1029 Race St.
Credit cards accepted
Open daily for lunch and dinner
It is somewhat comforting to partake of a meal whose roots date back more than 300 years. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Dutch conquered and populated Indonesia, a group of 13,000 islands in the Indian Ocean. Although the Chinese, Portuguese, Indians and British also ruled these islands from time to time, the Dutch created the "rijsttafel" (pronounced RIHS-tah-fuhl), which is Dutch for "rice table."
The rijsttafel is most unique. Numerous side dishes of meat, fish, chicken and vegetables, all properly spiced and seasoned, are served with hot steamed rice. Appetizers such as satay — Indonesia’s most famous snack food — and bowls of soup often serve as a prelude to the rijsttafel.
Edward and I enjoyed a delightful rijsttafel at Indonesia Restaurant in Chinatown. The courteous staff is quite helpful in explaining the course of the meal. We enjoyed 10 dishes at $25 per person. The lunch rijsttafel is $15 per person. Indonesia Restaurant has a large à la carte menu as well.
We settled into a roomy table where saffron-yellow cloth napkins added a bit of color. Beer drinks well with spiced foods and a glass of Chinese beer was in order.
We began our culinary journey to Indonesia with an appetizer of bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and delicately dried shrimp mixed with tofu. Our waiter brought us "kerupuk udang" — light, crispy fried-shrimp crackers that were downright delicious. I munched on them throughout dinner. It was a chilly night and large bowls of beef soup warmed us. The beef broth was rich and homemade, brimming with tender chunks of seasoned meat.
Our waiter brought us dinner plates with a large mound of perfectly steamed rice in the center of each. He also set a large platter before us. The platter contained individual sections that were filled with a specific dish. It reminded me of a lazy Susan that didn’t turn. Our waiter explained each dish, taking care to tell us the spices that had been used.
First up was a mix of shrimp with carrots and fried squares of tofu. It was served with a "sambal," a condiment made with chili sauce, brown sugar and salt. Indonesians love all sorts of condiments and a sambal can be made with any number of ingredients. You can find jars of it in Asian markets. Crabmeat dressed in a sweet and sour sauce was in another compartment. "Rendang sapi" consisted of chunks of grilled beef enhanced by a spice rub with a bit of pepper.
China’s influence on Indonesian cuisine was evident in deep-fried shrimp in black bean sauce. The shrimp were medium in size but nicely fried and free of grease. The Chinese would not deep-fry the shrimp in a black bean sauce dish, but Indonesians like the contrast of textures here. The beans were not overcooked.
Another fried dish was chunks of chicken breast served in a chili sauce with sweet red bell peppers. Edward and I found the chicken a bit dry and overcooked.
Satay is one of my favorite Indonesian foods. It consists of pieces of beef, lamb, chicken, shrimp, vegetables — just about any ingredient — that are threaded on skewers, grilled and served with a classic peanut dipping sauce. We received one satay and it was prepared with a steamed clam. I thought it odd, as I have never seen a clam satay. At lunch, you receive a pork satay and a chicken satay when ordering the rijstaffel.
Two desserts come with the rijstaffel dinner. "Spekkoek" is an Indonesian layer cake. It was made with super-thin layers of sponge cake and covered with rich chocolate icing.
Our waiter then brought us a surprise. He placed two banana splits before us. How did he know Edward adores a banana split? Don’t know, but it made us smile. "Indonesians love ice cream," the waiter explained. Bananas are grown all over the islands, and even fried for dessert.
Service was excellent. Our waiter served and cleared with ease and answered all our questions. Prices are very moderate and portions good-sized.
This was just the second time I have sampled Indonesian cuisine. Edward and I first tasted it more than 15 years ago when we were guests at a rijstaffel at the now-shuttered Bogart’s.
Our recent dinner has compelled me to do more research on Indonesian cuisine. The contrast of tastes in the condiments and sauces used in different dishes is unique. Spicy, peppery, sweet and sour flavors are used in any number of foods. I’d like to assemble a group of friends and sample the à la carte menu. A number of the dishes piqued my palate and my curiosity.
To view the menu, visit the Web site at www.indonesiarestaurant.com.
Two tips of the toque to Indonesia Restaurant.