Tuesday, December 31, 2013

underwater world

These are from an inexpensive underwater digital camera because I don't trust any of those plastic baggie cases with my iPhone.

I shot them in Amed and at Tulamben where the wreck of the USAT Liberty is sunk.

Of course the batteries died the day I went to see the manta rays by Nusa Penida. It was rough that day anyway. I was hanging onto a life vest.

And the video is hypnotically, laughably bad.

But altogether, kind of cool.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


I've been living on nasi campur and tropical fruit for most of this trip. And talking to sweet Balinese drivers who've never heard of San Francisco and aren't sure what language Americans speak. 

And then one night at Caramel patisserie I run into a bunch of "Top Chef" fans from Jakarta and I'm back in familiar food territory. (More about Caramel: http://bigbadbeautifulworld.blogspot.com/2013/12/sweet-touch.html
Locavore opened in November, a partnership between a Javanese chef and a Dutch one who met in Jakarta. They're also booked solid and closed Sunday, my last dayEelke and Ray are marvelous. After seeing the room and meeting Eelke, I beg and offer to come in late. 

I get a prize seat at the bar looking into an open kitchen. The food was complex but glorious. I pieced together my own tasting menu and ordered far too much. Sophisticated dishes made with entirely local ingredients like prawns, rabbit, starfruit, and soursop. 
This tomato broth with Bloody Mary sorbet was divine, a reminder that it's summer here in the Southern Hemisphere. A warm loaf of sourdough was served with fresh, bright pesto, Balinese basil adding an extra bite. 
This hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi was accompanied by avocado purée with fresh parsley and tarragon. Keep hoping I'll save a bite for you. 
Pork pate with cashews was gorgeous. It came with tangy piccalilli, rhubarb and raisin jam, and my favorite, starfruit chutney. The microgreens had tiny croutons and fresh tarragon. I could have eaten a giant bowl of them. 
Rujak was one of the best things I had all week, refreshing and sweet and cold and spicy with miniature ice cubes. The only way you could have improved it was with gin. It had cucumbers and peppers and syrup and papaya maybe tamarind or guava. 
Frothy, delectable seafood bisque. By this time I was begging for smaller portions.
A sample of homemade chorizo with fennel reminded me of Incanto. I was surprised that places like Benu or Saisson are more famous than Incanto or Cyrus (the last time I was as overwhelmed by a dinner). Eelke did ask about Atelier Crenn, and I swooned and vowed to save up and return. 

It was fun to hear about SF restaurants from chefs who'd only heard about them from the food press or because of their Michelin stars. 
I hit the wall with this luscious Bedugal rabbit three ways. Every bite counted from the fried ball of rabbit shoulder to sous vide loin with crispy bunny bacon. 

I was begging for mercy by the time dessert was served, wondering how I could squeeze in another spoon: a warm Madeleine with chocolate–rosemary sauce and a sample of mango sorbet. 

Prices are high by Indonesian standards, where $6 or $7 will buy you a decent dinner, but quite low considering the quality and complexity of the dishes and how personalized service is. The tasting menu is 350,000–450,000 rupiah ($30 to $40) plus drinks and service. I spent just over $50 for 4+ courses including service, a glass of Astrolabe Pinot Noir, and a crisp bottle of cider. It was a splurge, but I enjoyed the food and atmosphere more than Mozaic, the fine dining restaurant in Ubud for many years. (I ate there with Annabel and Alan five years ago.) They're open for lunch too. 

One of the servers gave me a ride back to my bungalow on a scooter, as I balanced a take-home container on my tight white pants. I popped it in the hotel fridge and had leftover rabbit for breakfast with toast and an egg. As a thoughtful touch representative of the whole evening, they included another piece of rabbit. 

This is the kind of food that feeds body and soul. It's inspiring to see talented chefs work with seemingly exotic ingredients. I'm also excited to get home and cook. I'm picking up a Mariquita box filled with butternut squash and carrots and turnips—winter vegetables—when I'm back in the northern hemisphere next week. 

Ray and Eelke also asked where I was eating on my last day in town, and dispatched me to Warung Pulau Kelapa (Pineapple Coconut), which I'll write about next. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

sweet touch

On Christmas, I noticed a brightly lit patisserie on a dark stretch of street. I'd just eaten at Casa Luna, but how could I resist a shop called Caramel?

As it turned out they'd only been open two weeks. Jessica has worked in Paris and Sydney as well as at Mosaic. So I promised to return. 

Harry pulled up a chair so I could eat and chat: the chef's table, he called it. I had a black sesame macaron with a glass of jamu: beras kenchur, a health tonic made with rice and galangal.

While we chatted, Jessica piped filling between macarons. Jessica and Harry and their friends who dropped by are from Jakarta. 

So we talked about the romantic, reverent Balinese and how different they are from pragmatic, ambitious, cynical Javanese. I mentioned people asking overly personal questions (where are you going, where are you from) as I walked down the street. 

If you weren't alone, Bush pointed out, you wouldn't be here, talking to us. He asked where I'd eaten and promptly gave me a list of cafes and restaurants to try. 

I had two macarons, black sesame and hazelnut praline. But I'm coveting  Java tea and pandan (below).

Caramel is at the top of Jalan Hanoman. Try their red velvet cake or the excellent kek lapis, made with a whole farm's worth of egg yolks. 


Armed with Bush's list, I checked out Seniman coffee and Locavore, the hottest new restaurant in Ubud. Seniman would fit right in in Portland or the Mission. It's like Four Barrel on steroids. 
They have a ridiculous menu with something for everyone. Coffee beans sell for $7–8/250 grams or a little more than a half pound. So it costs roughly the same to buy coffee beans here as at home. 
The cold brew, served in a jar, was superb. I'd have ordered another cup of something else if the wifi worked, or if anyone had asked. 
They sell all kinds of coffee paraphernalia, from clever pourers to aeropresses and syphon brewers. You can also pay 300,000 rupiah ($25) for an hour's tasting. 

Jessica said people have encouraged her to give pastry workshops for tourists but that it's too hard. Not much you can learn about macarons in an hour of two. Maybe a jamu workshop?

Next post: in which I snag dinner at Locavore. 

shadow puppets

Last night I went to a performance of wayang kulit (shadow puppets).
Like most performances in Bali, it was an episode from the Ramayana. 
Music played, and puppeteers told a comic tale of love and dominance. 
The good guys won, of course. But not without a fight.
Here's what the puppets look like when they're not behind a screen. They're remarkably expressive. 
And here they are in the window of the gamelan shop. My bungalow is behind the shop. 
Sometimes you can hear them playing. 

Monkey Forest Road

It's called that for a reason.
The hotels and trees are filled with long-tailed macaques, climbing, snacking, dodging taxis to cross the street. 
You can also pay to visit the Monkey Forest sanctuary. But they're famous for stealing hats and sunglasses and any snacks in your bag. More info: http://www.monkeyforestubud.com/
Hanuman, the Monkey King, is everywhere. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013


I met my friend Eva for tea at Casa Luna and persuaded her to come for a swim. For once we couldn't find a taxi, but we saw a Hindu procession as we walked on the main street. 
Hundreds of people filled the streets. 
Women balanced baskets on their heads. 
Men bore brightly colored umbrellas. 
People sang and beat on gongs. 
And then it was gone. 
So we took a swim. Like most pools in Bali, this one is freshwater. No chlorine. 
We don't know what the procession was celebrating, but anyone visiting Bali is likely to run across a similar parade. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

the royal city

I'm back in the royal city of Ubud after five years. 
It's incredibly touristy and filled with raw foods shops and silver jewelry-making classes and day spas with fish that nibble on your toes and Michael Franti concert posters. It reminds me of Marin. 
But it is also storybook in its charm and beauty. 
I'm staying at a very plain but inexpensive bungalow with air conditioning and a pool. 
It's very quiet considering how convenient it is. 
I've been here so long I barely need the air conditioning. 
My Southeast Asia adventure is slowly winding down. I even had a twinge of homesickness tonight, eating dinner at Casa Luna and reading posts about Christmas at home. But I'm glad to have a few more days of painting and eating and bargaining. 
Hope Santa brought you everything you'd hoped for this year. XOX

Monday, December 23, 2013

joglo envy

A joglo is a traditional bungalow or cottage.
I happen to have hit the jackpot here at Sawah Indah. 
This joglo came from Jogjakarta. No wonder I feel at home. This is the view from my front porch. 
And out the side window. 
Everything is made from lovingly restored antiques. 
It's tiny but perfect. Except that they are building a reception next door and start early in the morning. But in Bali, they're always building next door. At 8 am. 
I don't really mind lying here in the rain, reading. 
I know it will be hard to leave. 
Fortunately I'm not going anywhere yet. 

All this luxury comes at a modest price (500,00 rupiah or about $42 a night including tax and full breakfast), with exceptionally warm service. 

Sidemen is the Bali we've all dreamed about. I'm glad to know it still exists.