Friday, October 17, 2008

A moveable feast

When last we met, I was being eaten alive by mosquitos in the jungles of Borneo. Not the best place to leave off, I admit. I returned to a form of civilization soon after by spending a few days in Jakarta with my sister Jenny and her friend Pauline. These few days were chock-full of delicious food, thanks to their recommendations.

My two favorite restaurants were of the Italian and French variety. We visited the Italian star, Trattoria, twice in as many days. Like I said, we ate well. This restaurant starts you off right immediately, by handing over a basket full of hot crispy breadsticks and mini focaccia rounds. By the time we had ordered our dinner (and lunch, the second go-round), we were on our second basket. Hot, homemade bread fresh from the oven is truly one of my weaknesses.

The first time I ate at Trattoria, I shared a delicious and utterly simple salad: arugula with shaved pecorino romano, sliced pears and not nearly enough toasted pinenuts. Topped with a liberal amount of balsamic vineagar and olive oil and it was perfection.

Can I just stop a moment and thank every single restaurant that takes the time and effort to toast their nuts before adding them to salads, pastas, what have you? Because it makes ALL the difference in the world. Don't believe me? I dare you to try it and go back to untoasted nuts afterward. In fact, I triple dog dare you. You won't regret it, I promise.

The rest of my first meal at Trattoria was wonderful. I had ricotta/spinach gnocchi dumpling sthat had been lightly poached before being placed in a pool of tomato and ricotta sauce. Simple and delicious, and definitely something I'd like to experiment with at home. My second experience there started off with the same pecorino/arugula salad and was followed by lovely gnocchi in a fresh tomato and basil sauce. Again, refreshingly simple and delightful.

The second restaurant I have to share with you is a real gem. In fact, I seriously considered moving in. Brasserie was a lovely French restaurant just a five-minute walk from our hotel, and surprisingly empty for the delicious food they turn out. The second we walked in, I felt myself relax and unwind after a crazy and mosquito-filled week. We were eagerly ushered in by the manager (who remembered Pauline and Jenny from a visit months before), and immediately set to work on the free bread and fresh basil and herb olive oil it accompanied. Did I already mention my weakness for fresh bread? It turns out, it gets even worse when said bread comes with that delicious flavored oil.

Now, Jenny had been tormenting me for days about the lovely food on which we were going to be feasting, so ordering was not much of a problem for me. I knew I wanted escargots, as well as the goat cheese salad, but everything else looked so good that I persuaded Pauline (or was it the other way around?) to split escargots and sauteed chicken liver so that we could try both.

The escargot were amazing, just drenched in herbed butter and not in the least bit overly chewy, as so many people fear. The chicken liver arrived, sauteed in red wine with mushrooms, draped over a lovely brioche roll. The flavors were amazing together. And the goat cheese salad? Well, I have this theory that goat cheese makes absolutely anything taste better, and this salad was no exception. A half round of goat cheese on a piece of toast that had been slightly crisped in the oven topped a salad with a beautifully simple viniagrette...and I even think I spied some toasted pine nuts hiding in there as well.

My last meal in Jakarta was a repeat at Brasserie, with a bowl of delicious french onion soup, followed by a shared goat cheese salad with Pauline (my budget was getting a bit out of hand, so sharing helped offset the cost, a touch). Again, absolutely beautiful food, though this time it was accompanied by an incredible Amaretto Sour. These drinks, while consistently delicious in my opinion, can tend towards the too-sweet side, but this one was balanced by a touch of lemon. I know I'll be ordering one from my favorite bartender (my dad) when I go home.

The rest of my time in Jakarta was spent wandering around malls and the cinema, oh, and fighting through a crazy day where all three of us had vertigo and truly upset stomachs. Just a tip: never go to Jakarta during Ramadan, especially the last day of celebration. If you do, you'll have a whole new sympathy for non-Christians visiting Christian countries around Christmas time.

Next up, I head to Hanoi and fall in love with Bia Hoi.


Ashley said...

Oh my goodness, I'm about to eat lunch and you are making me starving! I don't think my deli meat sandwich is going to compare to your gnocchi though. And I second your opinion on the goat cheese. Keep up the good eating! Miss you!

Nicole said...

toasting pinenuts is the ONLY acceptable way to eat them. its so quick and easy and yum!