Bone Kettle, a newly minted (not yet four month old) restaurant in Old Pasadena features noodles and broth ($11) to be eaten alone or augmented with six meats that are recommended for pairing and sharing: braised ox tails ($30), fatty brisket ($24), free range chicken breast with roasted thigh mousseline (half $16, whole $29), beef ribs ($42) or prime fillet ($16).
The broth, as the menu tells you, “is made using time-honored cooking techniques and fresh ingredients reflective of Southeast Asian traditions, made by boiling beef in filtered water with onions, garlic, ginger and a specific to Bone Kettle mix of dried spices for 36 hours.”
If you go beyond the printed menu and read about the broth on Bone Kettle’s website, you’ll find several assertions about the healthfulness of bone broth ingredients including:
1) Gelatin (found in beef knuckles, feet and other joints) which helps seal up holes in intestines; curing diarrhea, constipation and even some food intolerances
2) Chondroitin, which has been shown to help prevent osteoarthritis and protect joints
3) Glycine, which has been shown to help people sleep better and improve memory. It’s also an all-natural energy boost and an excellent coffee replacement
4) Phosphorus, magnesium and calcium, which provide essential building blocks for healthy bones
5) Collagen, which is great for radiant skin, shiny hair and strong nails
The exegesis concludes by citing a Harvard study showing a pronounced effect of bone broth on auto-immune disorders, sometimes achieving total remission, and then pronounces bone broth a “super food.”
If that list isn’t enough to send you to the restaurant absolutely clamoring for a bowlful of restorative broth, consider that the large portion you receive will be chock full of noodles, the favorite edible of almost everyone over the age of six months. These noodles, the website explains, are long, their length almost guaranteeing long life to the partaker, and are made by Sun Noodle, local provider of artisan hand-torn ramen.
On our first visit to Bone Kettle in mid-May, we realized that other menu items demanded sampling. From the dozen or so “Starters” the four of us chose citrus brine chicken wings with charred lime ($10), gado gado — Indonesian fried rice cake salad tossed with creamy tamarind-peanut sauce and topped with a sous-vide egg ($11), short rib rendang – Indonesian curry, with fried peanuts, roasted pearl onions, cream of avocado and fried leeks ($16) and ube gnocchi with duck confit, apricot cubes, crushed pecans, roasted mushrooms and spiced coconut sauce ($16). These we delightedly devoured pre-broth.
Our ramen was studded with all manner of colorful veggies and topped with a crown of emerald herbs. And, after so many wonderful appetizers, this rich soup might have sufficed. Nevertheless we added ox tails and fatty brisket, both tender and tasty. But stewed meats, however delicious, aren’t favorites of mine. And when a magnificent platter of charred beef ribs arrived at the next table, it caused us all to reconsider our original selections.
Although we gazed avidly at those ribs, sniffing their heady aroma, we were stuffed to the gills, barely managing to find a teensy bit of room to share two desserts: warm cassava-coconut cake paired with avocado ice cream ($9) and chewy black rice pudding garnished with corn kernels, candied kumquat, flower petals and a decorative drizzle of thick coconut milk ($8).
So, who is the mastermind behind Bone Kettle? Chef Erwin Tjahyadi, who was honored in 2014 with Zagat’s “30 Under 30” outstanding restaurant professionals designation. His family emigrated here from Indonesia over 20 years ago. With them they brought cookbooks, which would provide inspiration as Erwin trained, first at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, then as apprentice to Wolfgang Puck and sous-chef to Trey Foshee at Georges at the Cove in La Jolla before becoming lead cook at the Hotel Bel-Air.
He also traveled back to Indonesia to reconnect with his childhood and the country’s vibrant cuisine. And, as the website explains, “taking heirloom recipes from his mother and grandmother, Chef Erwin infused the old with the new, adding bright ingredients available locally in California and French classical techniques to traditional Asian cooking.”
There’s a passing reference to another of Chef Erwin’s enterprises. He’s co-creator and executive chef of Komodo, originally a food truck and now a duo of Venice and Pico-Robertson eateries described as part “of LA’s fastest growing fusion fast casual empire”. Intrigued, I checked out Komodo online and found a fascinating menu of Indonesian, Mexican, Hawaiian, Singaporean and Vietnamese fillings to be portioned into tacos, burritos or rice bowls. Watch this space if Komodo comes to Pasadena!
Bone Kettle’s website says its dining area is inspired by Java Wooden villa design. Having never been, I’ll take their word for it. On the night we were there, the entire interior was jam-packed. Lighting was low, floor and ceiling dark, so it was impossible to appreciate the décor. Peering in during daylight hours, I was able to make out light wood furniture, bamboo wall coverings and a gigantic mural of fighting figures, similar in style to archaic Greek black-figure pottery design, iconography uncertain.
The entryway had a small bar with empty shelves just waiting for displays of adult beverages. Since our dinner, Bone Kettle has gotten its beer and wine license so I bet by now the shelves are better stocked. Since no alcohol was on offer, I tried calamansi ($5), a glass of mild lime flavored liquid with bland barley kernels at the bottom. More interesting was fresh young coconut juice served in a shell ($7).
Our server told us Bone Kettle is planning to open for lunch. I’m looking forward to a return visit to try some other small plates: creamed corn with coconut cream, chives and fried shallots ($9), mie goring pedas (traditional Indonesian spicy wok-fried noodle with sous-vide egg -$10), dadar jagung (Indonesian corn hush puppies with sweet coconut chili reduction – $9) and another plateful of those fabulous chicken wings! After that, a shared bowl of ramen to insure health and vigor. My guess is Chef Erwin consumes it by the gallon in order to stoke his exceptional culinary vitality and creativity. It obviously works!