I've been raving about Banyan Garden, the Malaysian/Singaporean/Thai restaurant in Union City since we "discovered" it a couple of months ago. We got to try its San Mateo branch (there is an additional Banyan Garden in Pleasant Hill) when we had dinner with our friends Darius and Tuti on a Thursday night in May 2005.
Banyan Garden Kopitiam (as the San Mateo branch is called) is located in a strip mall and it has a very casual look to it. There are some bamboo walls to add an exotic feel, but mostly it looks like a strip mall restaurant and is nowhere as chic as its Union City cousin. Its menu is exactly the same as the Union City branch, with extensive vegetarian and seafood offerings and fewer chicken and meat ones.
We started by ordering some Roti Canai, a Malaysian flat bread that is served with a curry dipping sauce. Here it was just a small pancake; it wasn't bad but not nearly as good as the lightly, flaky version we'd been served at Union City. The curry was just as good, however. The Roti Telur, a flatbread layered with egg and onion, was also good, though anything with that curry sauce would taste great. Once again I was impressed by the taste of the chicken satay and the accompanying chunky sauce that is not very sweet but very addictive.
The Malaysian short ribs were a sure winner, with tender meat in a thick bean sauce. The aromatic chicken, fried chicken in a lemongrass and garlic sauce, was also quite good, nice and juicy, though its breading was too thick. The pineapple rice was OK, nothing special. The least successful dish we had was the lamb with Malaysian dry curry. The thin slices of lamb had that weird texture that comes from pounding the heck out of them, Darius definitely didn't like it and I thought it was merely OK.
For dessert Tuti and Mika shared the coconut pudding cake, greenish squares of a gelatinous substance. Mika really liked them! We also shared the bananas goreng, battered, friend bananas with vanilla ice cream. These were really good and I'll definitely order them next time.
Banyan Garden Kopitiam
2946 S Norfolk St.
San Mateo, CA