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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Stranger in a strange land

Dec. 26 (Jeju Weekly) When graduate student Iskandar Makhmudov arrived at Jeju National University in February 2008, it was to begin his first long stint of living away from his home country of Uzbekistan.

“It was not so easy at the beginning,” he said, to come to a new country where he needed to cope with language and cultural difficulties while also undertaking an intensive course of study in renewable energy technologies.

“There were many cultural events at the university for Korean students,” he said, “they’re organized, they’re very active. But the situation with foreign students was vice versa. Definitely, foreign students could also join but there was no information about how to join.”

Makhmudov could have simply accepted the situation as it was, but instead took it upon himself to unite the existing small informal groups of foreign students under the banner of the Jeju National University International Students Organization, or JISO ( Founded in March of this year, JISO’s mission is twofold: “to promote the well being of international students” at JNU and to support “interaction and under-standing between international students at Jeju National University and the people of Jeju, Korea.”

The organization has around 15 active members, Makhmudov said, from Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, France, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Uzbekistan. There are a further 250 foreigners on a mailing list, the majority of whom are from China. JISO has hosted about 12 events so far this year, including its members working as volunteer guides for a trip to Jeju Dinosaur Park with a local orphanage, and joined members of the Korean Graduate Students Association to walk an olle trail. The group also has an early New Year’s party planned on Dec. 23 before most students go home for the end of year break.

Makhmudov said that for his first few months on Jeju, it was difficult to overcome his feelings of homesickness, which were amplified by the language barrier and cultural difficulties.

“When someone comes to another country, usually they first try to find their country members or some other close social group. In my case my communication with people during that time was very limited. But after some time at Jeju National University and on the island, I met many nice people who helped me to adapt to my new place for two years.”

In his role as foreign students’ representative, Makhmudov described existing social problems he identified at the university.

“One example is the registration system for courses and other administrative services, which are all in Korean. It creates some difficulties for international students with a low level of language proficiency.” An added problem for students from Islamic countries is the lack of a mosque on the island or even a prayer room at the university. “In addition, the University canteen menu is not always compatible or acceptable for them.”

Such problems are not specific to Jeju National University but found at most universities across Korea, he said. However, it can simply be a matter of mutual intercultural understanding to find a compromise, and he has found this with his fellow graduate students.

“When going out with a group of lab mates,” Makhmudov said, “they already know that this person doesn’t drink, this person doesn’t eat pork.”

He said the university tries to help, for example by supporting students with health insurance refunds and holding events for students during the year, but international students would like to see more concrete decisions aimed at improving their social life from the university administration.

Makhmudov has enjoyed his time in Jeju, which is scheduled to end in February.
“Korean life has taught me to be more independent -- I grew up a lot during this period,” he said. “I can say that if to compare before and after, my viewpoint to the same things also changed extremely. This experience made me confident in my ambitions and I strongly believe it will be useful in my further endeavors.”

He believes JISO will continue to grow and that the organization will make life easier and more enjoyable for international students in their temporary home.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Environmental Warriors

Dec. 16 (Jeju Weekly)
It is a somewhat ironic critique of our current age that in seeking peace and serenity, Park Bum Joon and his wife, Jang Gilyeon, became unwilling media stars. The couple was the focus of a 2005 KBS documentary, “My Life Couldn’t Be Better,” which showed their simple farming life in the mountainous village of Muju.

The resulting attention drove the pair from their mountain retreat but has ended happily, with them finding a spiritual and material home on Jeju. They are now giving back to their adopted hometown by opening the Baramdo Library in Waheulri near Geomunoreum, and Park has recently published a book on Jeju’s UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites. He also writes a column for the Kyunghyang daily newspaper about environmentally conscious lifestyles and is planning another book on life on Jeju.

The KBS documentary, part of the “Human Theater” series, was screened five separate times and brought the couple a throng of visitors. “The TV [program] made a lot of change for our lives,” Park said from his Waheulri home. "Because, you know, Korea is a small country and the mountain in Muju is isolated, but people from Seoul could come to my house in three or four hour’s drive. So our small house in the mountain got crowded.

“The house was very small and uncomfortable but we were happy because there was no one else around there. But 40 or 50 people every day came to see us. I feel we were kicked out.”

Seeking a home where they could again enjoy their solitude, Park and Jang visited Jeju in November 2006 and found the house to which they moved a month later. “When we met this house,” Park said, “we felt it was ready for our dream of a small library and a guesthouse.” The island has an added advantage also. “Jeju Island has a barrier from the mainland,” he said. “Most of the people in Korea live around Seoul, like half the population, so the sea is a great barrier for us.”

Surprisingly, Park was initially very much a driven city-dweller, having started a venture company in wireless Internet services after his graduation from Seoul National University. “I quit it in a day,” he said. "I went to the mountain with my wife and I started to work for an NGO and I started writing and I longed to farm.”

He said it wasn’t easy to explain why he changed, but a holiday in Mongolia where he lived in a ger - the small traditional Mongolian tent - with a wooden stove contributed to his environmental awakening. “It was my first time to see the horizon,” he said. “I was impressed that there could be another kind of life other than working on a computer 12 hours a day, seven days a week.”

He had also just met his now-wife, whom he described as “prepared for an environmental life.” Jang, a slight, beautiful woman who radiates calm, had spent three months in a Buddhist temple when she was younger and found it inspirational. In addition to the Baramdo Library, which is the smallest official library in Korea, the couple’s home boasts the dreamed-of guest-home and a garden where they grow herbs and a variety of vegetables, including pumpkins and peppers.

Park said when people ask if they will stay on Jeju the rest of their lives, “My answer is always, ‘I don’t know.’ But I believe if I go out to the mainland or other centers for a couple of years, I will be back to Jeju. I feel like it is my hometown.”

Having found that hometown, Park is concerned with helping it retain the essence that attracted him and his wife here, and his last environmental column was on a cable car system proposed for Biyangdo, an islet off Hyeopjae Beach. “I believe that Jeju Island has to have a philosophy that is slow and sure,” he said. “Many people from the mainland say that they have found a cure on Jeju Island. When they walk along the seashore, it’s a very unfamiliar experience for them, just like when I was in Mongolia. They can find something in themselves.

“I think this is the most important value of this island for Korean people. Cable cars or big casinos or big spas, that can be somewhere else - that’s not for Jeju.” He said that a 60-story building planned for Jeju City - “They say it will be the landmark of Jeju Island” - was also a poor match for the island. “Some people just want that kind of thing because we don’t have it here and I think there’s something wrong [with that],” he said.

“If we feel the good things we have and we don’t envy the things we don’t have, it will be a very peaceful place.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book Review: Papaya Flower, by Petty Elliott

Nov. 12 (Jakarta Globe) Having both edited and read Petty Elliott’s weekly Food Talk column for the Jakarta Globe over the past four months, I curiously awaited the release in early November of her first book, “Papaya Flower, Manadonese Cuisine, Provincial Indonesian Food.” And, for the most part, I am highly impressed by the result.

At first glance, this is a stunning piece of work that would tastefully grace any discerning owner’s coffee table. The cover shot of delicate papaya flowers nestled in a white Chinese spoon on a palm-leaf background is beautifully arranged, photographed and reproduced, as are all the images inside.

Elliott, who is based in Jakarta, has taught cooking for 10 years and written about food for magazines and newspapers for more than five.

The book is a collaboration with photographer Melbourne, also from Jakarta, and every one of his many pictures, whether of scenery, raw ingredients or finished dishes, is a delight. The book is well-designed and beautifully laid out, and the glossy paper it is printed on gives it an elegant and expensive sheen.

But “Papaya Flower” is more than just a pretty picture book and Elliott has presented a range of dishes to tempt the home cook, even one with no prior knowledge of Indonesian cuisine. The recipes are presented simply and most are easy to follow, bracketed with an introduction and ingredients section at the beginning and a history of Manado and a photo-essay tour of Minahasa to end.

The ingredients section is especially useful for those new to Manadonese and other Indonesian recipes and presents 50 common components, together with photographs, their names in English, Indonesian and Manadonese, their essential qualities and similar products or alternatives if the precise item is not readily available.

Elliott also gives possible replacements and additions in many of her recipes. The recipes cover breakfast, starters, fish, poultry, meat and vegetable dishes, in addition to noodle and rice options, desserts, cookies and drinks. I particularly look forward to making some of the spicy salads and curry dishes .

The instructions are clear and tempt the reader both in the reading and the viewing of the companion photos. My only quibble would be that one or two recipes would benefit from clearer cooking times.

An instruction to “Cook the paste until fragrant” is of little use to someone attempting a dish for the first time, particularly when the ingredients are crushed (or blended) chillies, shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric and galangal — all of which I consider fragrant, even without the addition of heat.

Another recipe for roast tenderloin beef gives a cooking time for medium, but no times for those who prefer their beef rare or well-done. While this is no problem for anyone who cooks steak regularly, it isn’t of much help to the aspiring home cook. But those are minor criticisms, and rare cases.

Where the book does itself a huge disservice, however, is in the poor standard of proofreading before it was printed, if indeed it was proofread at all.

I admit that, as an editor by profession, print errors are more obvious to me than to many readers, but when a short recipe for mango juice contains at least six mistakes, I feel justified in saying it is sloppy work. Unfortunately, although this is the worst single example, the book is sprinkled throughout with misspellings, missed words and use of the wrong homonym (peal instead of peel, for instance).

This is disappointing as the standard of the book’s images and content is of such high caliber that it hurts to see it let down by inattention to detail in the language.

I will definitely attempt many of these recipes, especially after I leave Indonesia, and will delight in showing Melbourne’s stunning photographs to friends overseas. And I would have happily bought copies to send overseas as gifts too, if not for those errors that could have been all too easily caught before printing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Puncak Pass, Nov. 31, 2009

Just a few shots of a hike through Puncak Pass with Java Lavato remind me that there IS fresh air not too far from Jakarta! Unfortunately you have to deal with the city's abominable traffic to get there and back - the trip there took only 90 minutes because it was 0430, but coming back in the
afternoon took more than four hours.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Restaurant Review: Sabrosa, Jakarta

Oct. 22 (Jakarta Globe) As someone who has spent my life around restaurant kitchens, I can’t help but be enthused when I meet chefs who are truly passionate about food. Abdul Halim Hafiz, head chef at the recently opened Sabrosa, fits that bill.

First, some quick background on the restaurant itself. Sabrosa only started serving customers at the end of September and is still in its soft opening phase as Abdul finalizes suppliers and his menu. The restaurant is owned by Aprilia Djojorahardjo, Lisa Tumbelaka and Lonny R Mahendra, all of whom are newcomers to the hospitality trade. They know what they want though and, with the help of Abdul and experienced restaurant manager Agus Permana S, look likely to succeed in their venture.

The decor is modern/elegant, with soft lighting, inconspicuous abstract paintings and pots of white orchids throughout the room. The mocktails we sampled were delicious so I expect the cocktails will be also, and the preliminary wine list features offerings from around the world. Add to that an attentive and knowledgeable staff, and I can easily see Sabrosa becoming the next place to see and be seen by Jakarta’s beautiful people.

But all of that pales beside the true star of the show — Abdul’s food! I was delighted to see a selection of tapas on the menu and my colleague Lisa and I ordered three to begin — garlic chicken, mushroom with garlic and seafood croquette. Tapas are Spanish-style nibbles and each was merely a few bites, but what delicious bites they were, with delicate details that were truly impressive. Tiny mushroom caps were filled with garlic pesto and topped with roasted cherry tomatoes, each set off with a tiny deep-fried mint leaf. Fine strips of chicken breast were wrapped about slivers of zucchini and fresh thyme with slices of roast garlic alongside, and a seafood-filled potato croquet was served beside a barely cooked piece of salmon atop a shelled shrimp.

We decided to share a main and chose the grilled fillet of Norwegian salmon with crispy skin. To accompany the dish, we were offered a choice of fried or roast potato and salad or steamed vegetables. The salmon was served on a bed of potato mash with al dente asparagus spears, roast garlic cloves (Abdul, like myself, seems to be a fan of the pungent bulb) and a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar and oil. We had chosen roast potato, which came as a rosti-style cake of interwoven potato strips, and a salad of assorted baby leaves. The fish was perfectly cooked and the simple presentation allowed each individual flavor to be appreciated in its entirety.

Lisa suggested sharing a creme brulee for dessert, a suggestion I resisted until told by a staff member that Sabrosa’s brulee was well worth sampling. I usually avoid this most cliched of ’70s-style sweets, but Abdul’s dessert was indeed a unique twist. Rather than the usual ramekin of custard topped with caramelized sugar, we were served a bowl with the custard resting in a red berry coulis, topped with a latticework of spun sugar and a scoop of refreshing strawberry sorbet.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Abdul studied and trained in Jakarta, although he has since worked in Jeddah, Bahrain and on an exclusive private island in the Seychelles. Jakarta diners should be pleased he has returned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Restaurant Review: Royal Kitchen, Bellagio Mall, Jakarta

Oct. 15 (Jakarta Globe) I’ve found that a good standard for judging the quality of any ethnic restaurant is to be aware of how many diners of that ethnicity frequent the establishment. If the Chinese restaurant you’ve chosen has no Chinese diners, it’s probably best to go elsewhere for your dim sum fix. With that in mind, I was pleased that every table except mine at The Royal Kitchen Indian Restaurant & Bar was primarily, if not totally, occupied by Indian diners.

I was not surprised, however, as the first signs we were in for an authentic Indian repast came when my friend John and I arrived at the restaurant. We were shown into the room past a small shrine featuring a statue of Ganesha — the Hindu elephant-headed god — and bearing sweet-smelling incense and offerings. The ambience continued in the dining room where soft lighting and mellow Indian music set off silver settings on embroidered cloths atop comfortable dark wooden furniture.

We started our meal with tandoori grilled chicken drumsticks, tender enough that the meat fell from the bone and complemented perfectly by the creamy mint sauce our attentive waiters brought to the table. We followed that with Mutton Rogan Josh, as well as a dish of fresh mushroom and chopped spinach flavored with garlic called Khumb Aur Kachi Mirch Ka Masala, dhal and a selection of breads and steamed basmati rice.

Many Western diners prefer lamb to mutton, but my Indian friends who cook taught me long ago that mutton, or even goat, is a much tastier option, providing it is given slow cooking time to make it tender. Restaurant owner Deepak Malik told us the Rogan Josh was simmered for at least four hours, which resulted in soft, succulent cubes of meat in the thick, rich tomato and onion gravy. The naan, with plenty of garlic and fresh parsley baked in, was the ideal accompaniment to scoop up the gravy and light, fluffy Basmati rice. The vegetable dish was also excellent, with thick pieces of mushroom blending well with the chopped spinach and spices.

Although the silver dishes didn’t look to hold a lot when brought to the table, there was more than ample food and it was all we could manage to share a Matka Kulfi for dessert — a homemade ice cream flavored with saffron and pistachio. Served in a tiny clay pot, it had a sweet saffron overtaste and a faint flavor and texture of pistachio. The delightful presentation continued with our coffees, which our waitress poured from silver cup to dish and back again to mix the coffee and sweetener before we drank. The small cup of sweet coffee rounded out our meal well.

The Royal Kitchen also serves a Chinese menu, but I would definitely recommend going with the Indian specialties. The restaurant serves a lunch buffet Monday through Thursday for only Rp 55,000 a head, plus tax and service, or a corporate brunch on Friday and Sunday brunch for Rp 65,000 plus, plus. A second Royal Kitchen also opened recently in Balikpapan.

The Royal Kitchen Indian Restaurant & Bar
Bellagio Boutique Mall, ground floor
16 Jl. Kawasan
Mega Kuningan Barat Kav. 3-5
South Jakarta
Tel. 021 3002-9975

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: Jakarta Inside Out, by Daniel Ziv

Oct. 12 (Jakarta Globe) In his introduction to “Jakarta Inside Out,” author Daniel Ziv writes that he dreamt up the book as “a love letter” to the city he has “been proud to call home for nearly a decade.” It reads as a letter to a longstanding love — not the naive, starry-eyed infatuation one feels for a new amour but the warts-and-all, love-you-despite-your-faults (and sometimes because of them) type of love.

As a resident of Jakarta for a little over a year myself, Ziv’s book made me reassess this capricious city with a more tolerant eye. He sugarcoats little, makes fun of much and brilliantly illustrates the contradictions one constantly finds here with the many beautiful photographs contained in the book. Each picture here is worth a thousand words, if not more, from the skeletal figure of a slum dweller in the doorway of his shanty house to images of the vibrant, affluent business area and homes shown elsewhere.

Ziv, who has an MA in Southeast Asian Studies from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, writes, “Jakarta is not what you’d call a beautiful place. It’s a chaotic maze of low-lying slums, gleaming skyscrapers and imposing toll roads enveloped in a gigantic cloud of pollution and trapped in hopeless gridlock.” If the mark of true genius is that someone agrees with you, I have to proclaim Ziv a genius.

The chapters of the book are arranged alphabetically, ranging from “Asongan” to “Wartel and Warnet,” and are also cross-referenced. There are no entries for X, Y or Z obviously, and Q and V also missed the cut.

The descriptions are humorous (bajaj are “undoubtedly the cockroach of the automotive world”) and sometimes cynical (Jakarta’s banks “tend to resemble laundromats more than prudent financial institutions”), but always worth reading. I am obviously not the only person to think so as this is basically a revamped and updated fourth printing of the second edition, put out because the last printing has been out of stock for about a year.

Ziv said the layout has changed significantly in this first self-published printing, with 20 percent of the content updated or new, and 40 percent of the photos new. The book also features suggestions of the Top 10 Alternative Things to Do in Jakarta — well worth reading if you’ve fallen into a rut in your time here.

“The emphasis is basically that it’s been refreshed,” Ziv said. “It would have taken a year and a half to rewrite the whole thing.”

He does plan a complete rewrite sometime in the near future but for now needed to get the popular guide back on the shelves.

One of my favorite characterizations is in the chapter on “Bule” (foreigners). “Some bule are arrogant, bossy or patronizing,” Ziv writes. “Others are politically correct to the extreme, culturally oversensitive or just totally neurotic.”

Adrian Darmono — a friend whom Ziv describes as a “cutting-edge Indonesian designer, blogger and Certified Bule Observer” — contributes a chapter titled “You Know You’re a Bule with a Mission if You ... .” The cutting but all-too-true examples include “Rant about how Nike exploits its factory workers in Indonesia by paying them $35 a month,” closely followed by “Rave about how you can have breakfast in Indonesia for 35 cents.”

Benny and Mice, of comic strip and book fame, have contributed hilarious caricatures of types found within the community. These range from the local neighborhood thug to the society lady with her Imelda Marcos-style hair.

I took Ziv’s book with me on a visit to the United States last month and found it a great primer and starting point for those who know nothing about Jakarta. I’ve found it equally good for those of us who live here, in providing an alternate look at the city’s foibles and making its many frustrations amusing again.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Restaurant Review: Capocaccia, Pacific Place, Jakarta

Oct. 08 (Jakarta Globe) When I started reviewing restaurants for this paper, I asked many friends for recommendations, and the name Capocaccia kept coming up. Having finally sampled its food, ambience and service, I can understand why.

A colleague and I took a short stroll from our Plaza Semanggi office to Capocaccia at Pacific Place and arrived suitably hungry. The restaurant bills itself as a gourmet panini bar and I was very much looking forward to some European-style delicatessen treats.

After a busy day, we were both ready for a cocktail so ordered the Martini Assoluto for Wendy and a mojito for myself, with mineral water alongside. The martini was visually stunning, with orange, strawberries, kiwi, grapes and apple all visible in the glass, but lacked in the way of taste. My mojito, though not as pretty, was a well-mixed classic, though perhaps a little sweet (and Indonesians do seem to prefer more sweetness in food and drink).

The menu itself was full of products I constantly search the city’s stores for, not all of which I have managed to find. Buffalo mozzarella, arugula, Culatello (Parma ham), Bresaola (spiced cured beef), smoked tuna, swordfish and salmon — the list goes on. Restaurant manager Nugi Adhiat Nugraha told us almost all the products, especially the meats, were sourced from Europe.

We began with a Bresaola salad of spiced cured beef, arugula, mushroom, corn and shaved parmigiano, served with char-grilled panini. Nugi explained that the dish was intended to be eaten with the fingers and demonstrated pouring oil and balsamic vinegar on our plates first to dip the salad ingredients in. I was surprised to see corn kernels as an ingredient and wondered how easy they would be to eat by hand with any sense of delicacy, but found it easy enough to do if I used a piece of beef as a wrapper. I’m a huge fan of bread with balsamic and good olive oil anyway, so the addition of the tasty meat, cheese and vegetables added to my pleasure in this dish.

Capocaccia is best known for its sandwiches so we opted for a Caleno, with raw ham, deer milk cheese, arugula, tomato and truffle oil; and a Rosolino, with turkey breast, arugula, tomato and tartare sauce. Both were served on fresh bread rolls baked on the premises and with a satisfyingly crisp crust, and with a copious amount of the main ingredients. The cheese in the former was rich and creamy and the truffle oil gave an earthy flavor.

We were pleased to have chosen a salad to begin as bread, even when it is this good, is very filling and neither of us had room left for dessert. Had we managed it, though, Capocaccia offers the Italian classics of Panna Cotta, Tiramisu and Tartalino, along with fresh fruit salad, with or without ice cream.

The interior of the restaurant has two levels with a long and well-stocked bar on the ground floor, in addition to tables outdoors for those who, like us, enjoy watching Jakarta’s passing parade. We dined early in the evening and the music being played was mellow jazz selections, but Capocaccia also features DJs on Wednesday and Friday nights. The kitchen closes at 11 p.m. on weekdays and at midnight on weekends but the bar stays open late.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Restaurant Review: Stammtisch at the Tavern Pub, Aryaduta Hotel Jakarta

Oct. 01 (Jakarta Globe) There’s something about being told items are forbidden that can make them all the more tempting. In this predominantly Muslim country, pork and alcohol fits the bill. To sample both, one can fly off to Hindu Bali, where roast suckling pig is a favored delicacy, or instead take a taxi to the Aryaduta Hotel Jakarta, which hosts a German stammtisch each Monday in its basement Tavern Pub.

Resident hotel manager Robert Kunz, a native of Germany, says stammtisch translates as gathering, and is a large part of Bavarian culture.

“Usually the men gather once a month on a selected day,” he said. “They gather together, they eat together, they drink together, they exchange about work, politics and fun.”

When guests are seated at the stammtisch, they are brought an ashtray with a bell attached, in addition to a selection of freshly baked pretzels. The tradition, Kunz explained, is that anyone who rings the bell is expected to buy drinks for everyone in the room. The rule is applied loosely at the Tavern, but Kunz said at many stammtische it would be treated very seriously.

Dinner was a buffet laden with heavy Germanic fare, and the humble pig featured in many guises, from roast hocks with crunchy crackling through smoked pork loin and several types of sausage. The chef will happily carve your roast for you, and the tender white meat set off by the crisp crunch of the skin is a taste I hadn’t realized I was missing until I sampled it liberally, doused with a tasty gravy. Sides of spaetzle, sauerkraut, potato and beet salads were also on offer, as were Bavarian-style beef rollmops, but pork is definitely the focus. The bread selection, another German specialty, was also excellent.

But, as good as the food is, and my friend and I ate ourselves into a hog-fed heaven (Katrin didn’t even leave room for the strudel dessert she had been rhapsodizing about since our arrival), the stammtisch is mostly about the gathering.

Beer is included in the buffet price, and regulars have their names inscribed onto their tankards. The weekly event has been going for about 20 years, Kunz said, and the tavern is the oldest German restaurant bar in the city.

“We have hard-liners who come every single night, it doesn’t matter how’s the weather, unless they are away on holidays.”

Newcomers are just as welcome as old friends, however, and we were quickly made feel at home by the regulars.

“You always meet new, interesting people,” Kunz told us. “You can make new relationships, new friends.”

The hotel chain is also hosting Oktoberfest on Thursday and Friday at the Aryaduta Hotel Jakarta, and on Saturday at the Aryaduta Hotel and Country Club Karawaci. Kunz said the ballroom would be dressed as a traditional German beer tent with a nine-piece Bavarian band flown in to play.

“There will be drinking games and telling jokes, and they’ll all be in traditional clothes,” he said.

“The people, with the music, they set up first on the beer benches, like you can see here. They will most probably start on the benches to sing and dance to the music. When the alcohol level increases, they will be on the tables, but this is all traditional like you can see on the TV.”

Tickets for Friday were sold out but still available as of Wednesday for the Thursday and Saturday events.

Tracie Barrett is a Jakarta Globe copy editor who formerly worked in restaurants.

Stammtisch At the Tavern Pub
Aryaduta Hotel Jakarta
Jl. Prapatan No. 44-48
Central Jakarta
Tel. 021 2352 1234

Monday, September 28, 2009

Paying Homage to Durga in Jakarta

Sept. 28 (Jakarta Globe) The Temple of Shiva in Pluit, West Jakarta, has been a riot of color, sound and incense for the past five days as Indians living in the Indonesian capital gathered to celebrate Durga Puja, an annual festival to honor the Hindu goddess.

The festival, which finished on Monday, is the major event in the calendar of the Jakarta Bengali Association, which celebrated its 25-year anniversary in 2008.

Association president Madhu Adya said Durga, the wife of Shiva, was invoked to protect from evil.

“In Hinduism, we say the female consort always depicts the power,” she said.

A priest from Calcutta officiated over the events, leading those gathered as they recited verses in Sanskrit. Saturday was the most important day of the festival, with the Indian ambassador to Indonesia, Viren Nanda, joining a crowd of 200 in their finest saris and tunics to pay homage to an icon of Durga.

Adya said that on the last day of the puja (worship) in India, the Durga icon would be taken to the sacred River Ganges and immersed.

“Here we take it to Ancol and immerse it in the sea,” she said, referring to a smaller clay version of the icon at the local festival.

In addition to the religious aspect, the festival had a strong cultural component with drawing and coloring contests for children as well as recitals and musical performances. Traditional dishes were also prepared by the community to be shared by guests following the worship each day.

“Back in India, you have special editions of magazines and books to celebrate the event,” Adya said.

“It’s very typical of the Eastern side of India.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Restaurant Review: Rustique, Plaza Senayan, Jakarta

Sept. 17 (Jakarta Globe) I try to avoid superlatives in reviews, but at Rustique Grill and Wine I ate what was unquestionably the best steak I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve dined at some of America’s (and Australasia’s) finest (and most expensive) steakhouses. The secret — executive chef Fany Hermawan dry-ages his own beef, hanging it in a temperature- and climate-controlled storeroom for from 18 to 40 days, depending on the particular cut. The result — beef so tender that both myself and my dining companion lay down our cutlery after our first bites, sat back and breathed “Wow!”

Such a treat on its own would bring me back regularly, but Rustique does not rest on its signature dish alone. The restaurant, which celebrated its second anniversary on Aug. 1, also offers innovative seafood dishes, inventive takes on classic dishes and truly sinful desserts.

Chef Fany’s family moved to Australia while he was still in school, and before returning to his native Indonesia he trained and worked at some of that country’s most acclaimed restaurants. The Australian influence can be seen in the fresh, innovative combinations on his menu. Joining him in the kitchen recently is Japanese chef de cuisine Shigetoshi “Gio” Uramoto who, after 10 years in San Francisco restaurants, brings his own style of Japanese-American-European fusion .

A quieter but just as important presence in Rustique is co-owner Christoph Darjanto, who has taken the lessons learned from a family of restaurateurs and created a space that is comfortable and welcoming while still impressively elegant.

My friend Lisa and I had already decided we would sample Rustique’s steak as a main course and wanted to share a seafood dish to begin, but had difficulty selecting from the interesting choices. We finally settled on a seafood salad, featuring squid, prawns, scallops and fish in a spicy dressing atop a bed of warm sauteed carrot, zucchini and yellow pepper. The julienned vegetables complemented the seafood well and we quickly cleaned the plate.

On the meat menu, either rib-eye or sirloin steak is available in various weights, or non dry-aged tenderloin or tenderloin wagyu beef. There is also a grilled meat sampler, offering Australian rib-eye and US tenderloin alongside chicken in a coconut sauce, or diners can select from prime rib, chicken breast or lamb rack.

We had come for the steak, however, so ordered a dry-aged rib-eye, medium-rare. From a choice of eight sauces and nine side dishes (including potatoes served six ways), we selected a red wine jus, a mushroom jus, sauteed spinach and sauteed mushrooms.

We completed our meal with an orange custard pudding with hot orange sauce and a dark valrhona chocolate fondant with hazelnut praline ice cream. The chocolate dessert contained a hot sauce offset perfectly by the ice cream and I was tempted to lick the plate clean.

Rustique has a warm, softly lit decor, with an open kitchen, brick walls and huge black mirrors opening out the space. The staff are attentive without being annoying, a balancing act that is not always easy to achieve. Add in an extensive wine list compiled by the head bartender, who recently placed fourth in an international sommelier competition, and there was nothing we could fault the restaurant on.

Rustique Grill and Wine
Plaza Senayan
Level P4 #413
Jl. Asia Afrika No. 8
Jakarta 10270
Tel. 021 5785 2760

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Restaurant Review: Maroush, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Jakarta

Sept. 10 (Jakarta Globe) I shared a house in Cambridge, England, with a Moroccan couple for six months and my memories of that time are of sweet mint tea, made any time guests visited and served from a silver teapot in delicate glasses, the warm smell of exotic spices and the wonderful dishes the wife made in her tagine, so tender the meat fell from the bones.

So a visit to Maroush — the Moroccan and Middle Eastern restaurant in the Crowne Plaza Hotel — was eagerly anticipated.

Walking through the metal studded doors of the restaurant, one goes from the bright marble of the hotel’s lobby to a rich, warm Mid-Eastern decor, where the aroma of spices merges with the sweet smoke from burbling shisha pipes.

The restaurant can be sectioned off using draperies and dark wooden doors and also has two private rooms available for meetings, meals or parties. The green room seats eight in an elegant setting and the more sultry red room has a stunning hand-carved table that comfortably holds 14 seated diners. I chose a round table near an exterior window with a long sofa strewn with cushions and soft enough to sink into and want to stay.

My friend was joining me there and I’d arrived a little early, so I ordered Moroccan tea while I waited and found the sweet, mint-filled beverage as good as my housemates used to make.

When Nataya arrived, we opted to begin with a mixed mezze plate, to sample a few of the cold appetizers. The metal plate arrived with the dips garnished with boiled eggs and a cucumber and tomato salad, and accompanied by pita and Turkish lava bread. The selection included hummus, a spiced eggplant dip and a salad with char-grilled peppers — all good and I especially enjoyed the eggplant laced liberally with garlic, tomato and olive oil.

We followed the mezze with a hot appetizer from the many available, selecting the fresh tuna in filo pastry. The dish combined the tuna with onion, harissa and finely chopped capers, the flavor of which permeated the filling, in a feathery paper-thin golden pastry.

Nataya doesn’t like lamb so we chose chicken as our main dish, cooked in a tagine with lemon and olives.

As I expected, the chicken was wonderfully tender and the vegetable-laden stew rich and tasty, with the saltiness of the olives undercut by the acidity of the lemon.

Maroush is also a good option for those who don’t eat meat as the menu offers many vegetarian options, from appetizers to a full page of tempting main dishes.

We rounded off our meal with a selection of pastries, including baklava — layers of filo pastry surrounding chopped pistachios sweetened with a homemade honey syrup — and filo stuffed with almonds and cream.

The baklava was too sweet for me but enjoyed by Nataya, and I happily finished the less sweet filo choice, which came lightly dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar and served on a vanilla sauce.

Chef Abderrahim Touqo also custom makes Moroccan mini pastries, cookies and other sweets, which can be ordered in advance or bought at the restaurant’s new patisserie.

Maroush has an extensive wine selection and a champagne bar featuring bubbly by the bottle, glass or in cocktails.

The shisha lounge offers 10 flavors for those who enjoy the sweet smoke, and there is also a selection of well-priced cigars, from Cuba, the Dominican Islands and Indonesia.

And for a truly authentic experience, outside of Ramadan the restaurant also features belly dancing on Friday and Saturday nights.

I plan to enjoy that, and sample the lamb, on a subsequent visit.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Restaurant Review: Dapur Babah, Jakarta

Sept. 03 (Jakarta Globe) Stepping through the doors of Dapur Babah Elite feels like stepping back in time. My friend Maria and I arrived an hour late, having battled through Jakarta’s traffic for more than two hours before she gave up, parked her car and we took motorcycle taxis the remainder of the way. But the bustle of modern Jakarta disappeared as we entered the restaurant, to find ourselves in an old-style tea shop, with antique tea sets, glass jars of cookies on the counters and photographs of distinguished Babah families on the walls.

Babah is the term used for the culture that resulted from the intermarriage of Chinese settlers and Javanese women during the Dutch colonial era. Babah cuisine was a fusion of both culinary traditions, with the addition of a Dutch influence.

Similarly, the decor of Dapur Babah is a melange of cultural influences, featuring antiques and artifacts from as early as the 17th century, and statues depicting Chinese, Hindu and Buddhist gods. Owner/designer Anhar Setjadibrata, who also owns Tugu Hotels and is an avid collector of Indonesian antiques, refurbished and decorated the two 1940s shop-houses in which the restaurant is located, creating a series of rooms all with their own unique atmosphere and fascinating stories.

The staff are well-versed in the history of the mementos and a visit to dine easily turns into an enjoyable history lesson.

Our visit was hosted by sales and marketing executive Meggie Windari, who graciously showed us through the various rooms, explaining the history behind the furnishings and photographs as we went. My favorites were the Tao bar with its mix of Indonesian, Hindu, Thai and Buddhist influences and the outdoor terrace, inspired by an early Babah kitchen.

Maria preferred the Chinese-inspired room, complete with a goddess to watch over it.

Meggie had ordered our meals for us and we started with fried tofu, served with petis — a sweet black shrimp paste — and acar — a spicy salad accompaniment containing cucumber, shallots and chili. The creamy tofu went well with the paste and was brought alive by the bite of the acar.

A chicken soup with galangal followed, also containing rice noodles, tofu, potato, tomato, Chinese cabbage and boiled egg. Served with kerepuk rambak — crackers made from cow skin — and sambal , this was similar to soto ayam but with the addition of Chinese flavors.

Both of us happily had seconds and this dish has become my favorite version of chicken noodle soup, and the one I’ll crave if I’m ever in need of a tasty pick-me-up. Maria, who is Javanese herself, said it tasted like a homemade soup to her — a great recommendation.

Our main meal was more of a fusion item, bringing the Dutch influence into the mix as well. Described on the menu as a “modified schnitzel of thinly-sliced rolls of tenderloin wrapped in minced shrimps with cheese in the middle, batter-fried in egg and breadcrumbs,” it was not a dish I would have chosen myself, fearing the flavors would not mesh.

Served with a tomato-based sauce, steamed vegetables and fries, the dish was well-presented but, unfortunately, not to the taste of either of us. The minced mixture surrounding the meat lacked an identifiable flavor and the sauce was overpowering.

We rounded off our meal with a shaved ice dessert, a refreshing mix of fruits, including baby coconut, and avocado in a sweet syrup.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Food Fast: A Ramadan Novice Goes Without

Aug. 27 (Jakarta Globe) I was invited to review a Ramadan buka puasa (breaking of the fast) buffet this week and decided I could only do it justice if I actually fasted. I’d recently arrived in Indonesia on the occasion of last Ramadan and knew little about it apart from that it was a month-long renunciation for Muslims.

Having decided to fast, I wanted to learn more so questioned Muslim friends and colleagues and read Islamic Web sites. I’d previously known that Ramadan involved renouncing food and sexual relations between sunrise and sunset but hadn’t realized it was a total abstention from drinking also, including water.

Not only that but one is expected to avoid immoral behavior and anger and exhibit patience, tolerance and compassion. As one friend told me, “You basically have to rein in your emotional outbursts and be more tolerant.”

I read on the Web site that fasting is prescribed in the Koran “in order that you may learn piety and God consciousness.” It went on to say that the act of abstinence was not meant to starve those fasting, but to be “an act of worship like prayer. It enables people with plenty to empathize with those who have very little in this world.”

I can’t fault any of those reasonings and, despite not being Muslim, felt I would also benefit from fasting with those precepts in mind.

Preparing for the fast

I asked friends observing the Ramadan fast what best to eat for sahur — the predawn meal — and got as many answers as people I asked.

“Eat plenty of fiber and succulent vegetables and fruit but no protein.”

“Eat a balanced meal with protein.”

“Treat it as an evening meal.”

“Eat what you regularly would.”

“Eat whatever’s in your fridge.”

All my advisers were clear on the need to drink a few glasses of water and avoid tea and coffee because of their diuretic effects. I seldom eat breakfast, having coffee and a few squares of chocolate in lieu most days, and eating what’s currently in my fridge would constitute a fast anyway so I made a trip to the store and bought fresh fruit — pineapple, oranges and mango — and a bottle of pomegranate juice. I prepared the pineapple the night before, leaving the mango and orange for the morning.

And I should have had an early night but a friend I hadn’t seen in years was passing through Jakarta for just one night so I went for dinner with her and her new husband instead and went to bed not long before midnight, having set my alarm for 4 a.m.

Too early o’clock

I’ve been wakened by the call to morning prayer outside my bedroom window every morning at around 4:30 a.m. for the past year, so didn’t think a half hour earlier would be a big deal. But it wasn’t easy to drag myself up and I definitely wasn’t accustomed to eating at that time. I took the pineapple, mango and an orange from the fridge, decided using a knife was beyond me at that hour and couldn’t be bothered peeling the orange, so ate chunks of pineapple while standing at the sink then took a glass of juice and one of water to my computer room, which overlooks a mosque. By the time I’d drunk both it was imsak — about 10 minutes before the morning call and time to begin my fast. I assume most Muslim families rise a lot earlier than I did to eat sahur. or they wouldn’t manage much food.

Following the subuh (dawn) call to prayer, I practice some God-consciousness of my own, then fall back into bed for a little more sleep.

6 a.m.

My usual morning routine is to rise about 6 a.m., check and answer e-mail (many of the important people in my life are on different time zones) then head to the pool with a cup of coffee, four to six squares of chocolate and the morning paper. My morning swim wakes me and I enjoy what passes for breakfast while perusing the paper. I’d thought I would miss the coffee this morning but it’s not a problem, though I do find myself at work earlier than usual without my usual routine to follow. Being patient and tolerant is going well so far, but I am the only person in the office.


The call to prayer began a few minutes ago so I took a break to go outside and be thankful for the people and advantages I have in life. My friend and desk-mate has told me how fasting can become such a tranquil cycle that by the end of the month it’s almost a disappointment to stop. Because family members all rise to share sahur then meet again to break the fast, quality time together is more common during Ramadan. Add in the calming and focusing effect of the ritual prayers and I can already see that the process would be beneficial.

In practical terms, it’s the daily habits that are harder to break so far than actually eating or drinking. The main time I leave my computer screen most days is to refill my water glass and I have to consciously find something else to do to allow myself short breaks. I’m missing my morning coffee but not particularly hungry, although I often forget to eat till late if it’s a particularly busy day so an empty stomach is nothing new. One of our interns has been baking for us regularly over the past few weeks and she’s brought a banana cake in today, which would go perfectly with the coffee I’m not drinking.

5 p.m.

It’s a little less than an hour until maghrib (dusk prayers) and half an hour until a Muslim friend and I will head to the Ritz-Carlton Pacific Place to break our fast. I’m looking forward to eating, although far from ravenous, and will enjoy a cool glass of water, or even juice. It hasn’t been too difficult though, and my major problem was changing ingrained habits, rather than craving food or drink.

In keeping with my goal of remaining calm and tolerant, I’ve been much quieter than I usually am, something noticeable to those around me. I feel I’ve also been less productive and have definitely been working and thinking more slowly than is my norm. I feel I’m in a semi-sedated state, which is no doubt ideal for spiritual contemplation but not so effective in terms of output. Even typing these words is taking me longer than usual and, although I don’t physically feel loss of energy, the mental effects are obvious.

The morning after

I was up and at the pool at my usual time this morning, and truly appreciated my morning coffee (no chocolate in my empty fridge), then ate the fruit I intended for yesterday’s sahur as breakfast.

The most important thing that came from my single day of fasting was a greater appreciation not only of food but of all I have in my life to be thankful for. I’m grateful for my friends, and enjoyed the many supportive comments I received on Facebook, especially the “Happy fasting” messages from Muslim friends doing the same. Going without food and drink for a relatively short time was easy physically, but I have a sedentary job in an air-conditioned office and was very much aware of how much more difficult fasting would be for many people. I expected patience might be difficult when hungry and found it to be the opposite, but didn’t enjoy the feeling that my brain was only running at half-speed. And, although I thoroughly enjoyed the buka puasa meal, the experience for me wasn’t so much what I went without, but what I learned.

I feel more connected to the culture and primary religion of the country I currently live in, to the friends and colleagues I spend my time with and to the luxuries I enjoy compared to many of the people around me. I’ll try to hold to the lessons I learned and remember when I next take a bite of food or a sip of a drink to not only be thankful for having it, but to be conscious of and try to help those who don’t.

Restaurant Review: Ritz Carlton Jakarta, Pacific Place, Jakarta

Aug. 27 (Jakarta Globe) I experienced my first Ramadan fast this week, along with millions of others around the world, although mine was only for a day and not a month. I was fortunate to have been invited to break my fast in good company with great food and stunning city views at the Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Pacific Place.
Throughout Ramadan, the Ritz-Carlton is serving a buka puasa (breaking of the fast) buffet, featuring Ramadan specialities and Middle Eastern dishes. Working with guest chef Hany Mounir from the Ritz-Carlton Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, the kitchen team had prepared an abundance of dishes with which to break the day's fast.
I arrived with a Muslim friend and colleague shortly before magrib (dusk) and we were barely seated when the call to evening prayer began, indicating time to break the fast. My friend Novia had informed me that most people break their fast initially with something sweet and I knew that dates are a popular treat during Ramadan so was not surprised to find plates of dates placed on each table, ready for hungry guests. We were also offered hot tea as we were seated, not usually a favorite drink of mine but, with the addition of sugar — another aberration for me — the perfect refresher after more than 12 hours without food or drink.
A table at the restaurant entrance also held more dates of different type and origin, small pastries and sweets for those who preferred them to fruit and kolak – an Indonesian dessert based around palm sugar and coconut milk, with pandanus leaf for flavor.
The Ritz-Carlton has decorated its restaurant with a Middle Eastern flavor for the Ramadan season, with sheer flowing draperies, Moorish lanterns and some staff in Morocco-inspired garments. The theme is picked up in the Middle eastern dishes, which included lentil soup, a whole baked white snapper flavored with Eastern spices, prawn shish kebab, majboos rice, chicken shawarma, kebbeh and assorted mezze on the evening we dined. Also on offer were a good number of Indonesian dishes, Indian options, a well-stocked salad bar where staff would toss greens to order and a carvery offering roasted ribeye beef — one of the most popular choices on the night — and marmalade barbecued chicken.
The buffet contained a cornucopia of seafood as well, which I took full advantage of. Executive chef Sean MacDougall said it was a deliberate choice to include a good selection from the sea, as it isn't something locals necessarily eat often. And a good selection it was. I started with fresh oysters, prawns and smoked salmon, sampling both the regular and mustard varieties with accompanying shredded horseradish and capers. I then moved on to a selection of items in tiny tasting dishes — Thai prawn salad with featured a prawn on a bed of spicy carrot salad; slices of tuna lightly seared so only the edges were cooked, leaving the center red and moist, and served with a wasabi-based sauce; and fresh Vietnamese-style spring rolls with crisp vegetables and clean spicy flavors (I returned for seconds of those and the oysters). Novia opted for the sushi, which she recommended, and I was also tempted by the salmon sashimi with a teriyaki dressing.
The seafood selection also included, in addition to those already mentioned, a Mediterranean seafood stew and an Indian fish curry. It's quite likely there were more as I didn't have room for the Indonesian dishes, which covered two buffet stations on their own.
There was also an extensive selection of juices, teas and traditional drinks available, although I wanted only water after my initial cup of tea, to rehydrate after my fast.
We did leave a little room for more sweets at the end of our meal, although not enough room to even begin to sample the vast selection. We both chose refreshing sorbets to round off our dinner and I added strawberries coated in chocolate from a fountain. The baklava, tiramisu, custards and other choices all looked delicious, but neither of us needed any more to eat.
The meal would have been enjoyable at any time with its myriad of choices, but I appreciated each distinctive dish even more after having spent the day in anticipation while I fasted.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Restaurant Review: Sailendra, JW Marriott, Jakarta

Aug 20 (Jakarta Globe)
I doubt there is a reader of this paper who is unaware of the bomb attack in JW Marriott’s Sailendra Restaurant on July 17. But perhaps fewer know that the restaurant reopened for business on July 29 and its staff are eager to renew their acquaintance with regular guests and welcome new customers.

My colleague Paul and I headed there on Sunday to try the restaurant’s brunch, although some workmates expressed nervousness about our choice of dining venue. I, in contrast, think the hotel is probably one of the safest places in Jakarta right now, a belief borne out when we arrived and not only went through a metal detector and had my bag checked, but were also patted down by security staff.

Restaurant manager Michael Scott said that although the incident had obviously affected numbers, regular guests were returning and the staff were happy the hotel had reopened as soon as possible.

The restaurant had more than 100 guests the day it reopened, he said, and the day we dined, despite being in the middle of a long weekend, it had bookings for 74.

Sailendra is one of three restaurants in the hotel that have weekend brunch available, with Pearl offering Yum Cha and Chinese dishes, and Asuka providing fresh sushi, sashimi and other Japanese dishes. An Asian Brunch Marathon package is also available for both Pearl and Asuka.

But we’d chosen Sailendra, wanting to show our own support for the staff, and arrived to a smiling welcome and an impressive array of food.

After being seated, we were directed to the juice stands, and offered a choice of other beverages from the bar. The inclusion of free-flowing alcoholic beverages adds Rp 100,000 to the cost — about the price of one drink in most high-class establishments in Jakarta.

I began my feast at the seafood bar, where oysters, prawns, crab and green-lipped mussels shared space with sushi and sashimi. I consider fresh seafood, oysters in particular, an ideal indicator of the quality of a buffet and these were great, still tasting of the sea and perfect with fresh lemon and ground pepper. We also had grilled lobster tails with dipping butter brought to the table, and duck livers, which Paul hadn’t tried before. Being a fan of liver in most forms, and especially pate de foie gras, I thoroughly enjoyed the liver, although it was a little salty for Paul.

The only problem I had, in fact, was one of plenty. There was such a good selection that choosing was difficult and sampling everything was impossible. From Western dishes to a fine array of Indonesian, Indian, Thai and Chinese options, it was all any gourmand could ask for. I concentrated on dim sum and Thai options, with fresh vegetables and fresher flavors, while Paul took on the Indian choices.

And when I truly thought I couldn’t manage another mouthful, we got the piece de resistance — apple strudel. It was divine, a perfect blend of fruit and spices in a delicate fluffy pastry, served hot with whipped cream and vanilla sauce.

Brunch will continue throughout Ramadan, although bottles of alcohol will be moved out of sight as a mark of respect for Muslims observing the month-long fast. But if you’re there at that time, you’re obviously not fasting, so remember to save some room for the strudel.

(Tracie Barrett was a copy editor at the Jakarta Globe who previously worked in restaurant and hotel management.)

Sailendra Restaurant
JW Marriott Jl. Lingkar Mega Kuningan,
South Jakarta, Tel. 021 5798 8888
Brunch Rp 238,000 - Rp 338,000
11:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Restaurant Review: Sushi Tei, Plaza Senayan, Jakarta

Aug. 13 (Jakarta Globe) As a still reasonably new resident of Jakarta, I get first impressions of many restaurants from the comments of my Indonesian colleagues. So when I said I was going to review Sushi Tei and a good number of those colleagues offered to join me, it boded well for my dining experience.

On arrival at the Plaza Senayan outlet on a Thursday at 7 p.m., the crowd of people waiting for tables was another positive sign. My colleague Ade informed me that the Sushi Tei restaurants are always full, another good sign, especially in the current fragile economy.

We were expected, so quickly bypassed the waiting list and were taken to a table.

The restaurant also offers seating at the sushi bar, where a conveyor belt constantly tempted diners with dishes made freshly by the many chefs on duty.

I’m a huge fan of pickled ginger, as is Ade, so we both enjoyed the copious container of it on the table while we waited for our menus to arrive. This was where I found we’d had a slight miscommunication — the newspaper had been invited to review the restaurant but I’d not realized our meal would be chosen for us. But I would have asked for recommendations anyway, trusting good staff to know their best dishes, and the selection was excellent.

Drinks arrived first, a strawberry soda and a Matcha Fusion, which was a blend of Japanese green tea, green tea ice cream and honeydew syrup.

Both were a little sweet for my taste but I’ve found the palate of most Indonesians sweeter than mine, and the mix of fresh strawberries and soda was refreshing.

The first dish to arrive was salmon sashimi — four good-sized pieces of fresh, high-quality fish that disappeared quickly. This was followed by a salmon belly soup that was wonderful. The salty miso broth was perfectly balanced by creamy bricks of tofu; salmon belly so tender it almost melted on my tongue; shiitake, enoki and shimeji mushrooms; a green vegetable and noodles.

Next to come to our table was a jumbo dragon roll, which I’d been told by friends is a signature dish for Sushi Tei. The presentation was cute, with a dragon’s head and body fashioned from the ingredients, and was both tasty and filling.

So filling, in fact, that we probably didn’t require anything more, but also received a mixed tempura dish, featuring shrimps, fish, pumpkin, eggplant and carrot, all set off by a crisp tempura batter. The eggplant especially was excellent — the creaminess of the cooked vegetable an ideal contrast to the batter.

By this time I’d acquired a menu to see what else was on offer and was impressed by both the range of dishes and the design of the menu. Each item was accompanied by a photograph good enough to make your mouth water.

The Sushi Tei concept originated in Singapore and the franchise is now in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok, Sydney and, of course Indonesia, where one company holds the master franchise. Having first opened here six years ago, the company now has 12 outlets, six of those in Jakarta, and Ade tells me each has a different decor and subsequently, a different feel.

Assuming that all have the same high standard and good food, I can understand why so many of my colleagues wanted to accompany me here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Restaurant Review: Vegas Bar and Grill, Bellagio Mall, Jakarta

Aug. 06 (Jakarta Globe) A wager isn’t something I expect to find on a restaurant menu. But when the name of the restaurant is Vegas, it seems only appropriate.

The new menu at Vegas Bar and Grill offers its signature dish, the Gut Buster Burger, for free, provided that the diner can finish what’s on the plate. I’m a light eater so wouldn’t even try to attempt it. But I had high hopes for my colleague’s appetite on the evening we dined there.

Vegas has been open since November but just changed its menu two weeks ago. The changes were intended to reflect the venue’s mission statement — good simple American food with great service in a fun atmosphere.

The fun atmosphere is obvious as soon as you walk in to find an essentially open air venue with a long bar, comfortable sofa seating, as well as more traditional tables and chairs and two pool tables. The large room is surrounded by netting rather than walls and the roof can be opened at will.

This being Indonesia, the open setting means mosquitoes are a problem despite zappers and scent repellants, but the moment a waitress noticed I was being bothered, she brought a repellant spray to the table.

The pool tables were being put to good use by a group of young businessmen, four of whom, the staff informed me, had managed to polish off the Gut Buster on a previous visit. The venue apparently can fit up to 400 customers and would be an ideal place for a party, particularly with 2.5 liter pitchers of beer (complete with an ice-filled cooling compartment) for Rp 130,000.

The fun aspect also comes in with the restaurant’s themed days: karaoke on Mondays, competition play station on Tuesdays and barbecues each Sunday.

The lunch menu is also a bargain, with seven choices for only Rp 35,000 ($4) each.

I’d chosen Thursday to dine at the restaurant and found that it was Ladies’ Night, with two for one cocktails for the fairer sex.

I ordered a Lynchburg Lemonade and found it as good as any I’ve tasted in the United States. My friend chose the same and we ordered starters without first making a game plan for his upcoming challenge. The spicy chicken nachos were tasty with plenty of sour cream, salsa, chicken and cheese, although I personally would have enjoyed more spice. However, I happily eat raw chillies so making any dish spicy enough for me takes it beyond most diners’ comfort levels. Our second starter was jalapeno poppers, which I found had an enjoyable bite.

Our mains were the Gut Buster for my friend and a more ladylike 200 gram Tex Mex burger for myself (burgers are available in 200 or 300 gram sizes). I was tempted by the bbq menu, but Vegas specializes in burgers so I couldn’t bypass them. Both burgers were served with fries and coleslaw and the Gut Buster — 500 grams of meat in the patty and an oversized bun to match — looked truly intimidating. My mother once told me never to eat anything bigger than my head and, for that reason alone, I would have had to pass up this particular treat.

All burgers are freshly made of ground Australian beef on homemade buns and make the fast food travesties that use the same name look and taste like cardboard cutouts in comparison. My Tex Mex came with lettuce, tomato, beef patty and fried onion rings, as did my friend’s monstrous meal, but with the addition of salsa, sour cream and guacamole. The meat was well-seasoned and moist, but even the smaller portion proved too much for me.

My friend, who shall remain nameless out of embarrassment for him, barely managed half of his burger and only a few of his fries. He assures me he’ll do better next time.

Tracie Barrett is a Jakarta Globe copy editor who previously worked in restaurants.

Vegas Bar and Grill
Bellagio Mall, Mega Kuningan

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Restaurant Review: Porta Venezia, Aryaduta Suites Hotel, Jakarta

July 30 (Jakarta Globe) Something in what passes for air in Jakarta has been disturbing my allergies more than usual these past few weeks so I've had neither the energy nor inclination to venture far afield in my search for good food. But a gal still has to eat, and this one likes to eat well, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to check out the new wood-fired pizza oven at Porta Venezia — the Italian restaurant in the complex where I live.
A short explanation first: The complex consists of the Aryaduta Suites Hotel in one tower and Sudirman Tower Condominium based in another two. The hotel is run by a company affiliated with the Jakarta Globe and, having spent my first month in Jakarta living there, I know many of the hotel staff on a first name basis. However, I now spend a not-insignificant part of my salary to live in a privately owned apartment that is attached to but not part of the hotel.
I had enjoyed the restaurant's buffet breakfast regularly while a guest of the hotel (enough so to warrant some serious gym time to work off the result), and join friends who live in the hotel for occasional Happy Hours at the bar, but had never dined from the restaurant menu. But I'm an affirmed fan of Italian food and, despite my dislike for what I think of as “American” pizza — that is, a thick, doughy crust and far too much cheese — I adore the real thing.
Porta Venezia by evening takes on a decidedly romantic glow once the tables are set for service and the candles lit. Embroidered maroon runners set off the crisp white linen on the tables and dim lighting shows off the dark wood of the bar. The glass doors open on to an outside balcony with a few tables available, and the second-floor restaurant overlooks the hotel pool. Add in staff in long white linen aprons and it is an elegant location to dine with that special someone. Not having a special someone on hand, I joined friends at the bar for my meal.
My favorite part of most menus is the starter section as it almost always offers more imaginative choices than to be found as mains. Being primarily Italian, Porta Venezia offered a good choice of antipasti and I was having difficulty choosing between between carpaccio of Australian beef fillet served with shaved parmesan, fresh rocket and white truffle oil; or tomato and mozzarella with a basil pesto. The answer to my dilemma – the antipasti buffet at just a fraction more in cost than any individual dish. Here, in addition to those mentioned above, I could add sundried tomatoes; grilled eggplant, zucchini, capsicum and asparagus; marinated mushrooms; roasted garlic; and shrimps with cocktail sauce. Accompanied by a selection of warm bread rolls and butter, it was a perfect way to start my meal.
But I was here specifically to try pizza from the new oven so selected the Salmone – tomato sauce, smoked salmon, artichokes and mozzarella. I asked for the addition of fresh basil, which was no problem. A word about the service here: as mentioned I know many of the staff on a first name basis and, like many long-term guests in the complex, find they make my place of residence feel more like a home. They balance skilled professionalism with a friendly personal touch — something that I know from my own experience in the industry is not always easy.
But back to my pizza, which I'd been so looking forward to. And it didn't disappoint — a thin crispy crust with just a smear of tomato sauce so as not to overpower the delicate salmon and artichoke flavors, plenty of smoked salmon and the fresh basil to top it off. It was too large for me to eat alone so I offered some to friends at the bar and took the rest to work cold the next day – where it was appreciated just as much.
The restaurant has a good selection of wines, including house wines available by the glass, and I accompanied the pizza with a glass of Stonehaven cabernet, after which I paid my bill, took my remaining pizza (in an elegant black box with gold lettering) and made the short stroll back to my apartment.
Porta Venezia offers an extensive menu of Italian antipasti, pasta, pizza and secondi (Italian mains) but also, in keeping with its added duty as a hotel restaurant, has sandwiches and burgers; Thai, Indonesian and Chinese options; and dishes from the Middle East.
But what will bring me back will definitely be the antipasti and the pizza.

Porta Venezia
The Aryaduta Suites Hotel
Jl. Garnisun Dalam No. 8, Karet Semanggi
Tel. 021 251 5151
Starters Rp 39,000 – Rp 75,000 ++
Mains Rp 60,000 – Rp 235,000 ++

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Restaurant Review: Koreana International, Jakarta

July 09 (Jakarta Globe) My colleague Brian and I have both lived in South Korea and often find ourselves craving the country’s spicy food. We’ve already tried one of two Korean restaurants behind Grand Indonesia, but Brian wanted bool-dahk (fire chicken), this past week so we decided to venture further afield. Jalan Melawai in Kebayoran Baru, near Blok M, is renowned for its Korean and Japanese restaurants, so it seemed a good place to start.

So our plans were made — off to Kebayoran Baru for a good, inexpensive Korean meal. But the best-laid plans of mice and copy editors often go astray.

Joined by another workmate, we declined the many restaurant suggestions from local touts and instead asked directions to a rumah makan Korea. We followed them to find ourselves in what seemed the center of the Japanese enclave — close but no cigar. We then wandered for an hour, with each local adamant that he knew the direction we wanted, but sending us round in circles. By that point, with three stomachs and one Brian growling, we headed back to the restaurants we knew of.

On arrival, we considered Istana Korea, where we’d dined before, but decided to try its neighbor, The Koreana International Restaurant. I must admit to being wary of any restaurant with the word international in its name, having found for the most part that they are homogenized yet highly priced versions of the authentic cuisine. But we were hungry and thirsty, and the chorus of anyong haseyo, a Korean greeting, from staff members to welcome us was a good sign.

Menus quickly arrived, followed by our requested sodas, beer and the usual Korean tipple — soju. A clear alcoholic drink traditionally made from rice or potato, no gathering in Korea is complete without it and there is a host of customs that accompany its enjoyment. The prices reinforced my mild suspicion of “international” restaurants, but we proceeded to order yangnyum galbi, which are marinated beef short ribs, and dolpan jjukumisamgyupsal, an octopus and pork dish with hot sauce served in a stone pot.

A good selection of side dishes first arrived, including kimchi — the pickled vegetable dish Koreans rely on to get them through the barren winter months — salad, greens and patties. Our charming waitress then proceeded to grill the galbi over a dish of glowing charcoal. The usual way to eat such meats is to wrap a piece in a lettuce or sesame leaf with whatever accompaniments one prefers, but almost always including garlic and the ubiquitous gochujjang (chilli paste). Gochujjang is to Koreans what sambal is to Indonesians or ketchup to Americans, so we were surprised to not find any on our table. We did have a tasty barbecue style sauce but Korean food doesn’t taste quite right without gochujjang, so we asked for some. Instead, we got what tasted like ketchup mixed with a little chilli sauce — definitely not the real deal.

Having polished off our galbi, the grill was taken away and replaced by the hot stone pot containing our second choice and we could see we had not ordered enough food, so we added bulgogi , a dish of marinated beef with vegetables, to our burgeoning bill. (Rice was charged as an extra, another unusual move as in Korea, a meal is considered incomplete without rice and soup.) The octopus and pork dish was tasty, as was the bulgogi, but neither had as much meat as we expected for the price.

Our final verdict: disappointing. A reasonable, though pricey, introduction to Korean food for the novice, this is not the place an aficionado should frequent.

The Koreana International Restaurant
Jl. Teluk Betung No. 34,
Central Jakarta
Tel. 021 390 4085

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Restaurant Review: Social House, Grand Indonesia, Jakarta

July 02 (Jakarta Globe) Despite its location on the Harvey Nichols premises in Grand Indonesia, the Social House restaurant, bar and winepost is not part of the UK-based luxury lifestyle store but a separate entity owned by the Ismaya Group, which also owns Blowfish, Dragonfly and Puro, among other such establishments.

And although not part of the lifestyle store, Social House fits in well with Harvey Nichols, with walls of pale wood shelving elegantly displaying many of the delectable items available on the same floor in the store’s food market. An extensive wine store displays a large selection of bottles from around the world to accompany your meal, four of which were available by the glass on the night we visited.

Social House has three separate menus: breakfast favorites offering classic breakfast and brunch dishes (eggs Benedict, toasted bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese); interesting tofu-based additions; a pizza, tapas and dessert selection; and a more extensive choice of sushi, soup, salads, sides and mains.

My friend and I arrived planning to sample from the main menu in the main dining area, but when we saw other friends by the bar, we decided to join them there. Situated on a corner of the building two floors above street level, Social House’s bar has fabulous views over the fountain and statue at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle.

With windows that fold back completely, one can perch on a stool overlooking the chaos that is Jakarta’s traffic while enjoying a cooling breeze far above the fray. If you arrive early in the evening, as we did, it’s a wonderful spot at which to sip a cocktail while watching the sun set over the city streets and the sky grow dark behind the well-lit fountain.

However, only the tapas menu is available in the bar area. I was later told that this is to create a distinct ambience in the different areas and to reduce serving time by not overloading the kitchen.

While perusing the menu we ordered drinks, mine being a well-blended Cuban mojito with plenty of fresh mint to complement the Bacardi and soda.

The menu offered 5 types of pizza, 8 tapas and 15 desserts, and an afternoon tea set for two is also available between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day.

We chose a pizza topped with ham, caramelized onion, oregano, tomato, mozzarella and arugula; chicken and vegetable spring rolls with a sweet-and-spicy dip; and lamb ribs with lemon barbecue sauce. The pizza was delicious — a thin crisp crust cooked to perfection and a tasty mix of ingredients set off by the peppery tang of the fresh arugula.

Our spring rolls were beautifully presented, two thin tubes standing tall in a glass alongside strips of carrot and cucumber alongside the sauce. They were good, but not great — the flavors were not distinct, merging into one, and the sauce, though sweet and tasty, displayed little spiciness beyond the slice of red chili atop it.

The lamb ribs quickly made us forget that quibble though (and I hail from New Zealand, where we are fiercely proud of and just as fussy about, good lamb). The meat literally fell off the ribs and the sauce was thick and rich, making for a faultless match.

We ended our meal with another classic — a New York cheesecake served with balsamic-marinated raspberries and a selection of other berries. The tang of the berries set off the creaminess of the cake well. The restaurant also has a full selection of coffees, special coffees and a homemade grandma’s iced lemon tea with which to round off your dining.

I will return to try both the breakfast and dinner menus, but wish I could have enjoyed a plate of oysters from the dinner menu while also admiring the view from the bar area.

Social House
Harvey Nichols, Grand Indonesia
East Mall, Level 1
Jl. Thamrin No. 1
Tel. 021 2358 1818

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Restaurant Review: Potato Head, Pacific Place Mall, Jakarta

June 25 (Jakarta Globe) Potato Head co-owner Jason Gunawan is no stranger to Jakarta’s food and bar scene, though some of his fans are confused about his background. The night a friend and I dined at his latest project, I was amused to overhear a diner at a neighboring table tell his guest the restaurant was owned by “some foreigner” before going on to mention Gunawan’s previous three eateries. He was right about the restaurants, the genesis of which parallels the evolution of Jakarta’s dining scene, if not about Gunawan’s nationality: He is proudly Indonesian, though he studied in Melbourne.

Gunawan’s first culinary venture, Casa, was probably the first of its kind in the country. Opened in 2006, Casa was a cafe-cum-bar serving brunch through to dinner and early morning drinks. He followed that with Loewy in Kuningan, more of a bistro bar, and Canteen, a cafe in an Aksara bookstore.

Having sold those businesses, Gunawan teamed with Ronald Akili and executive chef Sandra Budiman to open Potato Head. Launched with a soft opening four months ago, the restaurant had its grand opening on Saturday, attended by a large number of food, art and design enthusiasts. We returned on Wednesday to get a closer look at, and taste of, what was on offer.

Situated on the outer edge of Pacific Place in South Jakarta, the restaurant has a sizeable outdoor area separated from a walkway by shelves bursting with potted plants, including a great many fresh herbs that are well utilized by the kitchen. Large comfortable sofas surround the front tables — all reserved the night we chose.

Inside, one first notices a huge mural by Eko Nugroho, a Yogyakarta artist who is gaining international acclaim. Opposite is a well-stocked bar, and seating is available both downstairs and on an upper level.

But we are here primarily for the food and the substantial menu doesn’t disappoint. For starters, we decide upon a trio of mini flatbread and a serving of nori-wrapped prawns. The flatbread come served on a wooden platter and consist of seared Tasmanian salmon in a spicy, sour fruit salad; crispy Peking duck with cucumber and scallion salad; and sliced beef with caramelized onion. The salmon is well-matched with a sprinkling of what appears to be unripe mango and Spanish onion, and the crisp, fresh cucumber and scallions set off the earthiness of the duck. The prawns are also delicious, wrapped in nori and a thin batter then fried and served with a spicy dipping sauce and a fresh mesclun salad.

The extensive cocktail list had been recommended by friends, particularly the coconut daiquiri. The cocktails were crafted by Grant Collins, acknowledged as one of the world’s best mixologists and the host of a Discovery Channel program on cocktail making around the world. They are certainly tempting, but we decide on wine instead and choose a Geoff Merrill sauvignon blanc. The selection of wines is excellent, with a few well-chosen representatives available by the glass.

Choosing our mains takes some time as the menu spoils us with choice. Life is easier for my fish-eating vegetarian friend, who chooses a Caesar salad, unfortunately not the roast vegetable salad I was salivating over. I’m equally tempted by the Wagyu beef burger a young diner was enjoying when we arrived, as well as the grilled salmon and the penne with baby lobster in a garlic and tomato cream sauce.

Eventually, I go for comfort food and order the marinated half organic baby chicken, served with garlic mashed potatoes and mesclun salad. It truly is like my mother’s cooking, but then again, I was very fortunate to have a professional chef for a mother. The chicken is grilled to perfection and almost falls off the bone, and the marriage of the creamy mash with the crisp mesclun greens is perfect.

The dessert menu offers much also, from an assorted cheese platter through creme caramel, apple and berry crumble and a sticky toffee date pudding, but we have eaten our fill for this visit. Sitting outdoors surrounded by Jakarta’s soaring buildings, it is obvious we are in Indonesia’s vibrant metropolis, but we feel we’ve found an enclave with a global flavor all of its own.

Potato Head

Pacific Place Mall G51A, SCBD
Jl. Jend. Sudirman Kav. 52-53
Tel. 021 5797 3322

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Piece of Mind: A Giant Falls

March 26 (Jakarta Globe) Having just moved apartment, I intended to write this week about how disconnected I felt being without a home Internet connection or phone for days, and how surprised I was to have become one of “those” people — unable to go a day, or more than a few hours, without checking my inbox or my Facebook account. And how I needed to wean myself off the habit.

But then my favorite uncle died on Monday morning and I got a whole new perspective on how we connect to each other. I don’t want to always write of death but I do want to celebrate his long and full life.

I very much grew up with Des as a male role model, having lost my father at the age of 8. I mean that literally, not euphemistically, as he boarded a plane one morning and was rarely heard from again.

So Des’s home, which he shared with his wife, my mother’s sister, and their three daughters, all older than me, became a place of calm and stability for my siblings and I. We were always welcome, there was always a spare bed if required and it was impossible to visit without being sat down with food and drink for a chat.

And in the center of it all was Des — always on the go, always in the thick of things, always the life of the party. It seemed every time I visited there was another project on the go, something new he was building.

I remember him as a giant of a man, the kind we refer to as a totara in New Zealand — one of the largest trees in the forest and one that New Zealand Maori view as a taonga , or treasure, for its many special properties.

Like many Kiwi males, Des enjoyed rugby, racing and beer, and he had a permanent Saturday spot at his local bar, where he’d discuss the day’s games and the week’s doings with his many friends. But while every inch a man’s man, he was never less than a gentleman, and while always quick to tease or play a practical joke, he never hesitated to administer comfort when needed.

I was glad to be nearby at the time, about 15 years ago, when Des had a massive stroke while visiting his daughters and grandsons in Melbourne. I flew from Sydney to join the family at his bedside and was shocked to see the totara felled, and saw clearly his frustration and anger at his inability to communicate, and what he no doubt saw as his body’s betrayal. But I also saw that his essence remained, and his strength, even as his body had let him down, and I watched as he determinedly took the very first steps in learning ways to communicate when full speech had failed him.

And over the years, when I phoned family or, too infrequently, visited, I’d hear tales and see signs that showed he was still the same Des, and see in his alert eyes and his fierce determination even more to admire.

He still got up to his old tricks, and with a motorized scooter providing the mobility he had once relied on strong legs for, he’d sneak out of the house and be found later at the bar, in his usual spot with the usual suspects. I can imagine my aunt’s worry the first time he went missing, and can picture her shaking her head with feigned frustration each subsequent time it occurred.

I phoned my aunt on Tuesday morning, as I knew she would be busy all Monday making funeral arrangements, and we talked and laughed and reminisced, and I no longer felt disconnected. We relived our shared memories, and also the many things I’d missed by moving away, and she laughed as she imagined Des in heaven with my mother and grandmother, teasing them unmercifully, as he always had.

In the Maori culture, we believe the spirit does not leave the body until burial, usually three days later, so it must not be left alone until then. Friends and family sit and visit with the deceased, and will touch, kiss or address the body. It’s the last time to resolve anything with the person before their spirit departs so the speeches made at a tangi , the Maori funeral rites, are not always complimentary. I feel sure at Des’s they will be.

My aunt said the house, where Des lay dressed in his rugby gear, had been a constant stream of visitors, the phone had not stopped ringing and many more visitors were on their way from farther afield. Another aunt and her husband were sleeping beside the body to keep Des company at night and I know that all who visited would be sharing their own tales of their friend, and the house would be more full of love and laughter than of sadness.

And although I wish I was there to hear of those escapades unknown to me, Des and I resolved everything between us long ago, and my family knows I am with them and him in spirit.

So I’ll treasure his strength and determination and the privilege of having known Des, and by trying to live up to his example, remain connected to him forever.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Piece of Mind: Oliver

Feb. 19 (Jakarta Globe) There’s this guy.

I know, a lot of stories start that way, but this one has no happy ending.

There’s this guy.

We met in Galle, Sri Lanka, both crewing small yachts across the Indian Ocean. We came from the same land but very different backgrounds — he had a PhD in Clinical Neuropsychology, I’d left school at 15 when they wanted me to repeat a year I hadn’t much liked the first time through.

I transferred to his yacht in the hope that something might happen between us. It did, but it was not what I’d expected. We became friends, crewmates, occasional adversaries and learned more about each other than either of us would have chosen. Together with our skipper, we caroused our way to Africa, then, sans skipper, he and I traveled to Kenya for a few months.

There’s this guy.

We parted ways in Kenya and a few months later I went home, where I met and was welcomed by his family. I started university as a “mature-aged” student, and his sister, her partner and their sons were my surrogate family and biggest supporters. He kept traveling ‘til he reached the UK, where he met and married a possibly more talented person than himself, fathered children and eventually took the whole family home to grow up in the beauty of New Zealand.

Here’s the thing.

There’s this guy.

And he’s dying.

Much younger than he should.

He knows it, we know it, the best and the brightest tell him he’s already lived longer than he should.

And I talk to his family, who have become my family, and I try my best to not make them feel any worse.

And I also talk to, rail at, question and abuse the God (pick your flavor) that chooses or allows such things.

And part of me feels I should want to say, “Thy will be done,” or “Inshallah,” or whatever the head dude wants to hear, but all I can think is:

There’s this guy.

Can we please keep him a little longer?