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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Eating Out: Dinner at Penang as we search for the equal to Wondee's Thai specialities

Thai Papaya Salad, an appetizer at Penang Malaysian & Thai Cuisine in Lodi, was good, but not as good or better than the Green Papaya Salad served at Wondee's in Hackensack.



I'm not sure how we had dinner at Penang, and left without trying one of the less familiar Malaysian specialties.

Maybe it was a miscommunication between me and the server. And I also don't know why the "whole fish" we ordered came to the table as a thick, meaty fillet.

After visiting friends in Lodi last Saturday, I wanted to have dinner at Penang, because the restaurant offers both Malaysian and Thai dishes.

We've been looking for another restaurant with Thai specialties like Wondee's Fine Thai Food & Noodles in Hackensack.

Chef Wandee Suwangbutra and husband Tom, who opened the restaurant in 1997, didn't announce their retirement (around the beginning of 2015).

The new owner, Chef Arisa, a woman in her late 20s who trained under Wandee, has had a rocky couple of years, despite turning out delicious Thai food. 

I haven't been to Wondee's since last July, when I went there to order takeout. 

But I've driven past the restaurant on Main Street in Hackensack on the way home, see that it is still open and hope to stop there soon.

Well-prepared but pricey

The food at Penang is well-prepared, but pricey, and not quite the equal of the moderately priced fare at Wondee's.

Me and my wife ordered Thai Papaya Salad ($7.99), Ultimate Seafood Dumplings (6 for $7.99) and what turned out to be Steamed Fish Cantonese Style ($28.99).

Penang charges for both small bowls of white rice ($1) and brown rice ($1.50). Wondee's doesn't charge for white rice, but a larger bowl of brown rice was $2.50 at the Hackensack restaurant.

Pan-fried Ultimate Seafood Dumplings "with special chef's ginger vinegar."

Malaysian dish

Looking over the menu, a hot-and-spicy Curry Fish with Okra caught my eye.

The waiter said we could have a whole red snapper or flounder, but that it would be pan fried. 

I asked him about steamed fish, and he said we could have "sea bass" with ginger and scallion, so we ordered that.

The Chilean Sea Bass fillet was delicious, though we found a few small bones in it. We took home leftovers.

But we missed having Wondee's Pla Ma Now, a steamed whole fish with chili pepper, garlic and lemon juice, served on a hot plate for $20.

At Penang, there were a lot of intriguing Malaysian dishes on the menu, so I plan to go back and try some of them.

We ordered a whole "Sea Bass" steamed with ginger and scallion, and received a generous fillet that was listed on my receipt as Chilean Sea Bass, a large fish with lots of harmful mercury, originally known as Patagonian Toothfish. It's a type of cod, not bass. When the server mentioned "sea bass," I thought he meant a whole black sea bass.

Bottles of Tiger Beer from Malaysia were $5 each.

Penang has a bar and front and rear dining rooms, above and below.


Penang Malaysian & Thai Cuisine, 334 N. Main St., Lodi; 1-973-779-1128. Open 7 days, bar, large parking lot.