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Bali Kitchen Hits the Jackpot with Indonesian Treats in the East Village

The refrigerated case at Bali Kitchen in the East Village is the size of a casino slot machine and bears virtually as many exciting fruity combinations. Under fluorescent lights, usual-suspect American sodas sit alongside custom-bottled soft drinks flavored with pineapple and ginger, juice box cartons of jasmine or cinnamon-tinged Indonesian teas, and what look like more sodas but are actually cans of “milk peanut soup,” a sugary legume potage. Better still are the sealed plastic cups of house-made fruit drinks ($3-$7): floral lychee and magenta-hued rambutan iced teas crowded with pulpy flesh and whole fruit; creamy avocado stained with swirls of chocolate syrup; and a frothy durian juice, equal parts stinky and sweet.

Bali Kitchen

Cendol ($6) blurs the lines between drink and dessert. If you like the gummi worm concoction known as dirt pudding, you’ll no doubt enjoy digging through this refreshing mess of coconut milk zapped with palm sugar and brimming with strands of rice-flour jelly tinted green from vanilla-like pandan leaf. Other chilled sweets ($4-$5) peek out from disposable ramekins, like multicolored, mildly tart jackfruit custards (vegan and non-) topped with cubes of coconut jelly. Klappertaart, a gooey, raisin-studded coconut cake that harks back to Indonesia’s Dutch colonial past, is a mainstay. And if you’re so inclined, it’s recently been joined by a similar cake that swaps out coconut for durian, the pungent fruit mellowing as it bakes. There are prepared tofu salads ($7.95) in the cold case, too, mosh pits of firm bean curd with diced long beans and shredded coconut or a swarm of pineapple, hard-boiled eggs, and crunchy, slightly bitter emping — deep-fried chips made from the seeds of the melinjo plant — waiting to be tossed with jalapeño and peanut dressings.

Hungrier folk will want to seek out the sprawling picture menu that stretches across half of the wall, or consult with the smaller chalkboard menu next to it that lists the full rundown plus a few seasonal specials, like sayur lodeh ($4.95), a heavenly coconut milk and root vegetable stew suffused with lemongrass, lime leaves, candlenuts, and the maritime funk of dried shrimp. It can be ordered with chunks of tempeh, though chopped sweet shrimp more soulfully speak to the soup’s already briny, citrusy punch.

Jazz P. Souisay, head chef and co-owner of Bali Kitchen

The eight-seat restaurant, which takes up a whitewashed sliver of a storefront on East Fourth Street, comes from spouses David Prettyman, an erstwhile aid worker who coordinates City Harvest’s Greenmarket food rescues, and Jazz P. Souisay, an artist and fashion designer from eastern Java who is also the head chef here. They opened Bali Kitchen just shy of a year ago with an eye toward takeout and delivery. Everything is served in compostable containers and with eco-friendly flatware. Vegetarian alternatives abound. It’s a boon not only to the neighborhood, but to a city that, despite its wide-ranging dining options, only has about a dozen or so restaurants devoted to Indonesian cuisine.

While Bali is where the couple met more than two decades ago, Souisay’s menu hopscotches around the Indonesian archipelago, paying tribute to the diverse cooking traditions spread throughout the country’s 13,000-plus islands. Soto ayam Ambengan ($11.95) hails from Surabaya, the city where he grew up. The turmeric-spiked chicken noodle soup is as comforting a bowl as you could hope for, full of rice cakes, fragrant fried garlic, half a boiled egg, and the plump, Dutch-influenced potato fritter called perkedel. A squeeze of lime bolsters the gently sour lemongrass broth.

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Two kinds of Indonesia’s staggering number of regional grilled sate skewers are offered. Both are excellent. Served as an entrée with chewy coconut rice cakes and spicy pickled mango, sate Makassar ($13.95), named for a city on the southern coast of Sulawesi, finds lightly charred chicken reveling in a glaze of peanut dressing and a tart sauce made with bilimbi, a cousin of the starfruit. Balinese sate lilit ($6.95), meanwhile, is a ginger-and-turmeric–packed appetizer of chicken, swai fish, or mushrooms ground with shredded coconut and formed around pronged sticks like oblong meatballs. Dip them into Bali’s sambal matah, a raw shallot-lemongrass relish that delivers a feisty kick.

Lawar Tahu Salad

Noodle and rice dishes make up the heartiest meals. Souisay’s beef rendang ($13.95) is worth the trip alone. The glorious flood of saucy brisket is cooked down for six to eight hours in coconut milk fortified with, among other things, galangal, star anise, and makrut lime, until the sauce thickens and the meat relaxes in a fork-tender heap. Ladled next to sautéed greens and a spoonful of sambal, it’s sensationally aromatic and filling. There are also fried egg and garlic cracker-topped stir fries of wheat or cellophane noodles ($10.95) and dabu dabu ($14.95), chicken or fish smothered in a vibrant mango-pineapple salsa that feels summer appropriate. Bali Kitchen’s nasi goreng ($10.95), a nationally beloved fried rice, is liberally laced with the Indonesian sweet soy sauce kecap manis, though the condiment fades into the background in nasi goreng kampung ($11.95), which adds shrimp paste, bitter beans, and an abundance of dried krill and baby anchovies to the equation for an eye-opening rush of concentrated fermented oceanic salinity. Sate lilit reappears in the nasi campur bali ($14.95), joining gingery simmered chicken breast, tempeh strips, diced long beans, and sambal-covered hard-boiled eggs, all placed around a mound of jasmine rice. For nasi kuning ($12.95), a vegetarian version, the rice is turmeric and stewed mushrooms are the star.

Lapis Legit Cake

One of the cooks, David Silva, is in charge of all of the desserts. His greatest achievement isn’t found in the refrigerated case, but instead hangs out by the register among the assorted fried snacks under glass domes. Called lapis legit ($4.50) or spekkoek in Dutch, the dense and buttery layer cake is another vestige of colonialism. With more than twenty layers, it takes hours to make. The end result is as precious as a piece of jewelry, redolent of pandan and cinnamon and doled out in diminutive striped slices. Like Bali Kitchen, it’s a brief taste of Indonesia that speaks volumes.

Bali Kitchen
128 East 4th Street
646-678-4784
balikitchennyc.com

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Polygamy in Bali: Power, Violence, and Divorce Explored in Bitter Honey

In the marital hierarchy of Indonesia, where polygamy is still legal and semi-regularly practiced, a man’s second wife is known as his honey. Robert Lemelson’s cleverly titled documentary, which follows three polygamous families in Bali over the course of seven years, doesn’t belabor the latent subservience of these arrangements, nor does it need to — the women speaking about their marriages in a candid, conversational way say plenty.

One man, Darma, can’t remember all his kids’ names off the top of his head; the seventh and 10th wives of Tuaji, who cops to having been involved in his country’s communist purge of the 1960s, are sisters. (Tuaji’s admission makes Bitter Honey something of a cousin to Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.)

Lemelson’s interviews can be repetitive in their direct staging, but there’s inspiration in his conceit of using a shadow-puppet performance set to gamelan music as interludes. The segments these brief passages divide are arranged according to different aspects of polygamous marriage: power, violence, divorce.

According to old lore, we’re told in one of these segments, men gain power from having many wives. Yet for all the cultural, even mythical explanations, one passing joke may explain it best: “Men are like cats: Give them a fish and they’ll eat it.”

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NYFF: The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s Follow-Up to The Act of Killing, Is Equally Devastating

After the astonishing unreality of The Act of Killing, in which perpetrators of Indonesia’s 1965-1966 genocide reenacted their crimes for the camera in the style of their favorite gangster films, Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to that masterwork, The Look of Silence, takes a more straightforward approach to such wrenching material. Its effect, however, is equally devastating.

The director’s latest, another must-see, returns to Indonesia. His focus is on Adi, whose brother was one of the many victims of death squads that, under the guise of combating communism, targeted anyone they thought of as opposing the military regime that had come to power via coup. Forced to live in a country where the killers still rule, Adi visits and confronts the fiends who hacked and disemboweled his brother – and finally finished him off with castration, an execution that the assassins, in footage that Adi watches in silence, relive with prideful glee at the very river-bank scene of the crime. What ensues is horror of a quiet, harrowing sort. Fixating on these faces and, more piercingly, on silence, Oppenheimer throws into sharp relief the contrast between Adi and the murderers’ perspectives, and thus the terrifying tension that engulfs the country as a whole.

During his interviews (which also include a meeting with his prison-guard uncle), Adi, an ophthalmologist by trade, places on his subjects a device for testing bifocal lenses. It’s a kind act which gives these encounters a disquieting tenderness at odds with Adi’s rage and sorrow over what these men did to his family (and country). Further enhancing these meetings’ harrowing strangeness is that ocular gadget itself, which features multiple big, bulky adjustable gear-like rings – something like a cross between round reading glasses and science-fiction X-ray vision goggles. The recurring image of these aged murderers donning such bizarre spectacles speaks to Adi’s desire to have the still-unrepentant killers see the error of their ways, as well as to those killers’ willful blindness toward their responsibility for their sadistic actions (which included drinking victims’ blood to – irony alert! – stave off madness) – – all while visually casting them as something akin to monstrous aliens.

When not questioning these psychopaths, Adi converses with his 100-year-old mother, who still grieves over her slaughtered first son, and his infirm father (blind, mostly deaf, and crippled), who can barely communicate. In these visits, The Look of Silence emphasizes the scars left by the genocide on its survivors, underscoring the way that memory serves as a source of both misery and enlightenment — and as a necessary (if unpleasant) counterbalance to so many citizens’ attempts to hide their atrocities in history.

Consequently, Oppenheimer’s film is ultimately defined by the juxtaposition of two different women responding to bombshells about their relatives’ vileness with “I didn’t know,” and multiple cretins making wannabe-exculpatory claims that “The past is the past” – conjoined declarations that convey the soul-crushing pain, and corrosive denial, that’s wrought from the truth’s disclosure.

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GAMELAN GIRLS

It was probably inevitable that some bright experimentalist would appropriate the rich and colorful-sounding metallophones and gongs of Indonesia to gnarlier ends. Which is precisely the case with OOIOO’s brilliant new Gamel, a kaleidoscopic blend of Javanese gamelan, brain-searing acid-rock guitar, and Japanese girl pop. Led by Boredoms co-founder (and Flaming Lips muse) Yoshimi P-We, OOIOO oscillates between slow, stately rhythms and ringing climaxes in a series of transcendent permutations. Their music is modular and cyclical, surprising yet repititious in the best possible way. American minimalism’s roots may lie in gamelan, but Yoshimi’s maximalist take suggests an altogether more euphoric variation. OOIOO is bringing two gamelan players along on this rare American tour which continues with a Sunday-night appearance at Le Poisson Rouge.

Fri., July 18, 9 p.m., 2014

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The Act of Killing Is a Masterpiece of Murder and the Movies

More terrifying than any horror film, and more intellectually adventurous than just about any 2013 release so far, The Act of Killing is a major achievement, a work about genocide that rightly earns its place alongside Shoah as a supreme testament to the cinema’s capacity for inquiry, confrontation, and remembrance.

To dub Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary a masterpiece is at once warranted and yet somehow limiting, the term too narrow for what the first-time American filmmaker achieves with his debut. A sprawling study of the aftermath of the 1960s mass killings in Indonesia by Suharto’s coup-installed military regime and death squads, the film morphs, in ways both ghastly and glorious, into an examination of institutionalized violence, guilt on individual and national scales, and the role of cinema to both shape and reflect our darkest impulses.

The Act of Killing shares the keen eye for investigation that defines the nonfiction work of its illustrious producers, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. And like their docs, it spirals into horrifying surrealism from a seemingly simple starting point: in this case, interviewing some of the paramilitary leaders and self-described “gangsters” employed to eradicate anyone deemed a “communist”—in practice, almost anyone not loyal to the new regime.

The surprise is that these men are eager to tell their tales, often indulging in graphic detail to describe, for example, the best means of murdering captives without spilling much blood (with a wire around the neck). They even enjoy re-enacting their state-sanctioned murders on camera, at Oppenheimer’s invitation, adopting the lurid styles of the violent Hollywood crime films that influenced their actual violence back in the day.

Oppenheimer opens with the killers making their movie. We see the rotund, disheveled Herman Koto and the slender, debonair Anwar Congo—the latter responsible for more than 1,000 murders, many carried out with that wire-strangling technique—searching neighborhoods they once attacked for locals to play parts in a re-enactment. What follows is ugly, even mad: Surrounded by a throng of onlookers, a proud and enthusiastic Herman shows the crowd how to panic. He flails his arms and screams hysterically as he pretends to be a woman begging that her house not be burned down. At first confused, a few women comply with Herman’s demands to mimic this performance; later, the kids forced to participate in this upsetting pantomime are quickly brought to tears. It’s impossible to forget that some of these people might have suffered real crimes at Herman’s and Anwar’s hands.

That’s just one example of how the documentary twists reality and fiction. That knottiness culminates with Anwar’s neighbor recalling to these killers his own tale of woe, when his stepfather answered a nighttime knock at the door in 1965 and was never seen again. Speaking with nervous laughter, the neighbor professes to Anwar and Herman that he of course means no criticism with his story—and then, to prove it, he agrees to play the role of a strangled victim in a scene set in a nightclub, pretending to be choked to death by the men responsible for the deaths of members of his family.

These monsters proudly proclaim that their work in the ’60s was influenced by the movies, although they anachronistically cite Scarface and The Godfather as direct influences on both their tactics and their sleek, swanky fashion sense. It’s also clear that their madness stems from something deeper in the country’s fabric. The Act of Killing examines these killers’ relationship to the 3 million–strong paramilitary organization Pancasila Youth, which continues to operate outside Indonesian law even as it works in tandem with the government. In a stunning scene, the country’s vice president speaks to the group, jokingly condoning their blackmail-and-beatings thuggery. What emerges is a portrait of systemic fanaticism and brutality celebrated by both the political powers that be and TV personalities who merrily praise the men’s noble “extermination” work.

Damning only through incisive observation, Oppenheimer presents Indonesia as a country where the reigning historical narrative validates mass murder as necessary and good. That means glorified horror abounds in the men’s re-creations of their atrocities, such as the massacre of a village full of women and children—a sequence that culminates with one paramilitary strongman’s boastful recollections about raping 14-year-old girls. This vileness goes hand in hand with surrealism, none more surprising than a musical number in which the men (including a cross-dressing Herman) and dancers emerge from a giant seaside fish statue. As they sway in front of a waterfall, some of their “victims” appear to thank them for murdering them. Then the killers ascend to heaven.

Anwar and Herman’s cold-hearted compatriot Adi Zulkadry believes that his assassinations were justified because he committed them, got away with them, and continues to be praised for them. That ruthless winners-write-history morality is countered by the transformation of Anwar, who by placing himself in the role of those he killed—including one fictionalized re-creation designed like a ’20s gangster movie—finds himself increasingly horrified, maybe even driven insane, by what he’s done. Anwar’s awakened self-awareness is a stunning example of the cinema’s power to expose truth and alter perception. Healing, however, is a commodity in short supply in The Act of Killing, which affords neither hope for a brighter Indonesian future nor salvation for Anwar. In a final scene of literal gut-wrenching intensity, he visits his old rooftop-courtyard killing ground. Left alone with the memories of his sins, he’s wracked with uncontrollable retching. Nothing, though, will come up—it’s a lifetime’s worth of evil finally rising to the surface, but still impossible to purge.

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Joshua Oppenheimer on The Act of Killing

Though director Joshua Oppenheimer filmed in the late ’00s, the story of The Act of Killing begins in 1965, with General Suharto’s overthrow of Indonesia’s first post-colonial government and the subsequent purge of ethnic Chinese, Communists, and intellectuals.

To distance itself from the genocide, the government created by the coup turned to Pemuda Pancasila, a paramilitary group, to carry out the executions. Pancasila’s members are widely regarded as “gangsters” in Indonesian society, muscle for the government when it operates outside the reach of the law. The Act of Killing takes as its main subject Anwar Congo, a Pancasila member and death squad leader who claims personal responsibility for more than 1,000 of the 1 million dead.

We spoke with Oppenheimer last week.

To what extent do you position this film as an intervention?

That’s a really good way of putting it. I began this project in collaboration with a community of survivors. They started by sending me on these missions to meet the perpetrators who they thought killed their relatives, because they didn’t know how their loved ones had died. They were taken away, and they never returned. And then as I encountered the perpetrators, they were boasting, they were proud, and I realized it was as though I had walked into Nazi Germany 40 years after the Holocaust, and the Nazis were still in power.

As we continued filming, we were getting stopped by the army, we were being arrested, were having our equipment and tapes taken. I had this feeling: “Should we not do this? Is it too dangerous? Is it too sensitive?” And the Indonesian human rights community, such as they are, and the survivors themselves said, “You must continue. You’re onto something. We need a film that unmasks this regime, that exposes the nature of this regime.”

I wanted to create a space for people to say the things that they’ve been to afraid to say yet already know. So in fact, it was precisely a kind of intervention of how a whole regime has told stories to justify what they’ve done and to build a normality on the basis of terror and lies. I think I never really dared hope that it would make that impact. Maybe I hoped it would make an impact internationally, and then the Indonesians would take notice.

The film challenges the audience to work through and weigh multiple narratives, and even the nature of narrative itself, all at once. Where does that complexity spring from?

The film broadly is about how we tell stories to create our reality, and how as a crucial part of that we tell stories to escape from our most bitter and indigestible truths—the parts of that reality we don’t want to face. I think one of the stories we tell—probably the dominant story we tell, all of us—is that the world is divided up into good guys and bad guys. It’s the Star Wars story. We tell it again and again, and it underpins almost every story we tell. I think every time we tell it, it’s a lie.

The word in Indonesian for “gangster” really does come from [the English for] “free man.” [Anwar and his friends are] not just saying that. They fall back on that to justify, to give a kind of slightly heroic nuance to Pemuda Pancasila, this alternative power structure that Indonesian politicians and businessmen and the whole regime uses to do their dirty work.

How do these men justify their crimes?

The tragedy implicit [in this film] is that once you’ve corrupted yourself, by taking one life through a kind of an original sin, the justification demands further evil. You then have to suppress the survivors so that they don’t challenge your version of the story, so that they don’t accuse you. That then legitimates stealing their land, shaking them down, extorting them, because you’ve blamed them for what happened to them. And it demands, most chillingly, that you kill again if called upon. If you don’t do it, if you refuse, it’s tantamount to admitting it was wrong the first time. There’s this downward spiral of evil and corruption ,which creates this terrifying world.

Anwar and his friends approach the re-enactment as a celebration of their deeds. How do you maneuver or maybe reconcile the bald-faced bragging and Anwar’s growing guilt over his part in the mass killings?

When I was entrusted by this community of survivors to film these justifications, to film these boastings, I was trying to expose and interrogate the nature of impunity. Boasting about killing was the right material to do that with because it is a symptom of impunity. You can’t dance in the place where you’ve killed 1,000 people if you’ve been told this was the wrong thing to do. To do that you have to be in utter denial about what you’ve done. That denial is fed by impunity, and there is an insistence on that denial and a demonstration of impunity at the same time.

Boasting is not a sign of lack of remorse, but its opposite. That’s the paradox in the film. Anwar says he’s a good dancer because he’s drinking and taking drugs and going out dancing to forget. His conscience is there from the beginning. He’s desperately trying to escape the real meaning of what he’s done, and every re-enactment is an effort to escape the meaning of what he’s done, just in the way he used cinema to escape what he’d done at the time of the killings.

The film has had an extraordinary reception in Indonesia and is increasing scrutiny on the regime there. You almost get the sense that the point was a kind of global reckoning rather than just to transform the Indonesian political order.

Every article of clothing touching our bodies is haunted by the suffering of the people who make it for us, all of them working in places where there’s been mass violence where perpetrators have won. They have used their victory to create regimes of fear where the people who make everything we buy are so suppressed and their labor so cheap that the human cost of everything we buy is not incorporated in the price that we pay for it.

The Act of Killing is not about a distant killing on the other side of the world. It’s about the underbelly of our reality, “brutal underbelly of global capitalism.” If the film has any key message that’s universal, it’s just this: Everybody already knows everything. We know it. Just as Anwar knows what he did was wrong and is trying to run away from it the whole time, and just as Indonesians know this happened. They know their society is a kind of pseudo-democracy built on fear and mass graves.

We know that the lives we live depend on the suffering of others. We depend on Anwar and his friends or men just like them all over the world for our daily living. We all are, in a way, guests at Anwar and his friends’ cannibalistic feast. We may not be as close to the slaughter, but we’re at the table. And I think this harms us.

We are withdrawing from reality, withdrawing from each other, withdrawing into obsessive egoism, consumerism, and also escapist fantasies that we are like the good guys in the stories that we consume.

What links the political and social fabric of Indonesia to the one here in the States?

[One of the death squad leaders] took me down with a fellow squad leader to the riverbank where he’d helped kill 10,500 people at one spot by just cutting off their heads. After showing me how he went about it with his friend, he pulls out a little camera and asks my sound recordist to take pictures of him and his fellow death squad member posing with the river flowing behind them with the thumbs-up and the V for victory. This was in February 2004.

In April 2004 come the photographs from Abu Ghraib, where American soldiers are giving thumbs-up and V for victory while humiliating and torturing people. The question is not so much about the violence that is documented in the photos, but a much bigger, systemic violence and a cultural, moral, political vacuum in which these snapshots are conceivable as mementos of a happy occasion.

I then made The Act of Killing and the work that led up to it contemporaneously with this evolving nightmare in this country where the greater part of the political establishment was celebrating torture. And just as the perpetrators in the The Act of Killing celebrate mass murder, the celebration I think from the beginning was defensive—if you think the tone of [Dick] Cheney and Rush Limbaugh in fact was defensive.

And it’s defensive personally—they’re probably trying to convince themselves even as, more frighteningly, they’re imposing that on everybody else. And when you’re imposing that on everybody else there’s a veiled threat.

See also: The Act of Killing Is a Masterpiece of Murder and the Movies

 

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This Weekend’s 5 Best Food Events – 4/19/2013

Friday, April 19
Wine, Pâté, and Jazz at Clos New York
Head down to Soho’s new wine bar, Clos, for a tasting of three wines, which the Sommelier will pair with different pâté. Live jazz will play from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m., and guests can reserve a spot for $37 online. 64 Kenmare St.; 212-219-0327

Saturday, April 20
Homemade Doughnuts at the Bowery Culinary Center
Sign up for a doughnut-making class at the Bowery Culinary Center at Whole Foods. Students can learn more about the differences between yeast and cake doughnuts, and walk away with dough that can be frozen and fried at your leisure. Instructor Lynn Kutner, author of Bountiful Bread and A Pocketful of Pies, will preside, and has said that mocha-buttermilk doughnuts, fresh brioche doughnuts filled with jam, and whole-wheat ginger doughnuts will be on the menu. Tickets are $45. 95 E. Houston St.; 212-420-1320

Cocktail Lab 101 at the JakeWalk
From 1 to 3 p.m., the JakeWalk will hold a cocktails-for-beginners class for $65. Bar manager Tim Miner and bartender Bryan Teoh will talk about gear, shaking techniques, and simple recipes. Everyone will get a turn behind the bar, and A-plus students are sure to get a little tipsy. 282 Smith St., Brooklyn; 347-599-0294

Sunday, April 21
Indonesia Food Bazaar
The Indonesia Food Bazaar returns to the Masjid Al-Hikmah Mosque in Queens on Sunday. The event happens sporadically during the spring and summer, and features authentic and hard-to-find dishes from Indonesia. Expect gudeg (stewed jackfruit), satays, and vegetable fritters called bakwan. Past fest-goers have been known to walk away stuffed to the gills while spending only a fraction of what folks dole out at Smorgasburg every weekend. 48-01 31st Ave., Astoria

Sweet Sensation Benefit for C-CAP
Bakers and bloggers will come together at the Old Bowery Station to raise money for Careers through Culinary Arts Program, a non-profit that educates at-risk students. Colicchio & Sons pastry chef Stephen Collucci and chocolatier Mehdi Chellaoui will perform pastry demonstrations and sweets will be given out to all guests. Tickets are $39. 168 Bowery; 212-334-0288

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Bromo Satay House Serves up East Java

It hasn’t been as angry as Iceland’s volcano lately, but Indonesia’s Mount Bromo is impressive nonetheless. Its peak blown off long ago, it rises up from vast dunes of black volcanic sand in East Java, burping smoke and attracting adventurous hikers. Here, on the other side of the world, a small restaurant called Bromo Satay House has erupted in Elmhurst.

The place joins the impressive ranks of Indonesian eateries in the Queens neighborhood, which includes two Sumatrans and a handful of Javanese spots. Bromo styles itself as more of a full-service, gussied-up restaurant than the others. It serves Javanese standards, but leans toward the specialties of East Java—where the owners are from—with daging krengsengan, stewed beef in shrimp paste, and an elaborate version of gado-gado in the style of Surabaya, the capital of the region.

The room is often full of groups, mainly young men who seem to know each other and the staff. They invariably order several plates of satay—one of the restaurant’s focuses—and great glasses of sweet, iced coconut milk with grass jelly, syrup, and fruit. Brightly hued artworks depicting scenes from Hindu mythology line the walls, along with traditional hand puppets, batik textiles, and the owners’ wedding photos.

The menu offers chicken, seafood, beef, noodles, vegetables, rice, and appetizer sections, all plates generous enough to share and none over $10. It’s a lengthy list, and some offerings are much better than others. Generally, the meat and fish are delicious, while anything in a broth is not.

East Java is very close to the island of Bali, which has its own cuisine and is the only Hindu-majority part of Indonesia. One of Bromo’s best dishes hails from there, a beef dish called daging bumbu Bali. Slices of beef as spoon-tender and appealing as your grandmother’s pot roast are stewed in an incendiary, lemon-grass-heavy spice sludge, which clings to the meat and soaks into every nook and cranny. You could feast on beef at Bromo if you wanted to: An order of East Javanese daging krengsengan involves that same luscious flesh, this time cooked in a dryish mixture that includes trassi, the Indonesian fermented shrimp paste. Its layers of umami go on forever.

One night, the well-meaning server began pushing the ikan lalapan, grilled whole fish, as soon as we arrived, though explaining it would take a while to cook. We finally buckled and ordered this special, which was tilapia that night—thinking a whole fish for $10 qualifies as a good deal no matter what. In the end, we were glad for it. Seasoned with not much more than salt, the fish had been grilled until the white flesh was steamy and moist and the skin crunchy. It’s probably the best possible fate for tilapia, which is often insipid at best. This one—dipped into a bit of the trassi-spiked sambal (hot sauce) that came on the side—tasted cleanly, mildly oceanic.

Of the remaining seafood options, sambal udang impresses—a heap of shrimp in a crimson sauté of ground chilies. Spooned on top of rice, it’s a zippy dinner. (We wished, though, that the crustaceans had been cooked in their flavorful shells.) Skip the squid with jalapeños, which found no takers at our table, the baby creatures soaking haplessly in a shallow pool of pinkish cephalopod juice.

Because trassi works its way into almost everything, it’s hard to find purely vegetarian dishes here. But other worthy vegetable-based choices include tahu tek, an East Javanese specialty that’s a salad for a body builder—fried tofu, bean sprouts, rice cakes, shrimp crackers, and egg drenched in a thick, rather unappetizing-looking (but delicious-tasting) dressing of ground peanuts and trassi. That gado-gado involves a lot of cabbage plus more fried tofu, bean sprouts, and egg in a sweeter, milder peanut sauce.

If you’re not Indonesian, you may need to stress (in a cheerful way) that, yes, you really do like spicy food, and not only that, but, yes, you like trassi. This may blow your server’s mind, but you’ll have a better chance of getting traditionally prepared dishes. (Actually, few are fiery, but many carry some heat.) If that doesn’t work, just order a side of sambal—the simplest version comes for free. The more pungent trassi sambal costs $1.50, but the flavor punch is worth it. Sambal tempe penyet, a more elaborate offering, arrives in a beautiful wooden vessel. Slices of the dried fermented soybean cake tempe marinate in a thick, rough potage of chilies, tomatoes, and scallions. Eaten with a bit of rice, it works as a palate alarm-clock.

It’s impossible to resist the restaurant’s namesake satay, if only because food on a stick is so universally appealing. At Bromo, it comes in chicken, beef, lamb, or shrimp versions, all generously drenched with a sweetish, thick peanut sauce and dressed with raw sliced chilies and shallots to cut the richness. Although the skewers are not cooked over a charcoal fire, as would be most traditional, they manage to acquire an appetizing, caramelized sear from the gas grill. They’re all good, especially the musky lamb, but somehow I enjoyed the tender, char-edged chicken the most.

On such a wide-ranging menu, it’s inevitable that some dishes will disappoint. All the soups we tried had thin, salty broths that tasted like they were made from bouillon cubes. The nasi campur—rice with portions of several dishes on the side—is undistinguished, as are most of the noodles. But go for the stewed beef, the satays, the salads, and grilled fish, and raise your glass of condensed milk and grass jelly to Mount Bromo, puffing smoke so far away.

sdigregorio@villagevoice.com

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STILL THIRSTY, NOT MISERABLE

“America washes ashore like cultural driftwood in countries like this one,” mused Henry Rollins last November, dispatching from Jakarta, Indonesia, straight to the circuits of VanityFair.com. His inspiration? A local woman he encountered wearing a Black Flag T-shirt, who smiled bemusedly as he took photos of her, not knowing/caring that she was in the presence of their lead singer—a fitting, if modest, underscore to the massive global impact the L.A. band had on hardcore post-punk in their 1977–1986 run. No other outfit galvanized socially critical metal and punk as much as those Damaged men, and no other ’80s ex-frontman has emerged as undiluted as Rollins—with his spoken-word albums, with the riff-y Rollins Band, even as an erstwhile MTV VJ, his raging, witty bristle is still thrilling.

Fri., March 12, 9 p.m.; Sat., March 13, 9 p.m., 2010

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Warung Kario’s Dutch Treat

Shortly before the American Civil War, Dutch colonialists transported 13,000 ethnic Chinese from Indonesia to Dutch Guiana in South America. After an indenture of 10 years (during which many of the European planters died of jungle diseases), the immigrants started their own farms and formed a community. In the ensuing decades, the Dutch preferred to use laborers from India, but between 1890 and 1940, they were able to shanghai an additional 33,000 Indonesians, who came to comprise 15 percent of the population in the country now known as Suriname. These Javanese have managed to retain their cultural identity via gamelan orchestras, wayangs kulit (shadow-puppet plays), and food-hawker stalls known as warung-warung.

Richmond Hill, Queens, now has its own Surinamese-Indonesian hawker stall: Warung Kario’s melding of influences from Indonesia, China, Holland, and the Caribbean is astonishing to behold. The cafe is comfortable and modern, with a steam table that displays many of its most popular dishes, which appear fresh and immaculate. The friendly staff delights in explaining the provender to the uninitiated.

Miraculously, given the lapse of time since the Indonesians immigrated, there are items nearly unreconstructed from their Javanese originals. Among these are enormous chicken sates ($2) every bit as good as those at Elmhurst warung-warung like Mi Jakarta. They come drenched in a dark and chunky peanut sauce that owes nothing to peanut butter. Luckily, the sauce is an excellent one, since you’ll be seeing it again and again.

That same sauce drenches baka bana, battered and fried sweet plantains, and petjel ($6), a toss of steamed cabbage and bean sprouts that resembles Indonesian gado-gado. One can easily imagine the original Indonesians in Suriname making the dish with the impoverished list of vegetables available on the sugar plantations, thus creating the form in which the salad has come down to us. Competing in the salad category-and making Warung Kario something of a paradise for vegetarians-is goedangan, a coconut-dressed toss of bean sprouts, boiled eggs, and long, green yard beans (known as “dau gok” in China and “kacang panjang” in Malaysia) cut into segments. “What do you call those beans?” I asked the cook, hoping for a Dutch or Indonesian term. “String beans,” was her reply.

Seemingly very southern Chinese is the cuisine’s signature on bamie ($8)-not to be confused with the Jamaican manioc fritters called “bammy.” In this case, bamie is a scrumptious lo mein, slicked with not the thick soy sauce that southern Chinese prefer, but a salt-laced black-palm syrup. I swear it looks just like soy sauce, though the flavor is sweeter. Topping the bamie are small bone-in pieces of chicken matted with crushed black peppercorns. On the side, find a few slices of cucumber, some pickled purple onions of the kind common in Caribbean cuisines, and a small cup of chunky and tongue-searing Scotch bonnet paste, constituting one of the Indonesian-style relishes called “sambals.” An Indonesian-American friend noted that bamie is called “bakmi” in Jakarta and is usually served with a topping of mushrooms, meatballs, or chicken. Street vendors vie to see who can produce the best rendition.

The chicken on the bamie is mouthwatering. It recurs in nasie ($9), the Surinamese take on stir-fried rice, which arrives on a large plate sided with more of the sauteed yard beans seen in goedangan. Another transfigured Javanese standard is the soup called saoto ($6). Even slurped without use of the accompanying condiments, the potage is magnificent-shreds of dark and light chicken in a diaphanous broth, tweaked with cilantro and caramelized onions. But add the Scotch bonnet sambal and faux-soy sauce, and the soup detonates.

The most fusion-y thing on the menu handily incorporates all of the influences mentioned above. Teloh ($7.50) is a magnificent plate of food: a combination of fried plantains, salt cod incorporated into a fish salad, lumpy eggplant pure, fish-based sambal, and batons of fried manioc, a tuber native to Africa. But where are the Dutch influences? They tend to be seen in the free-standing snacks and desserts not incorporated into other dishes. Pateis (weekends only, $3 each) are miniature chicken pot pies. Even more Dutch are the pastries that perch above the steam table on the metal counter. These vary by day, but on one occasion, we grabbed some peanut cookies ($2) that were paragons of their type, nutty and crumbly and buttery, reminding us that “cookie” is a Dutch word.

When I told my Indonesian friend about them, she noted, “We don’t have anything like that in Indonesia anymore-it’s difficult to even find butter.”