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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