Archive for the 'Indonesian' Category

Top Restaurant – Pasadena

Top Restaurant - Pasadena

The Astronomer and I moved into new digs a month ago, and since then we’ve been slowly exploring and tasting our ‘hood. The apartment is only a mile away from the old place,  but the vibe here is totally different. For starters, the lawns aren’t manicured to perfection, and the streets have a grittier feel. And instead of bumping into school children and Caltech sidewalk cyclists on my morning walk to work, it’s angsty PCC students and a few random bums. Call me crazy, but I like this part of Pasadena much more.

Top Restaurant - Pasadena

I spied Top Restaurant on my inaugural walk to work and chuckled a little at how pathetic it looked. The signage boasting Thai and Indonesian food was missing a few letters, while the interior was a mess.

As soon as I arrived at my desk, I looked up the restaurant on Yelp and was surprised to find that it was somewhat well-liked and not universally panned. However, I was warned by fellow Pasadenian Jonathan Gold that their fare was super-basic, like something your kid brother cooked in college.  Still, I was hopeful.

Top Restaurant - Pasadena

I gathered up two brave pals, Kung Food Panda and Roaming Belly, to test out Top Restaurant with me on a random weekday afternoon. I was the first to arrive and was seated promptly. Not counting the two ladies running the joint, there wasn’t a single other soul in the house.

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Ira's Gourmet – Pasadena

My colleague Ray is one lucky bastard. While I’m shoveling leftovers for lunch every day, he digs into a home cooked Indonesian lunchbox prepared and delivered by Ira’s Gourmet, a Pasadena-based caterer specializing in Indonesian fare. Even though Ray has been calling America home for the past ten years, he says that these daily feasts help to keep his homesickness at bay.

After weeks of smelling the sweet Indo aromas wafting from my colleague’s desk, I felt compelled to place an order for my very own lunchbox. When Ray informed Ira that I might be writing up her Indo meals-on-wheels service on gas•tron•o•my, she prepared a special lunchbox for me featuring a wide array of her offerings.

Being introduced to Indonesian cuisine by a home cook was a real thrill, especially since I knew that every item was prepared fresh and with care. The first offering that caught my eye was the telur balado (left), which consisted of a hard-boiled egg topped with a chili chutney. Since hard-boiled eggs and I usually meet in savory settings, I was taken aback by how sweet this dish was. I could’ve easily eaten several more.

In the compartment next to the telur balado was rendang daging (right)—beef simmered in coconut milk. The rendang, a “dry” beef curry, was served with Jasmine rice.  With its deep lemongrass profile and aromatic collection of spices, the tender beef rendang tasted vaguely familiar.

The most visually arresting item in the lunchbox was the tumpeng, cone-shaped rice surrounded by assorted Indonesian dishes. The tumpeng dates back to ancient Indonesian traditions that revered mountains “as the abode of ancestors and gods.” The cone-shaped rice is meant to mimic the holy mountain.

The “mountain” of nasi kuning, or yellow turmeric rice, was surrounded by sambal terasi (spicy jalapeno and shrimp paste relish), bacem tahu (fried tofu), bacem tempe (fried tempeh), and ayam goreng bumbu (Indonesian fried chicken). The smattering of scrambled egg ribbons, deep-fried tempeh bits, and roasted peanuts at the base of the mountain were my favorite components because they jazzed up everything they were paired with.

Another fantastic treat was the lemper ayam, which was comprised of glutinous rice stuffed with shredded chicken and wrapped in banana leaf.

Ira also included two soups for me to sample: chayote and young jack fruit  (left) and another with leafy kale greens. Both contained coconut milk and were sweeter than expected. With minimal spiciness at play, Indonesian soups are easy on the palate.

My Indonesian banquet concluded with a small dish of es buah, a sweet dessert soup with coconut milk and balls of watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe.

Man, Ray is beyond spoiled eating this goodness everyday.

Ira’s hand-delivered lunchboxes, which usually include three different Indonesian delights, are priced at $8.50. Orders can be placed via email ([email protected]) or by phone (626-345-9931, 805-708-9888).

Click below for a complete list of Ira’s Indonesian specialties.

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