Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lara Djong Grang, Jakarta

I was in Jakarta for a brief one-night trip recently. There I met up with Kevin, Ganesh and Joel. That evening after we did what we had to do, we went out looking for makan. Kevin whipped out his mobile phone and Waze-guided the taxi driver to a restaurant he had found in the Internet.

The place went by the name Lara Djong Grang. It's location was on Jalan Teuku Cik Ditiro No.4, Menteng in central Jakarta. Both the restaurant and the road were mouthfuls in name. Outside the restaurant, it was a dark and mysterious. The place was surrounded by big trees and lighted statues of mythical creatures.

Inside, we were awed. The place was unreal. It was like we had walked into in an ancient civilisation - kind of an Indiana Jones sort of place. The interior was not much brighter than outside. The main dining hall was presided by 2 big and imposing figures of some legendary gods. The place made clever use of spot lights, candles and oil lamps to create a truly mystical ambiance.

They had a big collection of beautiful artefacts. I do not if they were all Indonesian in origin. 

We were seated in the main dining hall. The table was big. We were very comfortable and looked forward to a truly authentic Indonesian meal.

Besides the main dining halls, there were smaller dining areas and some private rooms - all of them with similar dim and esoteric settings.

Kevin did the honour, ordering all the dishes. I think he did hell of a job, considering that even though Indonesian and Malaysian dishes have a lot in common, most of the dishes listed in the menu were new to us.  And I honestly cannot remember everything we ate.

The drinks came first. Kevin had this coconut juice that tasted rather strange. I had a sip and a piece of the flesh. It was not like the ordinary coconut at all. It is hard to describe the flavour. The flesh was a little powdery. To me, it tasted somewhat like a decaying fruit. I didn't like it.

Mine was an equally strange drink. It came in a bowl. The waitress told us this could be also a dessert. It was a potpourri of strange things. The black stuff was a kind of cincau. The green thing was lime and mint jelly. The white blot was coconut flesh. Below these were small bits of a lot of other stuffs. I had no idea what they were. I think I tasted sago and nutmeg. The flavour of the whole thing was equally mixed. It was sweet, sour, and slightly bitter - all in one. With lots of ice on the bowl, it was actually a very refreshing drink. I liked it. I only wish I remember the name.

This other dessert drink was much like our ABC (air batu camper). I remember this avocado ABC on a previous visit to Jakarta.

Then the food started to arrive. We had 2 appetisers. The first was these rolls that were very similar to our lobak. I tasted meat and prawns. They were exotically served in a big sea shell. Tasted not bad at all.

The second started was these "udang swarloka" - deep fried prawn balls. Another interesting and creditable small-bite to tease the palate.

This was a serious sambal dish with roasted brinjal. The amount of fiery hot chilli in it was intimidating. I found the flavour too strong and spicy.

The salad was not unlike our rojak. It was the "karedok sunda" - a  Javanese dish of various vegetables in a peanut sauce. It had kangkung, cucumber, bean sprouts, cabbage, long beans, basil - all the rojak stuffs. It was delicious.

From the banana wrapping, I thought this was the otak otak. Far from it. It was a mixture of soft tofu and minced meat, cooked in a creamy sauce. It was delicious. I thought the dish was very innovative.

The grilled "gurame" fish was also very nice. The meat was soft and tender. The marinade was light but distinct. This was the first time I tasted a gourami. I always thought the gourami was an aquarium fish. I didn't know they eat them.

Indonesia is famed for its gado gado. I guess this one here could not be any more authentic. The ingredients were the same as the gado gado we have in Malaysia - tofu, egg, tempe (fermented soy beans), cucumber, sengkuang, etc. But the sauce was not quite. They do use a peanut sauce, but it was different. The sauce in our gado gado is similar to our Indian pasembur rojak. In Jakarta, I guess they do not have pasembur. Perhaps I am biased or I am used to our pasembur. I actually prefer our version.

I have never had so many varieties of satay before. This satay boat we ordered had 6 different types. There was beef satay, mutton satay, beef tongue satay, chicken on sugar-cane satay, fish satay and squid satay. Their preparation of satay was not quite the same as ours. They do not use the same marinade. And they do not offer the same peanut sauce. In stead, they provided different types of sambal and chilli pastes. We had a stick of each. They were delicious.

We had 2 soups. The first was the soto ayam. It was a milky soup with chicken, potato and I don't remember what else. It was slightly spicy but not fantastic.

Somewhat more fantastic was this soto bentut goreng - an oxtail soup. The meat (oxtail) was fried and served separately. The soup came in a small pot. The meat was tough and dry but the soup was superb. Perhaps we were supposed to immerse the meat into the soup. We did not.

We ate all these dishes with 2 different types of rice. This brown rice was quite fragrant and nice.

The yellow rice was the same as our nasi kunyit. It was glutinous rice (pulut) cooked in turmeric (kunyit). Of the two, I preferred the brown.

Towards the end of our meal, I noticed this side dish, compliments of the house. I thought it was a keropok (prawn/fish cracker) and did not pay too much attention to it. On closer look, I realised it was not keropok. It tasted more like fried fish maw. We asked the waitress and she told us it was "kulit sapi" - cow skin. Effectively we were eating leather. I joked that it definitely tasted better than my shoe. It certainly was the first and most delicious cow skin I ever had.

We hardly had room for dessert. But we wanted to sample some Indonesian after dinner sweets. We ordered two to share. The first was very much like our cendol. It was pandan flavoured green strips in suntan (coconut milk). It did not taste good. I had a spoon and it was enough.

More awful was these 2 pieces of green stuffs in a brown sauce. We stared at them for awhile wondering what on earth they were. The taste was worse than it looked. It was like a sponge cake in a mixture of gula melaka and milk. I still shudder at the thought of the taste.

I couldn't believe we ate so much that night. Our big table was to the brink.

Notwithstanding the desserts, it was a good and unique Indonesian experience. I guess we had some true authentic Indonesian dishes. The similarities between Indonesian and Malaysian cuisines are many. Yet they are so different. By any standard, Lara Djong Grang was a fabulous restaurant. It had the exotic ambiance and the genuine Indonesian food to match. We couldn't ask for more in Jakarta.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ming Yuan

This was my third birthday dinner this year. I did not expect it at all. Edwin very kindly hosted it. He said it gave us the opportunity to gather for a meal.

He met up at his place in Klang and he led us to Setia Alam in Shah Alam. As we got near, the bright lights of the restaurant was unmistakable. Ming Yuan is located along Jalan Setia Indah XU13/X in Section U13, Setia Alam, Shah Alam.

The place was as loud as it was bright. There was a multitude of white fluorescent tubes on the ceiling. The crowd was large and I don't think the acoustics of the place could cope with the noisy chatters. It was a heavy toll on the senses.

They offered curry fish at 16 bucks. Unfortunately it was a Saturday night when we were there. The lady at the table was quite taken aback when I took this shot. She thought I was taking a picture of them. But when she looked back and realised it was the fish, she smiled and shrugged as if to tell me "Too bad, this is weekend".

Edwin had booked the table and pre-ordered the dishes. Still it took a long time before we got to eat. Must had been the crowd.

I guess noodle is a must in any Chinese birthday dinner. The long strands represent longevity. It was the first dish on the table. The noodle was covered in a sea of gravy - almost like a soup. It was good. The noodles were very fine - like mee saui (面线). The flavour was mild and delicious. I was given the honour of the first serving. I wanted a second, but by the time it went round the table, there was nothing left.

This was a very nice dish of deep fried pork ribs in a sauce. It looked a little overdone, but it really wasn't. The meat was nice and succulent. Perhaps it was the marinade that made it look dark. The flavour was delicious.

This chicken was also deep fried. It had been marinated in fermented bean paste (南乳). I liked the crispy batter. The flavour was not bad.

This was a soup of fish. The fish was first deep fried and lightly cooked in a milky soup of a whole lot of ingredients which I tried to make out. They included seaweeds, wood fungus (木耳), salted vegetable (hum choy -咸菜), and a whole lot of things I could not identify. It was not unlike the typical fish head meehoon (魚頭米粉) - minus the noodles. The soup was definitely nice. Because it had already been deep fried, I could not tell if the fish was fresh. But it was not fishy.

The double yam pot (佛砵) was very dry. There was no trace of moisture or gravy in the fillings which was deep fried mantis prawn in salted egg. The mantis prawns tasted very nice. The yam pots were also well done. But they were a total mismatch. It was not the right combination. The yam pots should have some moisture and gravy in the fillings. The mantis prawns would had made a very credible dish by itself. I just wondered why they saw it fit to combine the two.

The vege dish was a mixture of green beans, celery, black fungus (云耳), mushroom and asparagus, sprinkled with nice crunchy almonds. I like the simplicity of the cooking. It was stir fried and not at all over done. The greens were crispy and fresh.

I believe this is the same curry fish they offer for RM16 on weekdays. And I can see why it is sold for such a cheap price. It was lousy. The curry was tasteless. The was no oomph at all. It was not much better than the curry flavour of instant noodles. The flavour of the various vegetables and dried tofu was also flat. The fish was fresh, but it did not amount to anything.

The awful fish curry was compensated by this delightful tofu in pumpkin sauce. I want to learn how to make pumpkin sauce like this. The flavour was excellent and made the tofu taste so very good. There was petai and pieces of crab sticks on top. I honestly thought they could do away with the mundane crab stick.

I think the dessert was complimentary. It was a mango pudding in a cream. The pudding was totally artificial.

Thanks Edwin, for the lovely meal. I enjoyed the company thoroughly. And I really appreciate the kind thoughts.

Sunday, May 04, 2014


I remember my birthday meal last year was arranged by Crystal in an Italian joint Neroteca. This year Crystal did the arrangements again. And it was a surprise of sort. The place she initially picked was some place in Aman Suria, PJ. But that place had a function and was full house. So she did a last minute change and we ended up in yet another Italian place - the d'italiane.

The d'italiane is located on the ground floor of the Paradigm Mall in Kelana Jaya, PJ. It is at the outside concourse of the mall. 

The restaurant is rather big. They have a small outdoor (smoking?) dining area. Inside, it has a nice contemporary decor. The setting was right for a quiet relaxing meal.

My first surprise was seeing SP, Mei and Van in the restaurant. I thought it was to be a quiet threesome. Crystal arranged their presence. It certainly was nice to have them.

Their menu was like a newspaper.I wondered why it was D'Times. The variety and selection was pretty good. But I did not have to crack my heads over it. Crystal did the ordering.

The waiters laid our table. And no, it is not my camera or your eyes.

The glasses were indeed crooked.

The food were delivered very promptly. We started with the salads. This was the Sicilian chicken salad with roasted chicken strips, diced tomato, sliced peach, grapes, pine nuts and mixed salad tossed in herb dressing and served with a mustard sauce. It was a good salad. The flavour was mixed and varied. I enjoyed the variety.

The second salad was with roasted pumpkin, chick peas, rockets and lettuce, tossed in herb dressing and served with grated feta cheese. It was quite an unique salad. The roasted pumpkin was very nice.

The fresh mushroom soup was served with decorative cream and bread. The flavour was mild and pleasant.

This orange coloured soup was pumpkin and tomato. The combination was not bad at all, but it was somewhat stronger in flavour. I liked the mushroom more.

We ordered garlic bread to go with the soups, not knowing that bread came with the soup. But no regrets. The garlic bread was very well done. I enjoyed it.

The first of the entrees was this smoked duck pizza. Besides strips of duck meat, there were button mushroom, sliced garlic and spring onion, covered with mozzarella cheese and a base of roma tomato sauce. The pizza was delicious. The crust was perfect. I had double helpings of it. I guess it is a birthday boy privilege.

This was spinach ricotta ravioli. The ravioli was stuffed with ricotta cheese, cooked in a spinach and pesto sauce, and topped with roasted pine nuts. I am no big fan for ravioli. I find them rather doughy. The spinach and pesto flavour was good.

There was a choice of chicken or beef in this carbonara spaghetti. We opted for chicken. It was cooked with button mushrooms, herbs and garlic. The flavour was very good. But the al dente of the pasta was not totally satisfactory. I found it a little soggy.

This was the river prawn arrabiata spaghetti. Arrabiatta is a kind of spicy tomato sauce, which I liked. Again the pasta was not great in texture, but the sauce and fresh prawn made up for it.

The "jumbo" lamb shank was not exactly that big. It was served with mashed potato, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrot. The meat was rather soft but the flavour of the sauce was good.

Finally, we had this pimento chicken. It was pieces of grilled chicken thigh cooked in pimento sauce and served with rosemary potato and some mixed vegetables. I liked the taste of the pimento. It was slightly spicy and added a lot of flavour to the chicken. The rosemary potato was very nice too.

It was a very satisfying meal. d'italiane did a very creditable job. I enjoyed the meal. Then I got my second surprise. The waiters walked out with the birthday cake. I was a little flustered. Crystal had arranged all these. And it was a good cake too - green tea and red beans.

I had a most enjoyable birthday evening.