Sitting down at Malaysian-themed Kinta is like preparing for a meal in several countries at once. Malaysia's geography and history make it a melting pot of Southeast Asian cultures and cuisines, with a food tradition influenced by Thailand, China, India, and a surfeit of immigrant cultures from Europe and beyond. At Kinta, reaching your chopsticks across the table to sample your companion's noodle dish is tantamount to stretching your arm across the Bay of Bengal.
Far from its steamy motherland, the restaurant's dining room is understated and airy, with large sliding windows looking out onto Belmont. The open kitchen is front and center, though lack of activity makes it feel oddly abandoned. Considering all Kinta offers, you'd think more would happen in the stainless kitchen/corral.
If anything, you'd think the creative starters would cause some hustle and bustle. Cream cheese and shrimp-stuffed wontons hide a lush warm center in their brittle shells. Dipped into an accompanying sweet and sour sauce, their flavor profile brightens, highlighting the sweetness of shrimp and creating a nice twist on a Chinese treat. Mango rojak pairs shreds of tart green mango and bright carrot in a colorful salad. Enjoyable on its own, this dish's subtle flavor is overwhelmed by an optional fish sauce. Still, the cubes of fried tofu spread throughout the salad shine through—crisp and salted on the outside with a warm, velvety center. But amid these fine options, the chicken satay (a Malaysian signature) is surprisingly bland, and cannot be saved by a perfectly adequate peanut sauce.
The main courses at Kinta aren't mind blowing but they are satisfying, customized with a selection of vegetables from a list of seasonal, organic produce. Not sure what veggies to add to the tropical Malaysian curry soup? Ask the chef to choose for you. This is especially helpful if you wish to avoid any unfortunate fauna/sauce pairing incidents.
Those toothsome vegetables are the key to Kinta's noodles, which deliver flavor reminiscent of grilled soy. The savory, smoky rice noodles pair well with bright broccoli or onion. But avoid the addition of chicken. Mine was overcooked and brought the dish down. The Macadamia curry is better, with a pensive heat that creeps up slowly. Macadamia nuts provide sweetness to the dish, amplifying notes of coconut in the rich sauce and creating meaty depth.
The best bets at Kinta are the generous soups. The price of $8.95 will get you more noodles and broth than one person could reasonably consume. I recommend the mee pelang, a potato curry broth mixed with your choice of noodles. The added vegetables are just right—warm and still a bit crisp. The curry warms the body and anchors lighter flavors like kaffir lime with an earthy potato wash. The noodles (flat rice noodles in my case) add body and texture. This soup is a wonderful example of Malaysian fusion; it's essentially a West Indian potato curry wrapped around a Thai noodle soup. The mee pelang will likely become a winter craving.
There's nothing particularly astounding about Kinta's food, but maybe that's the point. It could be that at the crossroads of several cultures, Kinta is content to anchor itself with simply satisfying cuisine, free of fireworks. Here the diner's mind is allowed to wander the subtropical regions of Southeast Asia without fear of ever getting lost.