Good to Go is a column where our food writers explore Dallas' restaurant scene through takeout orders, delivery boxes and reheated leftovers.
Two weeks went by, and Braden and Yasmin Wages hadn’t received a delivery of fresh fish. Malai Kitchen’s menu is about 20% fresh seafood, and they couldn’t get a single shrimp sent to their 9-year-old restaurant.
“It was a disappointment to our guests,” Braden Wages says through exhales.
It’s been a slow climb up the hill to reopening at 25% capacity following Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement
. The husband-wife team opened their doors for walk-ins cautiously on May 1 after operating takeout only.
“It doesn’t feel right,” he says. There’s a spark of sadness in his voice, “There’s just a few people in the building.”
There hasn't been a need for anyone to wait for a table yet. The anxiety is fresh, and the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to grow. Malai Kitchen did receive the Paycheck Protection Program loan assistance to pay their staff. They opened at the limited capacity to keep the shop going and are doing everything they can to maintain safe operations.
Blades of optimism are poking through — it’s strange times when a simple fish delivery can send some hope through the dark clouds. Recently, Wages sold out of fresh fish in a single day once the good stuff had finally arrived.
Comfort food is reigning right now: Their spicy chicken wings painted with a sticky chili pepper-lemongrass sauce, each studded with sesame seeds, and intensely crunchy samosa pods are the most popular. Same with fried rice, pad Thai and the sensational drunken noodles.
Curried crab dip with shrimp chips
You want the shrimp chips in these times of epic chaos. Tapioca flour, a dehydrated shrimp paste and powder puff up to a cloud in the deep fryer, and you can down them like potato chips. Swept through their crab dip: teardrops of jumbo lump bound to coconut milk find cilantro, sliced chiles, beans and yellow curry seasoning. It’s wonderful — a local comfort classic through the lens of the Wages’ travels around the globe in less tenuous times. The chips break, shatter, then melt.
You also want hand-cut noodles, thick as toy store ribbons. They arrive clinging, not weighted, with a darkened-by-soy sauce. These are not noodles that sit inside like you’ve downed a bowling ball. Thai basil and chiles break the salt. It’s both green vegetable sweet — that light crunch from earthy vegetables — with pinpricks of salty. Steam pours out as I crack open the delivery container, which is the universal sign of speedy take-out.
“What scares me is what happens two months from now,” Wages says. “Will it end, or fade out, or come rolling back?”
He’s asking the questions running through all of our minds, it seems (if you scan Twitter for a few minutes). The full view of the road is hard to make out right now — a feeling that’s confirmed when you talk with local businesses.
These days are going to be about the small stones of comfort we can pick up and hold in our hands. Malai Kitchen is focusing on good noodles, crunchy chips and as much fresh fish as they can find.
Malai Kitchen, 3699 McKinney Ave., Suite 319 (Uptown). Open for pick up, delivery and limited seating. 214-599-7857.