Eat This Now: Beef Murtabak at Roti Mama
Roti Mama's Beef Murtabak
No, another Malaysian restaurant did not just open in Huntington Beach. We still have the one, and it's essentially the same as Old Malaya Grill before it. The owner remains Nur Digiovanni, an ex-mortgage banker who used to moonlight as a caterer for the consulate general of Malaysia in LA. When she decided to open a Malaysian restaurant here a few months ago in the corner spot in a mini-mall Thai Gulf moved out of, Old Malaya Grill became only the second eatery in our county to serve the food of Malaysia.
Now as Roti Mama, Digiovanni's restaurant is still that. Though the menu has been overhauled with more items, her signature dish of nasi lemak is unchanged. In fact, Digiovanni admits to renaming the place primarily to bring in new customers. So far, she says it seems to be working. I'm inclined to think the reason is less about the name change but because Digiovanni has finally got into a good working groove in the kitchen. The problems I saw when I first ate here last May are history. These days the food takes less time to come out than an In-N-Out Double-Double, and since she's hired an actual waitress, Digiovanni can now devote most of her time cooking. But as humble as she is, she told me that the biggest change she's made is that she's hired a "new chef"; but really, she's still the skipper here--the brains and heart of the operation.
Her kangkung belacan, Chinese watercress stir-fried in fermented shrimp paste and onions, is good and decadently oily. A new item called "Mama's Crispy Chicken" are faultless, greaseless, deeply seasoned, non-uniform cuts of fried chicken nuggets you dip in homemade sweet and sour chili sauce. But the thing you need to get is the beef murtabak, hand-stretched roti dough encapsulating curry-spiced beef and beaten egg in a big pregnant disc, the whole thing pan-fried until crisp. It's cut into wedges, served with a bowl of curry for dipping, and pickled onions for palate cleansing. The curry-scented filling billows steam, the crust is crackly, and the appetizer comes out so fast out of that kitchen that I've no doubt now that Digiovanni's Malaysian restaurant, whatever it's called, is ready for prime time.
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