With all the inherent evils associated with colonialism, defenders of the imperialist policy can boast of one positive result ' the fusion of global culinary traditions. In Southeast Asia, along the Indonesian archipelago stretching from Thailand to Australia, dishes are marked by Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indian influences, a melting pot reflected in chef Amin Achyar's variegated menu.
And though the 'Asia Bagusâ?� moniker may conjure up flashes of an insidious pandemic from the Orient, this is probably one Asian bug you want to catch. Yeah, you have to venture down a gaudy thoroughfare, dodge your way through cars piloted by directionless drivers and resist the barbecued redolence from the grill across the parking lot, but really, it's no different than a jaunt in Jakarta.
Were it not for Dutch tourists and the large Malay community on the Orange-Osceola county border, Achyar likely would've opened his restaurant in Winter Park or on restaurant row. As it stands, this dining singularity must be savored in the environs of Visitor-ville, a small sacrifice to make considering the unrivaled fare originating from this spiffy little sup spot.
An infusion of complex flavors prevails in each sophisticated plating, and starters like the hearty soto betawi soup ($8.50) proffer just a taste of things to come. Tender cubes of beef and crisp sprouts tread in a creamy coconut-milk beef broth dotted with scallion, celery and jasmine rice. The soup is comforting yet satiating, so chew over the notion of sharing it.
The martabak telur ($4.95) is considerably less substantial, but equally as gratifying. The triangular pan-fried pastries come filled with minced beef, leeks and egg and are served alongside a gingery-fresh cucumber salad called acar.
But for the ultimate in authentic indulgence, look no further than the rijsttafel ($18.95, $24.95, $29.95). Comprising a sampling of dishes a la Chinese dim sum, the prix-fixe meal doesn't appear anywhere on the principal menu as it's primarily geared toward Dutch tourists accustomed to dining on the lavish feasts back home. But I say if it's good enough for Rotterdam, it's good enough for Orlando, so ask for the unpronounceable bill of fare and you won't regret it.
The three versions offered ' 10-, 11- and 14-course free-for-alls ' allow diners to sample a medley of Achyar's creations. (It should be noted that all dishes offered in the rijsttafels can also be ordered a la carte.) We sampled a 10-courser that commenced with a bowl of sambal teri kacang, a school of crispy anchovies and peanuts fried in chili. The peppery pace set by the traditional Indonesian snack food was tempered somewhat by the arrival of shrimp crackers and peanut wafers served with peanut sauce. The peanut, in case you haven't noticed, is a central ingredient in Indonesian cooking. We also found it represented in the marinade of the satay, which served to enhance the succulence of the chicken, but when our congenial waiter laid down the gado-gado salad, we were all nutted out. The cukes, greens, sprouts and tofu were sodden with peanut sauce and made for the lone disappointment of the evening.
Goobers, thankfully, failed to materialize in subsequent dishes like the nostril-flaring telur balado, four egg halves laced with incendiary sambal, a tomato-based chutney guaranteed to pop your kisser with a peppery punch.
The beef rendang is a signature Sumatran specialty, albeit a time-consuming one to prepare. Coconut milk, tamarind liquid and an assortment of spices are slow-cooked until the whole concoction simmers down to thick, brown gravy enveloping two slabs of tenderized beef. Spooning the velvety reduction onto jasmine rice completes the dish.
At this point, the delivery pace picked up, and we soon found ourselves under a deluge of rapidly cooling dishes. Achyar assured us, however, that plate warmers have been ordered to mitigate the issue.
By the time the ayam rica-rica arrives, battling the bulge becomes a losing proposition. You'll likely muster a bite or two of the sambal-smothered chicken breast before thoughts of dessert enter your consciousness.
The batter-fried bananas of the pisang goreng are a toothsome clichÃ©, but it's the accompanying crÃ¨me anglaise, ideal for a strawberry dunk, that qualifies the capper as irresistible.
Sinking back into my seat, I caught sight of the aboriginal masks ensconced on the walls, the gaping yaps in particular. Taking this as a sign to prolong my crapulence, I went ahead and ordered the es teler ($4.95) a cool and fruity mixture of shaved ice, rosewater, sweet condensed milk and the odd blending of avocado, jackfruit and grass jelly. Odd blendings, I've learned, typify Indonesian cuisine, and if your palate veers toward the intrepid, it's well worth the drive to the fringes of Kissimmee for a taste of culinary exotica.