Restaurants & Bars 7

Bamboo Village

Janet A. Zimmerman | Jul 31, 2002 06:14 PM

This small restaurant on Geary used to be called Java; it very recently changed hands. We'd read on Chowhound that when it changed hands it became "gringo-ized," so the four of us who met there for dinner weren't quite sure what to expect.

Since none of us was very familiar with Indonesian food, we asked our waitress (who was very friendly and helpful) what the specialties were. At her suggestion we ordered one of the appetizers, Empek-empek Palembang, described as a deep fried fish cake filled with egg in spicy vinegar sauce. This turned out to be a REALLY dense, practically solid fish paste of some sort wrapped around hard cooked eggs, then dipped in a batter and fried. It was sitting atop a bed of cellophane noodles and covered with a sauce that was at once sweet, sour and hot. The flavor of the sauce reminded us of a sweet thai chile sauce mixed with lots of vinegar. I think maybe it was the vinegar that made the heat from the chiles so, well, penetrating; the heat tended to sneak up on us. We all decided that the thinner edges with a higher crisp-crust-to-dense-interior ratio was what we preferred. The sauce, later on, helped several of the other dishes that lacked a bit in pungency.

The fish in banana leaves (Ikan Pepes) was very good: tender, moist and flaky with lots of spice, but not much heat. The outside of the fairly small filet was covered with a yellow curry-like spice mixture that had turned a bit spongy, but the flavor was good.

A noodle dish (Mie Tek-tek) which was billed as “spicy” ended up being very similar to Pad Thai – good, but not spicy. This is where the sauce from the appetizer came in handy, as did a dish of chili sauce the waitress brought. Given the heat of the appetizer and the spice of the fish, we were surprised at the blandness of this dish.

Our vegetable dish was also quite bland, although the ingredients were fresh and nicely cooked. Krangkung Hot Plate turned out to be water spinach, shrimp and squid, chunks of chicken and a few hard cooked quail eggs in a very mild broth. Again, the chile sauce helped spark the flavor of this dish.

The fruit drinks were..interesting. The "assorted fruit ice drink" (Es Buah) included a variety of fruits, a few red beans and some cubes of what looked like black jello. It smelled like overripe tropical fruit – an acquired taste, perhaps. The “Es Cendol” – Tapioca ice drink with jackfruit, coconut milk and brown sugar – was filled with small bright green tapioca threads. Most of those two drinks stayed in the glasses, although the patrons at the table next to us (Caucasians, two of whom were children) seemed to be drinking theirs with gusto. I was glad to have ordered a beer.

So, the concensus? As I said, none of us had much experience with Indonesian food, so it's difficult to say whether it was "authentic." The ingredients were fresh, the presentation good, the flavors nice if unexpectedly bland in some cases. "Gringo-ized?" Don't know -- our dishes certainly did not seem to be designed to appeal to the typical American palate, but maybe having asked the waitress for suggestions, we picked the most authentic of the menu.

The prices were reasonable ($15 each for four of us, including tip) and the food was intriguing enough to warrant a return trip. No fruit drinks for me, though.

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