not perfectly fresh. These came with a generous amount of onions and sweet red and green peppers, a vegetable-to-protein ratio I personally enjoy. But some might complain that the vegetable to shrimp ratio was too high.
An order of Hainan chicken rice was, unfortunately, a big disappointment. I love / am obsessed with this dish, which is the most beautiful, simple dish imaginable. In Singapore, it's taken to transcendental heights and the chefs -- they may be working at a humble street stall, but they are undoubtedly chefs, not mere cooks -- who make it take great pride in every detail: from the type of chicken used and how it's raised and slaughtered, to the technique for creating the super concentrated broth used to cook the chicken and rice, and the broth often served as part of the chicken, rice and broth trifecta. The chicken is boiled just so, so that the skin retains the nutritious gelatinous layer and wonderful "slippery" texture, but no fat whatsoever. The rice is deeply, deeply flavorful and yet texturally light, almost fluffy. I suppose I have very high expectations for this dish and Overseas Taste's version disappointed deeply. It didn't even come close.
On the surface, it looked pretty good. The chicken skin was a nice color, it looked properly gelatinous, and the first piece I turned on its side looked like it had very little fat under the skin. The dish was served with sliced cucumber and chili sauce, with cilantro sprigs on top. But the Hainan chicken, here, was as bland in comparison to the young, free range chickens used for the dish in Singapore as communion wafers are to a Pierre Hermé croissant. On most pieces, there was far too much fat left on the skin, which left the skin rubbery and unpleasant tasting. The rice was missing all but the faintest aroma of chicken, and not deeply or richly flavored. I suspect it may have been made with jarred chicken rice seasoning (which would explain the unnaturally bright yellow color and the uneven yellow and white streaking). And the chili sauce was more sweet than spicy, a very lightly flavored jarred version. I will say, though, that as disappointing as Overseas Taste's rendition of Hainan Chicken rice was, it is better than many versions served in NYC, including Fatty Crab's (dreadful) attempt.
|Hainan Chicken Rice: Rice|
|Hainan Chicken: Chicken, Crossview|
We finished the meal with a good version of ice kacang / shaved ice with red bean, corn, palm seeds, jelly, Red Rose syrup & coconut milk. The ice was very finely ground to an almost snow-like consistency and the dish, which is listed as a beverage, but eats more like a dessert, was refreshing in the warm weather and not overly sweet. On the bottom of the bowl were red beans, corn kernels, a few palm seeds (the kind preserved in sugar syrup and jarred) and tiny cubes of dark-colored jelly, probably made with agar agar, to judge by the consistency. These ingredients were topped with a mound of shaved ice, then drizzled with coconut milk and I believe nannari (sarsaparilla) flavored Red Rose syrup, a brand of beverage products popular in Malaysia, Singapore and other parts of Asia.
Overseas Taste is but a pale shadow of the incredibly, mind-blowingly good Malaysian food one can find in Singapore and Malaysia. (If you're not familiar with the cuisine, let it be known that many Singaporeans, who live in a country legendary for its food, consider Malaysian food to be even better and go on eating pilgrimages to the nearby country.) But what brings us back again and again is that fact that sadly, this may still be one of the better, if not best, Malaysian restaurant in NYC. The pickin's are slim.
49 Canal Street
New York, NY 10002-6269
49 Canal Street
New York, NY 10002-6269