New Haven’s Bentara Disappoints

By Aaron Gustafson via Flickr

For months, my coworkers have told me that Bentara in New Haven is awesome — one of their favorite places. Since it serves Malaysian cuisine, I figured I would love it just as much as they did. Since we don’t live close to the Haven, we hadn’t yet been there when one of the Bentara lovers told me about New Haven’s Restaurant Week (and that Bentara was on the list). The Boyfriend had just completed his first marathon and I wanted to treat him to a nice dinner, so I thought it would be perfect. I made a reservation for the last night of Restaurant Week.

We arrived and waited a little bit since the host station was not manned. When he returned, we were seated right away but it took quite some time before anyone came for a drink order — and when someone showed it was the host because the server was busy. The place was not packed, but maybe they were shorthanded. Anyway, once we obtained the drink list and ordered our beverages, we sat back and waited. The decor was cool: hip and cultural but also classy and clean. There were lighted boxes with shadows of something that looked like skeletons, but upon inspection, they were the shadows of some knit pieces. Pretty cool.

After a while, our server came with our drinks. No intro, no “hello”, no “welcome” but, “So are you ready?” And so it started. He continued to be either absent or borderline rude for the rest of the night.

I ordered the chicken satay (which had a coconut peanut dipping sauce) and The Boyfriend started with Murtabak which was ghee bread filled with a mixture of ground beef, onions, and eggs. My satay came out lukewarm. Since our server was MIA, I had to send it back with another server who was actually quite nice and apologetic. The Murtabak was pretty tasty, and big, but still lacking something. My main dish was Sotong Goreng Pedas — hot and spicy calamari with onions and Asian long beans — which sounded delicious on the menu but on the plate was just boring…it was spicy, sure, but lacked any  flavor. It didn’t help that I got quite sick off of it later and as leftovers (yes, even after hurling it up, I tried it again) it wasn’t any better. It was just plain boring. Even less interesting than most Chinese food dishes. The Boyfriend got the Filet Mignon ( served on a portobello mushroom with baby bok choy, lemon garlic baby potatoes, spring roll basket of mesclun and blue cheese salad with some Asian flavored dressing with sesame and ginger) which he said was good. Good, not great.

Once dinner was over, it took quite a while to get our dessert (surprise surprise), but both of ours were actually delicious. I had tiramisu (so Malaysian, I know) and The Boyfriend had fried bananas which were actually wrapped in spring roll wrappers and served with ice cream, chocolate, and caramel. I don’t like bananas, but I liked this!

I think I was especially disappointed in Bentara because of the rave reviews from other people (who I know have good taste!) and that it was a special occasion. I keep telling myself that it was because my expectations were too high. But, then again, I don’t think you’re supposed to get sick, no matter what. So, one salt shaker because a great dessert can’t make up for a crappy rest of the meal.