Dinner for One Please, James
If you're a lonely, friendless wretch like me you often find yourself dining alone in restaurants. And if you like variety in a meal, that puts you at a decided disadvantage, especially if you prefer Asian food, best eaten family-style. So what's a miserable wretch to do? There are buffets of course, but outside of a few Indian lunch buffets most are subpar. For me, Asian combination rice plates represent one solution. At Malaysian restaurants there's nasi lemak, a plate consisting of coconut rice, chicken curry, dried tiny fish (ikan bilis), achat (pickled vegetables), hard boiled egg, peanuts and cucumber. And at Indonesian restaurants there's nasi rames or nasi campur. I'm not sure what the difference, if any, between the two terms is. Nasi campur literally means "mixed rice." The Padang-style restaurants in Queens usually have nasi rames on their menu. At Mie Jakarta, which I guess is Javanese-style, they serve nasi campur, and oh boy is it good.
Though Mie means noodles, I've yet to try any of the noodle dishes at Mie Jakarta, but I've had the nasi campur twice. It's an amazingly good meal for $6.50 (more with whole fish). You get your choice of main course from a list of about six, and then you get everything else: a mild but fabulously flavorful vegetable coconut curry (with kale, jackfruit and bamboo shoots), fried tempeh with a chiplike crispness, cucumbers, excellent shrimp chips (kroepoek), and a hard-boiled egg covered in the sauce of your main course. The first time around I had the ayam goreng rica, fried chicken with topped with a red chile sambal (very similar to the ayam balado served at Padang restaurants). I got a delicious plump, moist breast with a wickedly spicy chile paste. The next time I got the nasi campur rendang (shown above). Daging rendang (dry curry beef) is served in Malaysian as well as Indonesian restaurants. Most of the Indonesian versions I've had are truly a dry curry: sold by the piece, the beef, somewhere between stewed meat and jerky in consistency, is coated with a mix of curry spices, but there's no sauce to speak of. I usually prefer the Malaysian version, which is chunks of beef in a thick, spicy coconut-based curry sauce. Well, the rendang at Mie Jakarta is closer to what I know from Malaysian restaurants than Indonesian ones, but it's possibly the best I've had. There's a wonderful complexity to the spice mix, and the sauce has a consistency not unlike a Mexican mole.
A plate like this can almost make a man glad to be alone.
(Don't ask me what that photo accompanying the song is all about.)
86-20 Whitney Avenue