Curiouser and curiouser: What happens when a restaurant brings together two Malaysian chefs who spent much of their professional lives abroad, one crafting American soul food with an Asian twist at bars in Las Vegas, the other whipping up a fine-dining storm of seafood aboard European cruise ships that sailed from Bergen to Reykjavik?
The result is a completely revamped menu at Tropicana Avenue’s rooftop restaurant Curious Kitchen, which welcomes two chefs returning to their hometowns – head chef Gary Tan, a PJ lad who sharpened his skills in Vegas for 15 years, and Klang-born sous chef Jordash Decruz, who cooked for travellers aboard Viking Ocean Cruises for nearly two years.
If you love playful starters (crispy chicken skin with bacon jam?) and princely mains (jambalaya-inspired fettuccine with sausages in Cajun-spiced sauce?), Curious Kitchen promises a wonder of a meal, with slices of Tex-Mex (tacos and habanero ribs), slivers of Tuscany (spaghetti and risotto) and splashes of cross-cultural tastiness (Hokkien mee with iberico pork).
We first visited Curious Kitchen for a meat-packed dinner in June 2018; returning two years later for a more eclectic lunch, we remained impressed by this distinctive second-floor space, a mix of alfresco tables and cavernous indoor dining with an HD projection screen, both with open kitchens (though the chefs mainly work amid the leafy outdoors), plus a cosy bar by the side – perfect for a peaceful escape from PJ’s crowds or for private parties, with no other restaurants in sight.
Curious Kitchen’s new menu is headlined by a section of Las Vegas Bites, a clear clue that what happened in Vegas hasn’t stayed in Vegas for chef Gary.
If tacos are your irresistible temptation, bookmark this restaurant – Curious Kitchen’s founders were dazzled enough by their first taste of Gary’s fish tacos that they signed him up to lead the team here.
The three types of tacos, plumply packed in soft flour tortillas, are all worth trying, each with its own ensemble of ingredients that complement each other harmoniously.
The Baja Fish Tacos feature beer-battered halibut, crisp to the bite and tenderly flaky to the chew, enlivened with fresh slaw, the tomato-and-onion-based salsa of pico de gallo, and chilli sour cream – certainly among the most satisfyingly textured fish tacos in the Klang Valley (RM25 for two).
If you prefer beef or pork for your tacos, the Carne Asada Tacos are a riot of Latin American street fare flavours, with grilled flank steak, lettuce, coriander and red salsa (RM28 for two), while the secret to the Carnitas Tacos is the Spanish iberico pork secreto, the coveted cut of densely marbled meat that yields a rich succulence, buoyed by mango salsa (RM25 for two).
The Shrimp Ceviche with corn tortillas takes us from the American Southwest through Peru and Mexico, the sort of snack that invigorates the appetite with zest and zing, its citrus tang brightened by jalapenos that turn these sweetly innocent crustaceans into a sultry affair (RM28).
Curious Kitchen’s fans might be relieved to know that pork remains the star here, with ribs to seize the spotlight.
The iberico ribs surface as a carnivore’s full-fleshed fantasy come true, straight out of 12 hours of sous vide cooking to ensure you won’t have to gnaw very hard, seasoned simply with salt, garlic and onion to ensure the pure, authentic flavour of the meat shines through (RM80 for half a slab with truffled mash).
While we’re sometimes sceptical about BBQ ribs, no thanks to cloying, artificial-tasting sauces that seek to mask the meat, Curious Kitchen’s interpretation puts our fears to rest. A coffee rub boosts the meat’s flavour naturally and seals its moisture, bolstered by the heat of a house-made habanero sauce to turn the temperature up on some rip-roaring ribs. We personally like the BBQ ribs even more than the iberico ribs, paired with a gently fruity apple poppy slaw (RM58 for half a slab).
Can’t get enough of iberico? Curious Kitchen has you covered with the charcoal-grilled iberico toploin, a 200-gram serving that’s prepared like a steak, blessed with the intramuscular fat that’s the foundation for the finest marbling. Chimichurri is the ideal sauce; cherry tomatoes, crisp asparagus and creamy truffled mash are exemplary sides.
Speaking of sides, those aren’t an afterthought here. The aforementioned apple slaw is a credit to its kind, banishing the clumpy, mass-made versions of fried chicken franchises (RM12), while even button mushrooms rise above the norm, lip-smackingly sauteed with olive oil, butter, thyme, love and tenderness (RM15). Add the brocolettes – broccoli and cauliflower, jazzed up with the mellow acidity of lemon juice – for a vegetarian counterpoint to all the protein (RM13).
Ultimately, Curious Kitchen’s new crew succeeds in whipping up communal cooking that’s accessible and affordable, the stuff that makes for long lunches and loud dinners with your favourite people.
From large to small plates, these recipes recast and reinvent familiar staples, from the Spanish tapa of gambas al ajillo, garlicky prawns with more spice and a honeyed sweetness to cater beautifully to Malaysian palates (RM25), to the smoked duck breast over Pahang-cultivated honey jackfruit for a savoury-nectarous coupling that speaks to tropical flavours, with capsicum, coriander and chillies (RM28).
With plenty of wines to keep spirits up (starting at RM18 for an Australian house-pour by the glass and RM78 by bottle), this is the kind of restaurant where you might not want to leave.
Many thanks to Curious Kitchen for having us.
Curious KitchenP-02-01, Second Floor, Tropicana Avenue, Persiaran Tropicana, 47410 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Daily, 12pm-1130pm. Tel: 010-666-1048