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
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