Neo Malaysian Kitchen has lemak.
That is reason alone to rejoice.
The bowl of velvety coconut cream sauce spiked with lemongrass, thin slices of toasted garlic, and a bit of turmeric, with chunks of potatoes and tender, moist pieces of chicken, is a meal that lives long in the memory ($14.95).
The flavors slowly reveal themselves, the textures love one another, and it's a hefty meal at a not-too-hefty price.
Alas, lemak alone does not a review make (editors don't like reviews to be about one dish). Consequently, all lemak all the time wasn't possible, though it would be understandable.
So we had a bowl, savored it, and moved on to other delights
It's been several months since we last had the lemak at Neo, and we noticed a small adjustment - the sauce is much thinner, as though a coconut milk that was low on fat had been used rather than the rich, thick coconut cream.
That's disappointing, though the dish is still packed with flavor. And a personal favorite.
But this branching out business can result in some tasty delights.
Such as the sweet basil curry with tofu ($12.95). The sauce is kicked with the gingery pepper taste of galangal, kissed with slightly-sour lemongrass, gently laced with coconut milk, and has just a whisper of intense kaffir lime. Add to that a load of fresh basil and tofu that's gently crisped before it joins the other ingredients, and you have a dish that really is a happy meal.
The five-spice Hunan duck ($17.45 for a half duck) is Chinese, not Malaysian, but that's one of the things we like about Neo - its Chinese offerings are made with as much thought as the Malaysian.
The cut-into-pieces duck was cooked to maintain its moisture, but wasn't greasy, a common duck issue. While it was a tad too salty, the sweet of the fennel, cinnamon and cloves, the bare-bitterness of the star anis, and the kick of the pepper combined to create a complex and compelling meal.
Entrees at Neo are large. But you can opt for "petite" portions. Or you can load up on some very impressive appetizers.
The spring rolls ($3.95) are packed with freshness - crunchy lettuce, carrots, cucumber - wrapped up in a so-thin-you-can-see-through-it rice paper. A sweet/spicy hoison sauce is served on the side.
The samosa-like curry puffs ($2.95) were a golden brown roll packed with smooth sweet potato curry. And the basil squid ($8.95) featured the mild mullosk dressed in a crispy tempura coat and sitting on top of salad greens topped with a vinaigrette.
Neo was once a hipper, more upscale restaurant called Neo Melaka, at East River Road and North Campbell Avenue.
Owner Chris Yap moved it to the east side location of his Seri Melaka in 2010, combining the two and calling it Neo Malaysian Kitchen. Yap made the River Road restaurant Om Modern Kitchen.
Neo doesn't have the fancy ambiance, soft lighting, and meals that look like art that you'll find at Om. At Neo, booths crowd the walls, tables are bare, lighting is bright, and a fish tank gurgles in the lobby.
Sure, ambiance is nice. But good food is even nicer, and Neo definitely has that.
Neo Malaysian Kitchen
6133 E. Broadway, 747-7811
• Hours: 11 am.-9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
• Family call: Kids will feel at home, if they are willing to venture outside the hot dog and burger world.
• Noise level: Tolerable.
• Vegetarian choices: Plenty.
• Gluten-free: Available.
• Alcohol: Full bar; small wine list.
• Reservations: Accepted.
• Price range: Entrees top out at $27.85 for a whole duck, though most are under $16.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at email@example.com or 573-4128.