R: Driving along National Boulevard in West Los Angeles, we noticed several small ethnic restaurants including an unassuming Indonesian restaurant that features a vegetarian menu with 26 items to choose from as well as the usual carnivorous stuff.
Z: Unassuming is right. From the outside it's just a storefront with lots of restaurant reviews plastered on the window--all outstanding reviews, by the way. Once inside, we were captivated by the aromas which sparked our appetites!
R: The menus are unique, too.We were each given two menus. One was beautiful, full-color photos of all the dishes, complete with names of each dish and a corresponding number. The other was a familiar style menu with brief descriptions of what each dish contained.There were many temptations to over-order, but Zel was proud of my restraint.
Z: When Ged, our waiter, came to take our order, we asked him for suggestions. He was a gentle, soft spoken young man with a pleasant smile and a helpful nature. We expressed our interest in staying with vegan dishes, which we learned was no problem at all. He referred to us as "pure vegetarians," and recommended some excellent choices.
R: Ged returned quickly with our water and a little bowl of roasted peanuts. While we nibbled, we looked around the room with its seafoam green walls and dark green carpeting.The décor brought a little taste of the country to this simple room with several unframed Indonesian style paintings on fabric, several colorfully painted wooden masks, painted wooden shadow puppets, and a large, open, bright red fan with intricate gold designs.
Z: Our Tempe Goreng arrived nice and hot. This dish was described as crispy soy bean cake with candlenut. We wondered what candlelnut was. By this time the restaurant was filling to its 50-person capacity with families from toddlers to grandparents. Since Ged was the only serving person, we were not able to take much of his time.
R: It was obvious that this appetizer was finger food, so we picked up our small squares of thinly cut, batter fried tempeh and dunked them into a little dipping bowl filled with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, lemon, chiles, and minced marinated cucumbers. It was delicious!
Z: Next came a large bowl with a generous serving of Sayur Asem, listed as tamarind soup on the menu. This, too, was steaming hot and filled with lots of green beans, corn, chayote squash, and peanuts. And, oh, yes, chiles! We loved it!
R: There were no stars on the menu to tell how spicy the soup was, but this one would have rated three if it were in a Thai restaurant. Tasty as it was, it could put hair on your chest! While cooling my mouth, I noticed the subtle Indonesian flute music playing in the background. Nice touch‹it adds to the Indonesian experience.
Z: Then in rapid succession came the Bayam Hot Plate, the Nasi Goreng, and the Kripik Singkong.Bayam is spinach and garlic tofu served in a sizzling dish on a wooden plank. Very tasty. The Nasi Goreng is fried rice Indonesian style with lots of add-ins including frozen mixed vegetables, broccoli florets, and scallions. The dish is topped with slivered deep fried onions and garnished with sweet marinated minced cucumbers, parsley sprigs, and Emping, deep fried bean crisps. An attractive presentation and flavorful, too.
R: I couldn't stop crunching on the Kripik Singkong.They reminded me of the shrimp chips served in some Chinese restaurants, but these are much larger, made from yuca root, and seasoned with garlic, green onion, and a mixture of zesty spices.
Z: With each of the dishes, we were impressed with the generous servings. We had lots to bring home for next day nibbles. Before we left, we succumbed to trying one of their very colorful drinks. We chose the Es Kelapa because the others were made with milk. Of course, we asked Ged to bring two straws.
R: The drink arrived in an ice cream soda glass, filled with young coconut slices, crushed ice, and a bright red colored simple syrup. Along with the two straws were two long handled spoons. It was much too sweet for me.
Z: Since we're not used to refined sugar desserts, it was way over the top with sweetness for us, but it was fun to have experimented.
R: We should mention the colorful batik tablecloths. They were beautiful traditional designs. None were matching, but it made for a colorful table.They were covered by a protective glass top.
Z: Don't forget the wooden tables and wooden chairs with cane seats--just what I might expect in an Indonesian restaurant.
R: The foods were all new to us, and we felt it was a great introduction to Indonesian vegetarian dining. The prices were very reasonable with our appetizer priced at $5.75, while the soup, fried rice, and spinach dishes were all in the $5 range. We noticed that generally the ethnic restaurants are getting the message about offering vegetarian dishes more quickly than American eateries, but‹and this is an important but, the foods are generally fattier.
Reviewed June 1999