New and intriguing while retaining soulfulness. Artfully presented without being skimpy. Decadence sans heaviness. This is what Indonesian cuisine brings to the table. At least, Rinjani does. Proudly Glendale’s first Indonesian restaurant, Rinjani caters to a curious palate in a sea of abundant kebab and sub-par sushi.
Like many college grads, I recently ventured to Southeast Asia for a cheap yet culture-rich trip. I gorged myself on artfully spiced coconut-thickened curries, mystery meatballs from street vendors doused in equally mysterious sauces, whole fried fish that stared back at me, fermented chili paste on anything that would hold it and so, so much more. I assumed Indonesian cuisine would be akin to these flavors. I was right and wrong.
Indonesia is more than just the Filipino/Thai middle ground I expected. Indian influences come into play, as do imperial Danish ones, and some dishes are entirely individual.
This was evident in Rinjani’s menu and decor. Wall hangings and decorative plants gave Pacific vibes while Danish modernism and elegance was apparent in the sleek furniture and understated colors. A real (not electric!) candle burns on every table. Diners get an atmosphere to match the price point of the menu without feeling the need to get too dressed up. Speaking of price, one can order “rijstaffel” and sample “a bit of everything” the menu has to offer for $24.95. The catch? That’s the price per person. And everyone at the table is required to order it. Luckily, I’m here to tell you what’s worth ordering on its own so you can bring some friends and create your own rijstaffel family-style.
After a few minutes sipping on yummy Belgian beers and munching shrimp chips, out came the first dishes: rendang and telor balado. The braised short rib and egg in chili paste, respectively, came plated minimalistically in a unique wooden dish — between the presentation, decor and food you certainly get what you pay for at Rinjani. The rendang, cooked for nine hours mingling among coconut milk, lemongrass and surely much more, was sublimely complex and decadent. The meat itself melted away as a vessel of diverse flavors which did not meld, but came in waves. Kaffir lime, pepper, on and on — it was like a story that had no climax but was riveting nonetheless. This braised short rib is a must-order. As for the telor balado, I’m sure I like a hard-boiled egg as much as the next gal, but the real treat is the smothering of sambal, sriracha’s sexier cousin. My recommendation is to request a dollop of the chili paste on the side and smear a bit onto more worthy morsels.
Next came another thoughtfully constructed plate of rice, fried tempeh, fried tofu and a potato fritter. These are the more worthy morsels I speak of. The tempeh was yummy, but nothing to write home about. The potato fritter, however, was arguably superior to its counterpart at Porto’s just down the street. This may stir some controversy, but the little cake had a delicate crust and a perfectly seasoned and creamy inside. A dab of sambal and this was a work of art. Sambal is not, strictly speaking, offered with this portion of the taster plate. Perhaps this is breaking the rules, but I’ll let you decide for yourself. Finally, the tofu.
Now, I have always thought of tofu as a tasty and functional plant-based protein, but I have never really, truly believed in its power as meat replacement until Rinjani. Something about that little fried cube turned me. One bite into the soy cake released juicy savoriness I did not expect from such a humble tidbit. I admittedly smothered following bites in sambal, but only because I loved the tofu and sambal both equally.
Soon before us was a bowl of sayur to dress our rice. This vegetable curry was more of a spiced broth rather than the coconut-creamy stew one might have expected. Would I recommend ordering this on a first go? Yes. Hesitantly. Why? It is individual. Not necessarily so in its flavors given a worldwide perspective, but certainly from a Western standpoint. What French, Italian, “American,” etcetera cuisines lack almost completely is bitterness. Kale is as close as we have come and, let me tell you, blending it into smoothies and smothering it in Caesar dressing is not doing bitter right. Rinjani is doing it right. Even Thai restaurants often refrain from including the traditional bitter eggplant in curries for fear of alienating the Western palate, but Rinjani is unabashedly serving up that tart zing as a dish all its own, and it really balances out a spread.
Oh, and jackfruit isn’t just a trendy, new-wave vegan addition to the curry; it’s a staple treated with respect by the chef as such.
Gulai Ayam, chicken curry, was similarly devoid of creamy thickeners. Breast and thigh meat fell off the bones that swam in tumeric-spiced broth. The dish was tender and delicious, though at this point I was getting nearly too full to take in much more.
Still, we said yes to dessert. After all, how could I not give bananas with cheese and Nutella a shot? Nutella and banana is a no-brainer, and I had seen a former Costa Rican roommate make plantains with cheese plenty of times; one more step to combine the two shouldn’t be too big of a jump, right? Wrong. Kind of. Grilled banana was a success, especially given that it was the starchier Asian variety so it softened up nicely. The drizzling of Nutella was welcome, of course. The microwave-melted blankets of sweaty cheese? Not so sure about that. Not bad, but not good. Perhaps a different variety of cheese and a different melting mechanism would lend itself better to the dish. This may not be the Indonesian way, but in this case, I believe taste should trump tradition. A few tweaks and I’d be willing to try Pisang Bakar Keju again; I’d try it a dozen times with a dozen tweaks in the name of combining two of mankind’s greatest creations: cheese and Nutella. Hopefully Rinjani’s chefs can work on this one for me and for humanity.
A diverse yet cohesive menu warrants multiple visits to Rinjani, but overall unique flavors and a tasteful setting should be enough to get you there the first time. Glendale’s first and only Indonesian restaurant would make an impressive date spot, especially given its location. A movie at the Pacific Theaters beforehand and a jaunt around the Americana fountain afterward to walk off the food coma would make for a lovely evening.
Next time you find yourself hungry at the mall or sitting around the house wanting to try something new, I hope Rinjani comes to mind.
107 E. Broadway, Glendale
(818) 546-1273 rinjanila.com
Alcohol Served/Major Cards