With its use of coconut milk, thick peanut sauces, and dark palm-sugar syrup, Indonesian must be one of the world’s richest cuisines. But here in New York we’ve had little of it, with only about five restaurants to choose from at any given time, with the newest spot having opened near the bustling corner of Queens Boulevard and Broadway in Elmhurst, called Awang Kitchen. The owner ran a catering business for eight years before he opened three weeks ago.
The interior, clad in light-colored limestone and red wooden vertical slats, has a sushi bar with seating that runs along one wall, and a kitchen at the end of the room. Sushi bar? More about that later. Yesterday the dining room was jammed with Sunday shoppers, their bags hung over the backs of their chairs. The menu is mainly food that might be sold in a warung, which is an Indonesian street-food stall or small cafe. A sign on the door reads, “Come in, we’re OPEN and awesome.”
The menu offers plenty of vegetarian light snacks, salads, and main courses, including gado-gado ($7.99), a full-meal salad of fried tempeh, tofu, and compressed rice cakes called lontong on a bed of lettuce and cucumbers, with a thick peanut sauce and drizzle of palm syrup. Accompanied by tiny green chiles, fried tofu ($3.99) is served as fritters stuffed with steamed vegetables, while tempeh Mendoan is coated with starch and fried in flat, crisp cakes. These are especially tasty.
Most main courses arrive with an ensemble of accompaniments, including a chile sambal; boiled egg that’s been coated with starch and fried; white rice and heap of steamed vegetables. That was the case with beef rendang, a signature of the island of Sumatra — while most of the food on Awang’s menu might be identified with Java. Other entrees include a fried chicken quarter (choice of dark or light meat) that’s been marinated in coconut water, making it especially juicy. A heap of baby goat satay ($9.99) is also served with lontong. It sure beats chicken.
Another highlight of a first meal was grilled cow tongue, sliced thin and heaped with a green-chile relish. The menu abounds with other dishes not found on area Indonesian menus, including curried cow’s brain, stewed pea pods with pea shoots, and crab egg foo yung. Heck, you won’t even find that last one on the city’s Chinese-American menus. But what about the sushi?
We dutifully ordered a sushi app consisting of five pieces of nigiri sushi and a California roll. Not bad, but nothing special. It’s the Indonesian food at Awang Kitchen that’s worth a trip from any borough.