I'm reviewing as I'm here. So far, I've been very impressed with this place and glad it got on Yelp.
The restaurant is brightly lit and has a sleek modern look to it. It is partly a Japanese restaurant and part Indonesian restaurant. But continuing my streak, I've decided to check out the Indonesian menu (aptly named the Kitchen menu). Prices are comparable to Upi Jaya, which I had also visited and will review about shortly.
When I got there it was pretty packed. I guess word got out quickly around the area since they opened only seven days ago. They were very pleased when I told them I was reviewing them on Yelp and that it could draw them more customers. But hey, I don't know, maybe next time I'm here I'll be standing on a line since I had to sit at the sushi bar this time around.
I ordered tempeh mandoan, which was a fried tempeh dish. There were two of these actually. The other one was tempeh goreng. The waitress told me that this one was less crispy, so I went with it. I also ordered gado gado, along with a rice on the side. The waitress told me it wasn't necessary, but from my previous experience, I thought having some rice to mop up the peanut sauce would be a good idea.
Now what my servers didn't do, for better or worse, was warning me how big the portions were. I've been to three Indonesian eateries in the last two weeks and the portions were generous but not heavy. This? Wow. I definitely ordered enough food to feed two or three people.
First, the tempeh came as an order of two slices. It was still crispy, but them I could taste the actual tempeh below the crust. It was still juicy, and having a slightly spongey and meaty texture that one could mistake with meat. Each slice was largely than a Metrocard. Probably as large as my palm, or fist.
I waited a bit, maybe fifteen minutes, before the gado gado arrived. It came eye openingly in a large plate caked with peanut sauce. You could see all the ingredients on it, such as tofu, tempeh, rice cakes, bean sprouts, beans, cabbage, lettuce, and eggs. And despite the sauce, I could distinguish well every flavor there. There was also a dash of hot sauce, maybe sriracha? Not sure if my spicy tolerance had gone down, but that had packed a punch. The rice cakes were very interesting. They were plain tasting, not too sticky, but were well composed. I guess there was an equal amount of everything, with no food ingredient more represented than another.
But there was a lot of food. I spent perhaps an hour incrementally mowing down the food and tempted to cry uncle at how much there was. Eventually, I managed to clear the plates and have concluded that it was worth the long trip from Manhattan. Would definitely come back.
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.
I came here with my dad, who's from Java, like the chef/owner Awang. My dad has pretty high standards for Indonesian restaurants, and we've been somewhat underwhelmed by some of the other places we've been in Elmhurst -- though we're long-time patrons of the weekend Indonesian food bazaars that regularly take place across Queens. However, even with his high bar, we think Awang Kitchen is awesome!
The food here is authentic and made with care; everything really tasted like home cooking, with quality ingredients and fresh preparations. Awang came over to our table to introduce himself (he's from Jakarta), and several of the waitstaff checked on us throughout our meal.
We got some classics and some chef specialties: tahu isi, satay ayam, gado gado, nasi tim ayam, pecel lele, and dendeng sambal ijo. We were pretty hungry when we came in, and we left full but not uncomfortable; we were a party of 4 but this food would be more appropriate for a party of 5. The menu had lots of Javanese dishes with a bunch of things from other islands. If you're not familiar with Indonesian food, it's an island cuisine that features lots of spices, plenty of heat, and many stewed meats. Chicken, beef, and seafood are pretty common, and Awang Kitchen offers everything from cow tongue to catfish.
Tahu isi: this "stuffed tofu" is deep fried and served with hot fresh chili peppers (you don't need to eat them if you don't want the heat). Awang's is generously stuffed, airily fried, and pretty delicious. Tahu isi isn't something I normally order but this was really good and felt light.
Satay ayam: these are chicken satay, a pretty standard offering at many Indonesian restaurants. You get 5 skewers to an order, which comes with a heap of lontong (compressed rice cubes, soooo good), a generous helping of peanut sauce, and a bowl of fiery fresh red chili sambal. This dish gets extra points for including the lontong.
Gado gado: another Indonesian classic, this vegetarian-friendly (ask to omit the shrimp crackers) warm salad is one of my favorites, and the made-fresh-from-scratch peanut sauce makes Awang's gado gado extra delicious. There's a mixture of cooked and fresh ingredients in here: fresh romaine lettuce, some boiled vegetables, lontong, tofu, and tempeh, smothered in rich peanut dressing and dotted with shrimp crackers. Get it! Kids will eat this.
Nasi tim ayam: I wasn't familiar with this before trying it, but it was probably my favorite dish. You get a small mountain of rice (nasi) that has been soaked with a savory chicken (ayam) stew, accompanied by a light, aromatic broth with meatballs (bakso). This was really, really good and tasted like comfort food your Indonesian grandma might make for you. Spoon the broth over a scoop of the chicken and rice. Make sure to add some sambal.
Pecel lele: I will eat pecel, a fermented shrimp paste and chili sauce, with anything. This entree is a whole small fried catfish (really delicious and crispy, though watch for the bones) that comes with rice, fresh cabbage and cucumber, and a dish of the pecel. I really loved the funky flavors of this dish and the catfish was perfectly fried.
Dendeng sambal ijo: dendeng is jerky-like strips of beef that is typically eaten with rice and a chili sambal. In this case, the sambal was green (ijo) and pretty spicy. The sambal tastes super fresh and aromatic, which you don't always find at Indonesian restaurants around here! I liked the dendeng though I felt they needed a little more spice paste in their cooking process. This is served with rice as well.
I'm eager to come back here to try more things, especially the tongue dish and some of the es desserts (if you like shaved ice desserts, definitely order one of these). Awang's hospitality made us feel so welcome, and the restaurant is clean, modern, and pretty accessible. Thank you for a great meal, and hope to enjoy more here in the future!