The Brunch Chronicles: Malai Kitchen Gives Brunch a Thai/Vietnamese Infusion
Hoi An hash
Let's face it: As much as we all love brunch, it tends to be one of the more homogeneous meals of the day — like the Sweden of eating occasions. But then again, brunch is also consumed with far less frequency than other meal genres, so while diners might look for variation in their lunching options, they tend to want more classical brunch offerings. So menus follow with an array of Benedicts, waffles, burgers, biscuits and lox. But maybe you are a frequent bruncher, or maybe you seek the same kind of culinary diversions at 11 a.m. that you do at 8 p.m. Maybe you sometimes want Indian or Thai or Ethiopian for brunch. And maybe, just maybe, you would like Malai Kitchen.
Malai Kitchen has two locations — one in Uptown, one in Southlake — where they put a Southeast Asian spin on brunch. Don't expect dishes to taste like they do in Danang or Hat Yai: This is Vietnamese and Thai food that has been adapted for local palates and with varying degrees of success.
The menu is small at just eight dishes and runs the spectrum of authenticity. A "Thai" version of eggs Benedict features coconut biscuits, basil, a chili-flecked hollandaise and cheese grits. More traditional dishes include a ham and egg banh mi, pho bo (beef noodle soup) and a chicken and ginger congee (rice porridge) that sounds just right for when the temperature dips.
Our dining experience suggests that the less Americanized the dish, the greater the epicurean yield. An order of banh mi French toast ($9) was a bit of a reach. The "thick-sliced Vietnamese baguette" could have been any generic white bread, for the characteristic pillow-like interior and thin, crisp crust were lost in a process that yielded soggy, slightly sad toast. The toppings of flambéed bananas were overcooked and the accompanying coconut syrup did little to elevate the dish. Those craving banana French toast would be advised to visit Eureka!, instead, where brûléed bananas and cornflake-crusted toast offer texture and flavor beyond the soft, saccharine version at Malai.
Banh mi French toast / Pac-Man pineapple attacks bread dinosaur face
The Hoi An hash fared much better. This hash is not prepared in typical diner fashion, but in form more closely resembles an open omelet. Chunks of pork sausage abound and squares of flat, wide, deep-fried noodles add a pleasingly springy mouth-feel. A tangle of pickled bean sprouts and a salty, soy-based sauce punctuate the dish with lots of bright flavor and keep it feeling light and fresh.
Is Malai Kitchen the stuff of dreams for those craving authentic Vietnamese or Thai? Not quite. But those who choose wisely can veer just ever so slightly off the well-trodden brunch path and into a place where tamarind is a bloody mary ingredient and fish sauce is your brunching friend.
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