Ramayani - Rowland Heights
Ask any Indonesian living in Southern California about Ramayani and chances are good that;
a) They've eaten there, or;
b) They know about it and where it is generally located. Somewhere in Westwood, they'll say.
Like DuPars and other institutions of that ilk, Ramayani seems to have carved itself permanently into the L.A. landscape. Even though I have yet to try it myself, I know it as the old standby; a place that's existed since seaborne creatures sprouted legs to walk on land, or at least since Michael Jackson topped the Billboard charts. Ramayani, for as long as I've known, was the default answer to: "So, are there any Indonesian restaurants in L.A.?"
Cashing in on this instant name recognition, the owners of the Westwood establishment recently opened a satellite branch in Rowland Heights inside a sprawling Chinese mini-mall, which also has New Capital Seafood as a tenant. But unlike New Capital -- which holds sway at the center spot in a position of power -- Ramayani is tucked away in the farthest corner, stuffed in a pseudo-food court with only a glass-pane fence marking its territory from that of its neighbor.
Regardless of the "Hot Dog on a Stick" environment, they dole out Indonesian cuisine like a real, honest-to-goodness restaurant. Sadly, I wasn't overly impressed with most of the dishes I ate.
Nasi Uduk ($9.99), a sampler plate with coconut rice as the centerpiece, was serviceable but uninspiring. The Rendang, beef simmered long and hard in a redolent spice paste, was more gristle than beef. The Lodeh, a spicy soup with cubed chayote, was thick with coconut cream but was decidedly timid and lackluster. Opor Ayam, a chicken leg cooked in a light curry, could've used a little more salt. And the tomato and chili paste that adorned the Sambal Telor, a deep-fried hard-boiled egg, was candy-sweet when it should have been fiery.
The Kering Tempeh, crunchy shards of dry-fried tempeh glazed in brown sugar and garlic, was the saving grace of the dish. It stood out so much, in fact, that I could have happily subsisted for weeks on a meal consisting of only it and rice.
Ideally, the noodles in Cui Mie ($6.49), should be made in-house. Instead, Ramayani's version relied on factory-made Chinese egg noodles, which caused the dish to wilt in comparison to those served at Jakarta's Bakmi Gajah Mada, Indonesia's most successful noodle restaurant.
Bakmi Gajah Mada's noodles are made-from-scratch, and it wiggles, crinkles, chews like no other pasta product in the world. Dressed in nothing but melted fat and salt, and then topped with stir fried chicken and button mushrooms, the dish epitomizes what magic can result when simple ingredients meet expert hands.
Ramayani's noodles were a pale facsimile to what it tries to emulate, but one can't expect a restaurant like this to do well at everything. Nevertheless, the crispy wontons provided on the side were raucous and crunchy -- Asia's deep fried ravioli.
Surpringly, Ramayani's Babat Goreng ($7.95) was wonderful. This is a peasant dish if ever there was one. Babat is the Indonesian word for honeycomb beef tripe -- yep, it's those nasty bits and rubbery floaters you see in bowls of menudo that most people do their best to avoid.
Here, there's nowhere to run or hide. Order Babat Goreng and you get a plate of tripe and only tripe -- naked and direct, wok-fried simply with sweet soy sauce and nuclear chili. Each spongy, slippery piece of offal chewed like tender calamari, and burned all the way down.
Now if only Ramayani embraced its mall-eatery setting and started selling "Tripe-on-a-Stick", they'd be on to something.
1388 S. Fullerton Rd Unit #121
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
*UPDATE (January 1, 2007): Ramayani in Rowland Heights has closed for business.