Garuda: Indonesian fare via Holland

 

Indonesia is made up of a lush

constellation of islands, seemingly flung across a stretch of sea,

between the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, lying just north of

Australia and south of the Philippines.

For centuries, Indonesia has been known

for its abundant spices. The European appetite for spices — and

the money to be made trading them — brought the Dutch to

Indonesia in the 16th century. The Dutch East India Company

controlled the spice trade there for the next 350 years.

Today, if you visit the Netherlands,

you’ll find Indonesian restaurants aplenty. In fact, it’s

in cities like Amsterdam where most Americans try Indonesian cooking

for the first time. That’s because this delicious cuisine has

yet to catch on in the States, which is mystifying since the

Indonesians combine flavors associated with such already imported

favorites as Thai, Indian and Vietnamese.

Lucky for Indianapolis, then, that

Dutch transplant and restaurateur Peter Oomkes, along with his son

Helger, has opened Garuda, its name referring to Indonesia’s

great winged national symbol, at the intersection of 52nd St. and

College Ave. Word has it Garuda is the first — and only —

Indonesian restaurant in the state of Indiana.

Although Garuda doesn’t

officially open for full-time business until Tuesday, March 8, it’s

been serving customers buffet-style meals on Sunday afternoons in a

series of “soft openings.” From the look of things on the

day we visited, customer response has been tremendous. Diners packed

the cozy space, helping themselves to a variety of savory dishes for

the unbeatable price of $8. (Editors note; this price was for the "soft openings" only; the price for the buffet is $12.50.)

We started by trying the two soups on

offer. The first was made with carrots pureed to a velvety

consistency and cut with a hint of coconut. It struck a nice balance

between being rich and refreshing. The other soup was a variant on

chicken noodle. It was loaded with finely shredded meat and

vegetables, but it substituted thin glass noodles for pasta and added

cumin to provide a hint of afterburn.

Then we filled our plates. There were

several dishes to choose from and, under the circumstances, we tried

them all, beginning with Lumpia, a large Indonesian spring roll

stuffed with chicken or tofu and sautéed mixed vegetables. The

rolls are pan-fried and can be dipped in sweet and tangy peanut sauce

or in a pineapple chili sauce.

Other dishes included Rendang with

tender bits of lamb slow-roasted in coconut milk, chilis and

lemongrass for a flavor reminiscent of a Thai green curry.

Laksa consisted of bite-size chunks of

chicken sautéed with garlic and shallots in chicken stock and

served over a bed of glass noodles.

There were three kinds of Satay, or

kebabs – beef, chicken and vegetable. The beef and vegetable

were particularly good. The beef was meltingly tender and prepared in

a sweet barbeque sauce. The vegetable version featured grilled red

onion, yellow squash and zucchini.

The Kubis Kalapa Salad was a truly

original kind of slaw, with thick shreds of cabbage mixed with

cucumbers, carrots and bits of fresh apple tossed with coconut milk

and a trace of peanut sauce. It provided a bright counterweight to

the other, richer, dishes.

Finally, we sampled the Nasi Goreng

with tofu, Jasmine rice sautéed with shallots, garlic, chili

peppers, carrots and bamboo shoots, garnished with green onions and

cilantro.

Krupuk, a translucent, crispy shrimp

cracker, was served as a side, and tables were outfitted with caddies

bearing jars with hot and sweet chili sauces for diners who wanted a

little extra hit.

Dessert consisted of tasty slices of

fried plantain served with a frosty coconut ice cream and chocolate

sauce – a great finish.

Everything we tried at Garuda put

flavor first. Spices were abundant and used with authority –

but in service to the creation of a rich and satisfying taste

experience. These were seemingly simple dishes prepared with a high

degree of sophistication.

Owner Oomkes says that when Garuda

opens on a fulltime basis next week, the buffet selections will vary,

and dinner will be offered from a full menu at a higher price point.

A license to serve beer and wine is in the works and should be

available soon. And there are plans in the works to allow for

additional dining space to accommodate what promises to be a growing

clientele.

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