Well, here was an eye-opener. Of all the cuisines from around the world that we have sampled over the last few years, we haven’t looked at Indonesian before. There are a few dishes and flavors common to both Indonesian and Malaysian cooking, and we did enjoy visiting Panang with friends earlier this year and trying Malaysian, but there are only a handful of Indonesian-only restaurants in the Atlanta area. These include Waroeng in a mall food court in Norcross, and Batavia, which has two locations in northeast Atlanta, but this time I got to visit Tempo Doeloe, which is attached to the Ariesandi family’s grocery store, Java, in the Intown Plaza shopping center, with some friends and acquaintances in a Meetup group.
It was terrific. I had a good feeling about the place from the start, despite criminally little in the way of material to research. In 2011, Gene Lee, then of the AJC, wrote up a very detailed review, rich with background about Indonesian culture and the influences that Arabic, European, and Chinese diets brought to the development of their food. It’s the sort of review which had everybody in the city wincing when the AJC downsized their staff and let Lee go a couple of years back. Heck of a writer, that guy. A buddy who goes by the handle Ari32 gave it a good writeup at Urbanspoon, and our friends at Spatialdrift did their usual exemplary job when they blogged about it earlier in the summer.
Flatly, I’m amazed, and in a bad way, that more of us hobbyists have not come to try this place. It’s just wonderful.
It was just me and the girlchild for supper on this trip. It was the evening of her first day of high school, and so I wanted to do something memorable and different to celebrate, my fingers crossed hard that she’d enjoy it. I started with an order of Ma-Lor to share with our table. For dinners, there are not many appetizers available – only four, and three of them are made with fishcake. I went with the odd one out. Ma-Lor is a deep-fried crepe filled with ground beef, egg, scallion, and onion, cut into six big rectangles and served with some pickled vegetables and a couple of extremely hot Thai red peppers. This was pretty good, but I wasn’t persuaded that I made that great of an investment.
The girlchild was really happy with her choice of Ayam Bakar. This is a marinated grilled chicken served with steamed rice, sambal, and some vegetables. She chose it with sweet spices – it is also available hot and spicy – and we agreed that she made a terrific choice. The chicken was so juicy and full of life and flavor, and incredibly tender. I said that I hoped that I would not get menu envy before my plate arrived. I didn’t. I had been considering the fried rice noodles (Mie Goreng Dok Dok), but went with a sampler dish called Nasi Salero Kito instead. This has a big scoop of rice along with some spicy grilled chicken, tendon curry with a green chili sauce, and beef rendang. Imagine pot roast, slow-cooked in a bath of coconut milk, ginger, and hot spices. I first had a taste of rendang at that trip to Penang back in February. Our friend Vincent really enjoys it; it was too long ago and that was too small a taste for me to remember clearly enough to compare the dishes between restaurants. What I can say is that I had one little nibble of this, loved it completely, and ate everything else on my plate before coming back to finish the best for last.
Tempo Doeloe is a very no-frills restaurant, and I suspect that it’s even better for lunch. The dinner menu has thrity entrees, and it’s counter service, rung up under the watchful eyes of Indonesian government officials on the wall. In keeping with their cuisine’s Arabic influence, the owners practice halal cooking and preparation at both dinner and lunch, where our buddy David tells me this place really shines. The dinner menu is pretty standard, but they have all sorts of fun at the buffet lunch, where for $6.49, you get three items and rice. (It had been only $5.49 just a couple of months ago, but it sounds like the extra dollar’s worth it.) The beef rendang is frequently on the lunch menu, as are all sorts of other things that you can’t get at dinner, including some fun eggplant dishes. I definitely need to come back for lunch.
For dessert, of course, I needed to buy my girlchild a treat for being good company, trying new things, and of course starting high school. She asked for a trip to Sweet Hut, but I suggested we go a few doors down and give Quickly a try. She grumbled a little – better, with her, a known success than an unproven one – but she was punching the air after sipping on her peppermint boba tea and bellowing that nothing at Sweet Hut is as good as this.
Then she had a sip of my vanilla and started growling that mine was even better, and how we should trade, because it’s her celebration and it would be unfair otherwise. I told her no deal. My drink, sensibly, had none of those fool tapioca balls in it.
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