Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rickshaw Republic

I generally think that I have a pretty broad palate and am familiar with a wide variety of cuisines.  There are a few cuisines with which I am relatively unfamiliar and I went to a restaurant that specialized in one of these last week.  Rickshaw Republic specializes in Indonesian cuisine and specifically, Indonesian street food.  I have a pretty good sense of geography and know that Indonesia is located in the Indian Ocean between Australia and Thailand.  It is considered part of Southeast Asia, so I would expect there to be some similarity between it's cuisine and the other major cuisines in the area: Thailand, Vietnam, North and South Korea, Philippines, and possibly that of India.  While this may have been the case, it was going to take some exploring to find this out.  I walked in and was immediately seated in the front room.  The room was small with 4 tables and a small bar (for additional seating as the restaurant is BYOB).  One of the first things that I noticed was that all of the seats were mismatched.  They were all black, but they were all of different designs.  There was a large Asian-style wooden screen dividing the front room and the rear dining area.  There were many knick knacks spread around the room for decoration including a couple of puppets and a toy rickshaw.  There was a hanging above the bar that acted sort of as a drop ceiling that was nailed with several dozen (if not over a hundred) things that looked like rolling pin handles.  What little I could see of the back room looked like it also had a lot of knick knacks, although the room was red to the front room's white.  Overall, the space very much gave me a feeling of it being a family affair.  As I said before, I was relatively unfamiliar with Indonesian cuisine.  Looking at the menu helped very little.  The names of the dishes helped not at all and I was only able to navigate by the descriptions of the dish.  I ended up ordering things by what was in the dish without really knowing how they were going to be presented or really having an idea how different flavor combinations were going to work.  My waitress was friendly and helpful and she did help me choose what I ordered.  I started out with Risoles.  These were breaded and fried croquettes of Chicken with Bechamel Sauce, Coriander, Fennel, Carrots, Cloves, and Celery, and were served with a Coconut Milk Curry.  It was crisp, very flavorful and easy to eat with your hands.  The curry that was served with it had a strong coconut flavor and reminded me of Massaman curry.  It matched well with the spices in the risoles and was a good start.
My entree was essentially a sampler plate although it is actually a dish served by Indonesian street food vendors.  It was called Nasi Rames and is an Indonesian mixed rice dish.  Further reading stated that there is no one recipe for Nasi Rames and it varies by vendor except that it includes rice (in this case it was coconut rice) and things to mix it with.  With my dish, it included Beef Rendang (beef that's been braised in coconut milk and spices), Curry Pickle, a Spicy Egg, Green Beans (with red peppers and fish sauce), Carmelized Tempeh (similar to fried tofu), Krupuk (multi-colored shrimp crackers), and was served with Sambal, a red pepper fish sauce that was served on the side.  I decided to try everything individually before I mixed everything together and added any sambal.  Everything was prepared well although the curry pickle was a little boring on its own.  It was a fresh and thinly sliced cucumber with a light pickle and curry flavor.  The green beans were freshly crisp and pretty spicy with the peppers.  The tempeh was actually kind of surprising because I first thought it was a meat of some sort.  It was flavorful, savory, and had a meaty texture.  The egg was hard boiled and was covered in a spicy red sauce.  The Beef Rendang was fork tender and had a lot of coconut milk and spicy flavor.  The Krupuk I had encountered before.  It was lightly flavored but very crispy and adds a nice crunch to whatever you eat it with.  Mixed together, it was a melange of flavors and textures although spice and coconut milk figured prominently..  The sambal is pretty spicy on its own so I used it lightly.  It did add another level of spice to a good dish that was pretty spicy in places already.

After that large entree, I decided that I should probably go light for my dessert, so I ordered what was essentially a drink.  It was called Es Cendol and included Ice, Rice Flour Jelly, Coconut Milk, and Palm Sugar.  The glass was brought to the table and the coconut milk was added there.  I was told to mix it before drinking it.  I could see the point of that because the coconut milk floated on top and if I were to drink it as it was, the flavors wouldn't have combined.  I mixed it up and the liquid turned about the color of coffee with cream with the globs of rice flour jelly floating throughout.  It was very good.  It was sweet and flavorful with the little bits of green jelly that were kind of like soft gummies.

The food here was very good.  My waitress was friendly and I now have an idea of what Indonesian food is like.  In my experience, it is most similar to Thai cuisine with some Filipino and Indian flavors thrown in.  I enjoyed it and will definitely have to return to try more.

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