The art of enjoying food is governed by many rules. Truly, it is these rules that separate my craft from that of simple ingestion. Now, I must apologize to all of my readers, for I fear that I may have violated one of these most important tenets in my quest to bring you even closer to your food.
I am referring to the atrocity of stagnation. If one is to be an adventurous eater, he must be willing to step outside both his comfort zone and his territory. In this second aspect, I have failed.
As you have no doubt noticed, my previous reviews have all been of restaurants located in University City, and while UC has a very respectable spread of cuisine, there is no excuse for my lack of locational diversity. However, I am proud to announce that I ventured far into the depths of Center City to bring you the tale of my conquest of Banana Leaf.
Located on 10th and Arch streets, directly next to the Trocadero Theatre in Chinatown, Banana Leaf is quite easy to miss from the outside.
Despite its unassuming exterior, the restaurant extends quite far into the building and contains ample seating along with a semiprivate area in the back.
With decorations reminiscent of forests (the private dining area is housed under a leafy canopy) and much wood paneling, the restaurant has a very natural feel.
Patrons are treated to views of the cooking area behind clear glass panes, which adds to the simplistic yet quality-driven nature of Banana Leaf.
Still, the menu had easily the most impressive spread of any menu I have ever seen. In all seriousness, you should look it up because of how incredibly vast it is; I stopped counting the entrees when I hit 60. It may be difficult for many patrons to decide what to eat because of the wide variety. However, I can say without a doubt that anyone can find something to enjoy at Banana Leaf, though the Malaysian menu could present problems if you have no clue what you want to eat and chance upon a dish outside of your comfort zone (though don’t forget that you would be refining your tastes if you learn to appreciate it!). Entrees range from around $9 to $12, with a few capping out in the $16 range.
I chose the Banana Leaf Lobak as an appetizer and the pad thai as the entree.
Now, before many of you go up in arms saying, “You ordered the pad thai?! After scolding yourself and us for not being adventurous?!” let me explain myself. Ppad thai is a common dish, but it is easily relatable by the same token.
Sure, I could eat a random Malaysian dish and say how it was, but if I give readers a feel for a dish they may already have a taste for, it makes the review that much more valuable. It serves as a standard by which one may judge the restaurant
The Banana Leaf Lobak offered a nice variety of different pieces of cuisine for me to sample.
I found the fried pork roll and fried shrimp pancake, both crispy with just a slight taste of their respective meats, delicious when dipped in the provided sauces.
The fried tofu was all right, but it was bland and only slightly crispy. Perhaps with a little more frying it would have been more enjoyable, but I’ll admit that I am in no way a big tofu fan.
The main draw to the appetizer, though, was the unexpected and unadvertised century egg. A century egg is a hard-boiled egg with a translucent brown instead of egg white and a grey yolk, which tastes a bit like a hard-boiled egg with a slightly fishy taste.
Almost immediately after finishing the lobak, the pad thai arrived. Sadly, there was nothing remarkable about the dish.
That is not to say that it was bad; the noodles were soft and coated in a thin sauce with a very slight, oily taste (the “normal” taste of pad thai), and the vegetables were crisp with a nice flavor.
Still, the dish was neither better nor any worse than an average pad thai dish would be, but for $9 at a nice sit-down restaurant, it was a good dish.
Though the servers were more formal than friendly (which is a common trait of some East Asian restaurants), the service was incredibly quick, with the appetizers and meals reaching the table in under 10 minutes each. Additionally, a waiter was constantly patrolling the dining area and refilling glasses that were more than half empty.
It’s these little things that really stood out and made the meal memorable.Overall, Banana Leaf is a great restaurant. With very affordable prices, excellent service, and a calm yet almost refined atmosphere, it is an amazing place to go out to once in a while and spend some time with friends. And, of course, if you’re feeling adventurous, the extensive menu is your best friend. Because I know that deep down, you too truly want to be a food connoisseur.