After our writers group meeting on Sunday, my husband and I decided to dig into our stash of Restaurant.com gift certificates for something new and interesting for an early dinner. After flipping back and forth, discussing for a bit … we ended up choosing the Indo Café. For you GPSers, it’s:
Technically, we’d never eaten Indonesian food before. However–perusing the menu at Indo Café–we realized there’s a lot of overlap in Indonesian cuisine from Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and other cuisines that we already enjoy.
For example–if you remember from my review of our neighborhood Family Time Filipino restaurant–you’ll remember that we’re already fans of lumpia, the Filipino version of an egg/spring roll. Well, apparently Indonesians call their egg/spring roll “lumpia” as well. So–needless to say–we started our meal with an order of Lumpia Jakarta, described on their menu as: Indonesian fried spring roll with rice noodles and vegetables, served with a side of spicy peanut sauce.
I’ve got to admit it … Family Time has spoiled me for anyone else’s lumpia. That’s because theirs is very meaty and spicy, a real mouth-filling bite each and every time … while the ones we ate at Indo Café were a) vegetarian and b) mostly stuffed with rice noodles … not meat or vegetables. I’m not sure if that’s because of the difference in the way the two cultures make their lumpia … or because of the difference in the way these two restaurants each make their individual lumpia … but–regardless–I really didn’t like the lumpia at Indo Café … and neither did my husband. They did have a nice garlic flavor when you bit into them, but–overall–were just kinda dry, and pretty much tasteless beyond the heavy dose of garlic.
I’m not real crazy about their spicy peanut sauce either. Unfortunately, I can’t eat a lot of heat these days (even though I love it) because my stomach can’t handle it anymore … and all this peanut sauce is is heat! There’s a little bit of peppery and vinegary flavor to it–similar to a couple of other Asian sauces I’ve tried, especially in Korean cuisine–but there’s very little in the way of peanut flavor (unlike Thai peanut sauce) in the sauce itself. It’s main function seems to be to bring peppery heat and flavor to whatever you dip in it, and–at least in my case–that’s not something I necessarily go looking for. On the other hand, my cute hubby LOVES vinegary/peppery dips … and he wasn’t that crazy about this one either.
Next, we tried an order of Risoles, described in their menu as … Deep-fried Dutch/Indonesian breaded egg rolls stuffed with chicken ragout and served with a side of spicy peanut sauce.
WOW! Talk about a complete 180 degree turn from the other appetizer! We sat the spicy peanut sauce aside (it was the same sauce they served with the lumpia, so we already knew we weren’t that crazy about it) and just tried the risoles by themselves. After a single bite, we both decided that we could probably make a meal out of them … all by themselves!
The pastry portion of a risole is like a good doughnut: soft and warm … with only the barest bit sweet to it. It’s like one of those doughnuts you often find on Chinese buffets, the kind that are only sweet because of the barest sprinkle of sugar on the outside of them. Imagine a good, barely sweet doughnut like that … stuffed with a spicy, meaty filling. The mix is excellent! It hits all of the different taste buds on your tongue at one time. And–like I said–we liked them so much we’ve already made plans to make a meal off of a couple of orders of risoles one day soon!
When I’m trying new things at new restaurants–especially new cuisines–I’m always game to try an interesting new regional beverage, too. That’s how I’ve discovered lots of interesting things to drink … like an Indonesian treat called a Limo Squash. Indo Café describes theirs as a refreshing drink of lemon juice and sweet condensed milk.
A limo squash is tall, cool, and somewhat creamy … but it’s a lot less sweet and creamy than most Americans would think with “sweet condensed milk” listed so prominently in the ingredients. It’s actually a mix of unsweetened condensed lemon juice and sweetened condensed milk in a carbonated base, so it’s not really sweet … it’s bubbly … and lemon-WANGY-good!!!
When it came time for our entrees, my husband chose the Ayam Goreng Penyet: Crushed fried chicken served with rice and chili paste.
He chose to pay the up-charge to get the yellow rice instead of the plain steamed version … and–honestly–this is one of the few times I’ve wished that I ordered what he ordered instead of what I ordered
His yellow rice was really tasty, but that chicken was off the HOOK!!! It reminded me of the fried chicken I used to get in a restaurant in my hometown of Savannah, GA … now defunct … a place called New China Restaurant. There–just like at Indo Café–the family who ran the restaurant (who came to this country from Hong Kong) basically dredged their chicken in a mix of salt and corn starch … heavy on the salt. They don’t use any liquid in the process. The only thing that makes that coating stick to your chicken is the tiny bit of dampness you normally get on a piece of raw chicken. That makes the coating on the final product amazingly thin. Once it goes into hot grease, that coating fries amazingly brown and crispy on the outside of your chicken … sealing the juices inside within seconds of it first hitting the grease.
My husband’s chicken was done the exact same way … and it was killer! Moist and tender on the inside … crispy/salty on the outside. As I told him, that’s what *I’m* ordering the next time we go to Indo Café.
On this trip, however, I tried the Nasi Goreng Uduk: pork fried coconut rice topped with pork floss.
It was good–don’t get me wrong–but after two or three bites … I started wishing that I’d pushed that pork floss aside … rather than spreading it out across the top of my food more before I started to eat. I don’t know what it was that made me dislike it so strongly. I’m Miss Most-Likely to Order Pork at Restaurants from waaaaayyy back, so it’s not that I dislike the swine … and the pork pieces underneath the floss–the ones fried into my rice–were really tasty, as was the coconut element to the dish.
Pork floss, aka meat wool, meat floss, pork sung, or rousong, is thought to be Chinese in origin, but it’s also found in several different cuisines from that general region. It’s shredded dried pork, usually heavily-marinaded in sweet soy sauce … which may be what I didn’t like about the flavor. To me, it was just TOO TOO intense against the milder flavor of the fried rice. And the fried rice was really tasty, too … which may be part of why I was disappointed by the floss … because it limited my enjoyment of the rest of the dish by just being overwhelming in every-single-bite. It just seemed unnecessarily salty and heavily pork bullion-flavored to me. If I order any dish there again that’s served with pork floss … I’m asking them to put mine on the side
Finally–for my dessert–I tried something I’ve always wanted to try! I’ve seen similar desserts in Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese/etc. restaurants, but the Indonesians at Indo Café call it Es Teler, and they describe it as Mixed tropical fruits and green jelly served with milk and cocopandan syrup. I also took the extra they offered, so mine included a chunk of fresh durian
Isn’t that interesting looking? You see why it’s always intrigued me
What you have there is a bowl of milk, and in the milk … you have:
- shredded young coconut: those long white strips you see at about 8 o’clock in the bowl. If you’ve never had young coconut before, it doesn’t have a hugely strong coconut flavor to it, but it’s definitely crispy/chewy in texture.
- jackfruit: they’re whitish, large grape-sized/shaped fruits that are somewhat translucent/pearly, and a little bit chewy in texture. Taste-wise, jackfruit is kinda like a tart banana, so you’ll often find it sweetened when it’s canned. Unfortunately, all the jackfruit is currently hiding under everything else … so I can’t point it out to you in the bowl.
- mangoes: I’ll trust that you know what mangoes are They’re the pink/orange lumps around the straw at 10:00.
- green grass jellies: yes, they’re a little bizzare to most American palates, but those dark green chunks are rather interesting. They’re sitting from 2-3:00 in the bowl, and they’re exactly what they say they are: an agar-agar based jelly–often made from coconut water and sugar–that’s flavored by grass and/or herbs. This particular jelly had just a hint of basil in the slightly sweet grassy flavor, and it made a nice, fresh accompaniment to all the sweet fruits in my Es Teler.
- durian … the stinky fruit I love! What looks like a spiky football, smells like an open sewer, and tastes like pineapple and strawberries in cream? It’s DURIAN! … the creamy yellow globs stretching from 4-6:00 in my bowl I’m not stretching the truth when I say I get strange looks when I order it in Asian restaurants. In fact, I often have to repeat myself when I do … because most Asian waiters/waitresses are just shocked that someone like me–middle-aged and obviously American–actually likes it. Half the time, I firmly believe that they think I don’t know what I’m ordering … so they’re trying to save me from myself when they question me. But I know what I’m ordering … and I love it, even though–when I eat it in the car/around my husband–I have to open the window to keep him from gagging
- crushed ice … that should be obvious
- cocopandan syrup: a favorite Asian concoction, made by combining the flavor of coconut with the flavor of pandan–aka: Screw Pine or Pandanus trees–whose leaves are often used as a flavoring in Asian cuisine.
I know–what a bizzare mix of flavors and textures–but it was actually pretty nice when I dug into it! It was really cold/fresh tasting, thanks to the crushed ice and all that fresh fruit. I could see it being the perfect dessert for a hot Summer day. The cocopandan syrup is MASSIVELY SWEET … which surprised me, given its Asian roots. However–once I stirred it into all the milk–it helped mellow that aspect of the dessert out a little more … while it dyed the whole thing a pretty pink.
Final score: Indo Café was a bit of a mixed bag for us. We liked some of the dishes we tried, but didn’t necessarily like others. Note: that’s not because Indo Café isn’t “good Indonesian food.” Even though we didn’t necessarily like everything we ordered, we felt like–nonetheless–we got an authentic Indonesian dining experience. That earns bonus points in our book … because it’s like my husband and I always say … we don’t want to try the “neutered for the American palate” version of a new cuisine! We’d much rather try the actual, authentic version of the cuisine … so we can know if we either like it … or don’t like it … based strictly on the merits of the cuisine itself. Given that there were probably 20 diners in the place for dinner–at 5:30–and that more than 80% of them were Indonesian or Asian of some variety … I’d say it’s safe to bet that their food is fairly authentic, and prepared in such a way that native eaters of Indonesian food enjoy it.
For us personally, we’ll give them a solid B