Never tried Indonesian cuisine? Let Indo Café be your guide
Special to The Seattle Times
Hard by the Olive Gardens and California Pizza Kitchens that so clog arterials in the Northgate neighborhood, Indo Café stands out as a little gem of authenticity and polish — its surfaces sleek and sophisticated, its service assured and deeply hospitable.
Three tatami rooms remain from the place's previous incarnation as a Japanese restaurant — but not to worry, purists, for Indonesia has them, too.
Indeed, as an ancient crossroads for innumerable cultures, Indonesia has incorporated a little of a lot of places into its culinary heritage — from the gloriously complex sweet-hot-spicy-sour flavor juxtapositions that fire most Southeast Asian cuisines to the kebabs of the Middle East, the peanuts and chilies of the Americas and the curries of India.
Until now, Seattleites have not had many restaurants in which to enjoy the sambals (hot chili relishes) and nasi (rice) plates of the Indonesian archipelago — one delicious exception being the late Java Restaurant on Roosevelt — which adds to the delight one feels at finding Indo Café. It's a legitimately exotic restaurant in a city brimming with jaded palates.
Present that palate with rawon ($6.50), a beef soup made with Indonesian keluwek nuts; or a stir-fry of kangkung (an Indonesian vegetable) in a spicy shrimp paste called balacan ($9.95) — and it may not be so jaded anymore.
For the less adventuresome, there are the more familiar satays ($6.95-$10.94) and pan-fried noodle dishes ($6.95). The menu also features appetizers; soups; main poultry, beef and pork dishes; and a grand selection of the syrupy ices and fruity confections one encounters throughout the tropics.
This diner's sole disappointments? No beer — yet (the license is pending). And only three fish entrees to choose from, off a menu that otherwise beautifully captures the unique piquancies and culinary seductions of this compelling island nation.
Chicken Satay: A dish so ubiquitous it's been spied on the menus of airport bars in Kansas, Indo Café's version sets the standard — and it ain't Kansan. Five skewers are loaded with juicy, charry chicken, grilled flawlessly and draped in a lush bi-color sauce against a large cabbage leaf. Beautiful, delectable. The sauces — peanut and sweet soybean — worked off each other wonderfully, with not a little combustion.
Nasi Gudeg: So beige a plate has never tasted so colorful. Two joints of tender chicken arrived alongside a large serving of fragrant rice and another of the moist jackfruit's starchy pulp in a silken curry sauce. An extra bowl of sauce with a boiled egg arrived for punctuation, underscoring the Indonesian penchant for multiple elements upon a single plate.
Bakmie Goreng Jawa: Not to be confused with Kweetiau Goreng, or Indonesian-style spicy pan-fried rice noodles, this is the Javanese version, featuring round egg noodles — and doing altogether right by them, I might add. Tossed up with plenty of sprouts, onions and pork, this dish reached astonishing savory depths along with broad hints of sweetness.
Es Kelapa Muda: This drink was cloying and syrupy, the very color of Pepto Bismol, flecked with coconut and packed with ice. It won't be to everyone's taste — as it wasn't, I admit, to mine — but I could see it being refreshing under an Indonesian sun.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Chicken Satay $6.95
Nasi Gudeg $6.95
Bakmie Goreng Jawa $6.95
Es Kelapa Muda $3.00
Total $25.94Kathryn Robinson: email@example.com
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