Teen-friendly Jakartan street food emporium.

My roommate and I stopped at an Indonesian restaurant formerly called “Padang Raya” on Whitney Ave. in Elmhurst, Queens – it’s just a few doors down from Minangasli, a recent Sietsema review, and, if you have NYTimes select, you can read a fascinating article about the two restaurants’ relationship here.  In summary, the proprietor and well-regarded chef of Minangasli was formerly the chef of Padang Raya, unlike the owner, actually FROM Padang, and, after the messy breakup, the two restaurants apparently cooked up quite a feud.

Well, I guess Minangasli won, because Padang Raya has morphed to a restaurant that includes Jakarta in its name – the capital city of Indonesia, on a different island and offering a different style of cuisine than the Sumatran Minangasli.  Other than the holdover beef rendang, the menu at Jakarta (I don’t remember the other word, and menus had not yet been printed) has totally been altered.

While we arrived to find a rather abandoned restaurant, we were somewhat surprised when, after about 10 minutes, a throng of high-school-aged kids wandered in and jammed the place.  Besides occupying our beleaguered server, who had previously had all the time in the world to explain every detail of the menu to us in (for a change) native English, they offered up their opinion that Jakarta’s cuisine reminded them very much of things they had eaten in Jakarta (the city).  One girl, probably the connoisseur of the group, stated that she wished she was there – “I want to eat this stuff in the GUTTER,” she explained.

I’d hope for more interesting gutter food on my trip to Indonesia, if I were you – neither the noodle bowls ($5-$6.50, depending on ingredients), which comprise a big portion of the menu, nor the fried chicken were that interesting.  The former included some oily egg noodles, greens, canned mushrooms, and optional fried wontons (quite greasy) and meatballs (of which two are seemingly fish and two are probably meat).  The latter was cooked within an inch of its life sans skin, which seemed to liberate much of the meat from its natural juices.

Indeed, the favorite dish of our evening was the $6.50 starter entitled, strangely, shiu mai (though they spelled it differently), which seemed to be some kind of solid faintly fishy paste, deep fried and assaulted with a peanut sauce of indifferent character.  It was better when combined with one of the three on-table hot sauces.

I will say, though, that the peanut sauce that arrived with my chicken, already infused with peppers, was one of the most delicious sauces I’ve yet encountered in my travels.  It was paired with something that seemed like pure molasses, though – as bad as the other sauce was good.  At any rate, neither could really pep up the dry, shriveled fried chicken, but I loved the peanut sauce over the not-too-sweet coconut rice.

At any rate, I’ll be back to the hood to try Minangasli, all of the descriptions of which make me drool.

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