I can summon to my conscious mind everything about a Chinese egg roll. There was a point in adolescence when it figured heavily into my diet. The crisp-rubberiness of the egg roll wrapper. The mushy, salty cabbage filling. The burn on the roof of my mouth that invariably happened because I couldn’t wait long enough […]
I can summon to my conscious mind everything about a Chinese egg roll. There was a point in adolescence when it figured heavily into my diet. The crisp-rubberiness of the egg roll wrapper. The mushy, salty cabbage filling. The burn on the roof of my mouth that invariably happened because I couldn’t wait long enough for it to cool off. Images like that flood my brain.
Another image – much more recent – is of the flaky, croissant-like flatbread served at Waukesha pan-Asian restaurant Mr. Wok. Never mind the name of this restaurant (which undersells the menu), and that it’s located in a strip mall, along with a dollar store and a Fashion Bug Plus. The flatbread proves there’s much more than meets the eye.
This sturdy bread – as thick as a breakfast pancake and as rich as puff pastry – comes with a stellar curry sauce studded with chunks of chicken. You use the bread to sop up the lush, spicy sauce. It’s billed as an appetizer, but it could be anything, including the best thing you’ve eaten in weeks. On the menu, the pancake is called “roti,” which is a flatbread of Indian origin. With the curry, it’s “roti chanai,” a Malaysian standby ($3.25).
Here’s where some explanation is necessary. The restaurant wears two sets of clothing. In its Chinese raiment, there’s a weekday lunch buffet and a menu of chop suey and egg foo yong. In colorful pan-Asian attire, the boat-shaped dishes carry the signs of co-owner C.S. Tan’s homeland of Malaysia, a country known for its culinary diversity (shades of China, Thailand and India, to name a few).
Tan says that his Hong Kong-reared wife, Jian, “basically runs the show” at Mr. Wok, but the husband is no slouch at managing the front of the house, where he serves and busses at this 12-table operation.
Once people try the more adventurous things on his menu, he says, “they’re hooked.”
I think I know the feeling. I can’t imagine ordering sweet and sour chicken after having rendang chicken, a popular dish in Malaysia. The tender, meaty thighs of boneless chicken absorb the citrusy flavor of lemongrass. The coconut milk sauce makes a smooth, gingery base that transitions beautifully into the grains of glutinous rice ($8.75).
With the spicy pepper salt fish, I expect delicate white pieces of pan-fried sole. But this is bolder – hunks of battered, fried sole folded into strips of onion and thin slices of jalapeño pepper ($11.95). This is green goodness, but pepper-phobes should take it easy.
The tofu casserole may satisfy a mild palate, because mellow it is. The sparse seasoning means the texture is on display – spongy squares of fried tofu, firm calamari (cut into blossom shapes), minced pork, shrimp and imitation crab. Nestled into its insulated crock, it’s a casserole indeed ($9.95).
Thailand’s flow through the menu is slippery and squishy. Fans of pad thai (with long, skinny rice noodles) and pad see ew (flat rice noodles) will find them here. But the noodle path is broad. In the dish called mee goreng, angel hair-like noodles are pan-fried – a little charred, which results in a lightly crisp texture – and served with strips of lean beef, Chinese broccoli and the fire of minced red chile pepper ($8.25). It’s served with fried egg fanned across the top. We spritz it with fresh lime and admire the subtle fruit finish.
The flat noodles in pad kar pow are soft and exquisitely chewy, but defining this dish is stir-fried basil leaf, which infuses the brown sauce with grassy sweetness (with chicken, $8.75).
For the most part, Asian food in and around Milwaukee just doesn’t push any boundaries, and that’s a shame. A restaurant serving Malaysian food should not loll in obscurity. In assuming two guises, Mr. Wok has the right idea. Lure them in for the predictable, hook them on the remarkable.
Mr. Wok: Silvernail Plaza, 2128 Silvernail Rd., Waukesha, 262-521-9780. Hours: Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat 4-9 p.m. Prices: appetizers $1.70-$5.95; soup $1.50-$2.75; entrées $6.50-$11.95. Service: helpful; fast, but not fancy. Dress: your choice. Handicap access: yes. Nonsmoking. Credit cards: M V DS. Reservations: no.