After four years without curry laksa and nasi goreng, the DMV can thank Leslie and Penny Phoon for reopening Malaysian Kopitiam in Centreville.
The Phoons sold the lease for the original Malaysian Kopitiam, on a block of retail that bridges Dupont with downtown, with six months left of the 15 year contract. From there, they entered corporate catering for big name clients like Fannie Mae and Northrop Grumman, a step away from the restaurant life that they’ve been in since they moved to Baltimore from Malaysia in 1986.
Then a friend and real estate agent told the couple to check out a newly vacant restaurant space. This would be their sixth restaurant. Phoon says many of their regular customers came to D.C. from the Virginia suburbs, but lamented about the strictly metered parking situation.
Penny Phoon says it was the “perfect time” to get back into the restaurant game. Over the years, she says, “Wherever we go … people recognize my husband,” so she knew they could relaunch their brand, especially one underrepresented here. Malaysian food, a combination of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines, that, says Phoon, “crossover each other.”
The menu is less than half of what it was when it closed in 2014, with about 45 items now, 80 percent of which are carryovers. Some new items include: fupei, a pureed fish layered between tofu sheets and fried (it’s puffy and crinkly and savory and is a non-negotiable must-order), plus rojak, a Chinese-hawker style fruit salad, and Nyonya curry fish head with okra, eggplant and tofu.
“The main issue was D.C. parking,” Phoon says about the problems with the first iteration of the restaurant, and how they couldn’t attract families going to dinner on weekend nights. But now with a spot tucked into a strip mall, parking won’t keep people away. // Malaysian Kopitiam: 5085 Westfields Blvd., Centreville