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:
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.