One can live a lifetime eating the world in NYC, and still will not know a thing about Indonesian food. The vast majority of those that do, got their knowledge from a trip to Amsterdam where as we speak, thousands are celebrating their fresh Eurovision win with a Rijsttafel (Indonesian rice table consist of many side dishes). Australia, so close! Yet so far away (literally. A little Eurovision humor).
Indonesian food and Rijsttafels are generally not a thing here. The lone Indonesian in Hell’s Kitchen Bali Nusa Indah was open for may years, and closed before yours truly had a chance to try it. The constant barrage of negative Yelpers didnt exactly push me at the time. I remember coming back from Amsterdam myself one year, hunting for Indonesian joints after my lower lip was fully deflated (that was some seriously spicy stuff), and wasnt able to find anything to get excited about.
At French-Indo Wayan, owners Cedric and Ochi Vongerichten are not here to fill that void. Cedric, the son of Jean-Georges Vongerichten (usually pronounced “Von something”), and his Indonesian wife already own two restaurants in Indonesia. While they admittedly not after teaching us what authentic Indonesian food is all about, whatever they are doing at Wayan works and feels new. The space is comfortable and smartly decorated. A seafood leaning menu where you want to try more than you can. And flavors that feel fresh, bold but restrained just enough to showcase the French side of the equation.
Chicken Satay – Five sticks of some of the best Satay I’ve had in NYC. Ground chicken is perfectly spiced and cooked, served with a creamy, most delectable peanut sauce.
Hiramasa Sashimi – Outstanding Yellowtail Sahimi. There was a lot going here including chili, herbs, and a shallots/lemongrass sauce that did not interfere too much with the clean flavors of the fish. Different than most Sashimi out there today.
Clams Jimbaran Style. Take the best Baked Clams you ever had, remove the breadcrumbs, and add soy, chili, sweet onions, coconut and you got Clams Oreganata on crack.
Yellow Chicken – A cute name for a suburb chicken curry. About three pieces if I remember correctly, some got the crunch reminiscent of the great Perry Street chicken where Cedric is still the chef.
Sauteed While Shrimp – Nice flavor, but probably the weakest dish of the night. Shrimp slightly overcooked, and must be eaten fast before they harden even more. I’m at the point where I enjoy fresh raw or slightly seared shrimp a lot more than the fully cooked ones.
Lobster Noodles – This is it. The Piece de resistance! Like the most amazing dry mazemen with ramen noodles, chili, butter, soy, thai basil and chunks of lobster. A killer combination. I still think about this dish a week later
Nasi Goreng – A well crafted rice with a perfectly cooked fried egg. I’ve seen similar dishes in NYC listed as a main. Here its a must get side.
Pandan Custard – Desserts dont usually excite me at places like this. This did. Panna Cotta purists may balk at the tartness of the Passionfruit, but I found it well balanced.
Caramelized Banana – Dont let the purple yam ice cream throw you off here. This was a rather divine Sandae on a Sunday.
20 Spring St (Mott/Elizabeth), Nolita
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Cauliflower, Chicken Satay, Sashimi, Clams, Lobster Noodles, Yellow Chicken, Nasi Goreng, Pandan Custard