I went to Indonesia Restaurant and Borobudur, both Indonesian restaurants on Post St. on two consecutive nights a few week ago. These were my first times trying Indonesian food in years and years, so I figured I'd write up my observations. If you want the summary of the reviews, just read the first paragraph under Indonesia Restaurant and the second under Borobudur.
Are there any dishes I should've tried that I missed?
And are there any other Indonesian places I should try? Batavia Gardens (from a recent chowdown) is on my list (link below). All the others I know of in the city are in the Richmond district, and none of them have gotten good reviews from this board (though those discussions come from 2004).
[this paragraph is the SUMMARY of this review]
At Indonesia Restaurant, a very empty restaurant at the edge of the tenderloin in San Francisco, we ordered a wide assortment of dishes (from the menu option that provides a sampling of the restaurant's wares). All of them were okay but two really stood out. If we went back we wouldn't order the sampling menu again but rather go for the particular dishes we know are good. A large fraction of the dishes used the same good-quality peanut sauce, but we can't call a dish good just because they added peanut sauce to it. Here's low-down of each dish (in the order of arrival) so you know what to order and what to skip:
* Krupuk Udang. "Shrimp crackers." Funky salty potato-chip-shaped items tasting vaguely like shrimp. Okay. The peanut sauce first makes its appearance as a dipping sauce and its (high) quality is remarked upon.
* Emping. Although the waiter described them as "bean crackers," the menu claims they are made from melinjo, a kind of nut. These were much like the others but instead of tasting like shrimp tasted a bit bitter. We thought both these types of crackers were okay but I think we believed the tastes in both of them weren't quite right for our palates. These were also supposed to be dipped in the peanut sauce.
* Pangsit Kuah. A soup of meat and won-tons and greens. Fairly unexciting.
* Otak-Otak Panggang. Fish cake, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled, (similar to a tamale). We didn't find the texture of the fish cake appealing, and I was slightly disturbed by the fact that they stapled the banana leaf shut.
* Lumpia Semarang. Quite large egg rolls stuffed with chicken, tofu, carrots, bamboo shoots, and green onion. Decent, though fairly greasy. (Greasy enough that one person couldn't finish his.) Also served with the peanut sauce.
* Gado-gado. A salad of green beans, lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, and more shrimp crackers, dowsed with lots of the ever-present peanut sauce. While the sauce was good by now we were sick of it. And this had way too much to even make it pleasant to eat. Nor were the vegetables particularly good quality.
* Sate Ayam. (Satay.) Grilled marinated chicken skewers, coated with a sauce that, while it had a hint of peanuts, was a different taste than the peanut sauces from before. (Well, either that or we had grown used to it.) Although the chicken had not much flavor on its own, with the sauce the dish was fairly decent.
* Ayam Kalasan. Very good. "Java style" chicken: chicken coated with a spice mixture that made it look so dark we thought it was beef until we cut into it. The spice mixture (marinate?) had permeated the chicken so much so that most of the meat inside was quite dark. I don't know how to describe the dish. The web describes it as Indonesian fried chicken but I don't think that's quite apt. I'm tempted to say I thought ginger-garlic-soy sauce mixture when I tasted it, but that doesn't seem right given the ingredients in the recipes I saw for it on the web. Who knows. But in any case, definitely heads above the other dishes.
* Rendang. A beef dish, reminding me of brisket with a sauce that seemed to combine tomatoes and red curry. Also very good and heads above the other dishes.
* Kari Udang & Telor. Shrimp and potato chunks in a thin and weak yellow curry-ish soup-sauce. Decent.
We also had rice, but it only seemed really appropriate for the last curry dish (because of the amount of liquid in it).
The meal ended with good creamy coconut ice cream topped with tiny jello pieces.
As you can guess from the number of items, I got to take home lots of leftovers. Sadly but unsurprisingly the two best dishes entirely disappeared during dinner.
The only other thing I want to note about this restaurant is the slightly confused waiter who couldn't figure out how to put down plates of food on his own. Even if there was space on the table, he looked at us until we either took the dishes or pushed around the dishes on the table to make the empty space appear at a different place on the table.
Total for the tasting was $30/person (including tax and tip) because it required them cooking so many different items; the regular menu is much cheaper: most entrees only cost eight dollars. The restaurant can easily provide a satisfying meal for $15/person sharing regularly ordered entrees and appetizers.
This restaurant review needs some context. The day after some friends of mine and I at Indonesia Restaurant I went to put on my glasses to see the projection screen at a lecture but found I didn't have them. Thinking back, the last time I remember having them is when I put them on the table at Indonesia Restaurant the previous night. I called Indonesia Restaurant and it still had them. After much internal debate about how soon I needed them -I generally don't wear them- I decided I still might as well go into the city that day and pick them up. And doing so was a good excuse to stop by the Indonesian restaurant half a block up the street and see how it compared. So out into the rain I ventured...
[this paragraph is the SUMMARY of this review]
Borobudur was unarguably better than Indonesia Restaurant (IR). While the food did have a similar number of dishes with peanut-based sauces, the sauces generally did have different spices as highlights, producing dishes that were more individually distinctive than at IR. Most of the dishes at Borobudur were better than the ones served at IR, although I think the best two dishes at IR were better than anything at Borobudur. (It is hard to judge, however, because they might just have seemed so good by contrast with the rest of IR's simply okay dishes.) In short, if I returned to Borobudur I'd be happy ordering the large collection of dishes again, but if I returned to IR I'd pick a set that's mostly different.
In addition, Borobudur had a nicer, more upscale decor. It also decorated its dishes more than IR, placing a daisy (with red or yellow petals and a yellow center) and parsley on many dishes.
But there are some ways in which the restaurants are similar. The prices are comparable. They both have friendly wait staff. And, at each restaurant, while I was eating dinner a bum entered the restaurant to ask for change (before being chased away by the staff). That's the tenderloin for you.
At Borobudur I ordered the rijsttafel, a many choice dinner offered at many Indonesian restaurants and an analogous meal to what we ordered at IR. Again, it was an absurd amount of food as you will see. Here are the details on the particular items (in arrival order) and how each stood up by itself and against its counterpart at IR:
* Lumpia Semarang. Spring rolls. Similar contents as IR's (carrots, chicken, tofu) but a more normal size and less greasy. Decent. Served with peanut sauce.
* Peanut sauce. Borobudur's basic peanut sauce, like IR's, is pretty good, though I think I have a minor preference to IR's for a some taste reason I can't well articulate. Incidentally, Borobudur's sauce is a bit chunkier.
* Gado Gado. Salad of steamed vegetables, spinach, tofu, and chips with a little peanut sauce. IR's version of this dish was overwhelmed by peanut sauce; this one was a nice milder mixture in which the flavors balanced. The vegetables also seemed fresher here, but that might simply be because I could taste them.
* Chips. By chips in the last entry, I mean some kind of cracker. It wasn't obvious to me what type these were -IR has shrimp and bean- but these crackers were milder in flavor than either kind served at IR. I therefore liked them a little more because I wasn't thrilled with the flavors at IR.
* Soto Ayam. Soup, very redolent of lemongrass, of boiled egg, shredded chicken, bean sprouts, potatoes, and noodles. Decent.
Then came an impressive platter bearing six dishes:
* Chicken Satay (skewers). Good. The chicken had been marinated and was quite tasty. Had a minor hint of ash (from charcoal?). Served with peanut sauce but the peanut sauce was unnecessary and I ignored it. (Contrast with IR's chicken satay in which the the chicken didn't have much flavor on its own and needed the peanut sauce.)
* Kari Udang. Thin mild yellow curry with shrimp, red peppers, baby corn, carrots, and zucchini. Aside from the selection of vegetables -I preferred these vegetables more- the dish here and the one at IR were identical in texture and flavor. (Both were decent.)
* Rendang. Similar to IR's, a brisket in a spicy brown sauce that seemed to combine tomatoes and red curry. But we really liked IR's rendition of this dish; Borobudur's wasn't as great: the spices weren't quite as on nor had the interior of the meat hadn't soaked up as much flavor. All the same, this was still a good dish.
* Tahu Goreng? Oseng Tahu Tempe? (I'm trying to guess from the menu descriptions.) Tofu strips in a spicy sauce. Decent, but I definitely had to take some of this home because it was too strong to finish all at once.
* Tahu Balado. Slab of fried tofu with a chunky spicy tomato sauce. Pretty good. When I had someone else try the leftover, the sauce was identified as a likely mixture of diced or crushed tomatoes and an asian hot chili garlic sauce.
* Sambal Goreng Danang (?) (This is a stretch; I'm trying to guess from the menu descriptions.) Short ribs with meat that fell off the bone, served in a red curry like sauce with a tang to it (which might be from peanuts?). Very good. Make me think of the Indonesian equivalent to barbecue.
* Vanilla ice cream (to end the meal with). Good quality.
After the meal I took my leftovers -five small boxes worth- and headed home. Asking the waitress, she said no one has ever finished the rijsttafel in one sitting.
Incidentally, the waiter at Indonesia Restaurant had treated my glasses quite nicely when I stopped by to pick them up, having placed them in a safe place wrapped in a handkerchief.