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Savoring Screw Pine

The Lower East Side acquires its own city of entertainment

"That looks like Tompkins Square after it rains," quipped Mary, who has an apartment overlooking the park and should know. Indeed, Skyway's fried pearl noodles ($5.25) might be earthworms—plump, tapered, and annulated, squirming in a loamy mixture of ground pork and scallions. Though the visual effect is alarming, it didn't stop us from shooting our chopsticks into the seething concoction again and again, it was so supremely scrumptious. Skyway is a new restaurant named after a modernistic cable car system linking Malaysia's Pahang low lands with the glitzy mountaintop resort of Genting, nicknamed "the city of entertainment." To improve the ride, audio-animatronic animals and robot Malay tribesmen jump out of the jungle as you pass. Yikes!

Be assured that no aborigines or animals—except maybe a rat—will jump out at you as you approach Manhattan's Skyway, which lies near the corner of Allen and Canal in the space once occupied by another Malaysian, Proton Saga. But while the previous tenant was a strictly halal establishment, Skyway isn't, and thus the menu permits pork and Chinese beer. The former finds glorious usage in "house special pork with yam" ($6.50), an accordion that alternates layers of baconish belly and white sweet potato, both tinted brown from the fragrant, spice-bearing marinade. I can also recommend another dish on the menu: house-special pork with dried vegetable. Here a bed of pucker-inducing pickled mustard greens neutralizes the belly's greasiness with the efficiency of Ajax.

Dry, sauced, or in soups, noodles dominate Skyway's menu. In addition to the superlative pearl noodles, there's banmee hakka noodles, a bowl of greens and ghostly white pasta in a thin and unappetizing-looking broth. One sip and you'll fall in love with it, savoring the taste of anchovies and pork. Demonstrating the pungent glories of Malaysian cuisine, asam laksa ($5.25) is a meal-size soup featuring thick rice noodles in a brickish broth that has so many zigs and zags of hot and tart flavor, just one spoonful leaves you panting. Tamarind, lemongrass, and screw pine leaves are responsible.

The saucers fly fast at Skyway.
photo: Shiho Fukada
The saucers fly fast at Skyway.

With the possible exception of Flushing's Sentosa, which was located until recently on the same block, there's no Malaysian place in town that so persuasively prepares the cuisine's upper-end dishes. For diners who feel like blowing some cash, there's red snapper with okra—whole pods swimming like a school of minnows alongside the pink fish in a brown goo thickened with candlenuts. Hey, it's good! Another evening we marveled at the whole lobster done in the house style ($22.95), smothering a meaty specimen in a dried-shrimp glaze. Having once lived in Kuala Lumpur, my friends Zak and Anna are prone to enthuse about Skyway's "hot and spicy crabs" ($12.95), which they refer to by the more familiar name of chile crab. The hacked crustaceans arrive arranged in a red mandala, and the sugary sauce singes you with chiles.

If you can gather enough diners, sit in the raised and fenced booth at the rear of the restaurant labeled "V.I.P." and feel like Malay royalty. But the rest of the premises is pleasant enough, some tables corralled, others roaming free in a room with sparse, eclectic decoration. The decor doesn't matter, though, because the fishy and fiery food is unforgettable.

 
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