Monday, August 28, 2006

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.

Ramayani
(626) 964-3590
1388 S. Fullerton Rd Unit #121
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

*UPDATE (January 1, 2007): Ramayani in Rowland Heights has closed for business.

22 Comments:

At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Passionate Eater said...

Sorry that Ramayani didn't live up to your expectations. I know you were probably excited about trying out this place. Well, I guess that the "food court aura" Ramayani has about it, is telling of what the food tastes like.

 
At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Ramen said...

Funny. I ate here 2 weeks ago and yeah, the food wasnt all that and I was disappointed.

 
At 7:15 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

PE,

You are absolutely right. I was really looking forward to trying it and was bummed when I found it to be less than what I thought it would be. Oh well, of I go to try more Indo places in L.A.!

Ramen,

Too bad ain't it? Such a convenient location too. Out of curiosity, what did you try?

 
At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Kirk said...

So Elmo, I guess it ain't worth trying if I'm in the old neighborhood, huh?

 
At 3:40 PM, Blogger Juliet said...

Sorry about your disappointing experience. I am craving tripe now, though. Do you suppose there will ever be someone daring enough to open a restaurant that sells tripe and only tripe? Tripe salad, tripe reubens, tripe tucked in a bun like cha xiu bao...You get the idea. ^_^

 
At 9:07 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kirk,

Yeah, unless you have a hankering for really good tripe, probably not worth the trip from SD. Although perhaps because I'm so familiar with the cuisine and can detect the subtleties, I'm a tougher judge on Indonesian restaurants. For all I know, Ramayani's food might please most people who come in off the street.

Juliet,

I wasn't expecting to love the tripe but I did! I know that if someone were to open an all tripe restaurant, Eddie Lin of Deep End Dining would be first in line. Camped out at their doorsteps in a tent, subsisting on balut and bull penis until the restaurant opens its doors.

 
At 3:24 PM, Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Elmonster, orang Indonesia ya? Saya bukan orang Indonesia, tapi suka makan Indonesia - enak sekali.

I've been to the original Ramayani in Westwood a few times, back when I had not discovered Indo Cafe and Simpang Asia.

Their food is very average, I've never had a meal that was exceptional. Their gudeg nangka is truly awful, it is not really a gudeg, there is no evidence of the dish being slow cooked.

And yeah, despite the fact that it looks like it's been there forever, it's actually about 23 years old (I believe it's written somewhere in the restaurant that they started in 1983). Not old old, but I guess old by LA standards :).

 
At 4:51 PM, Blogger Rasa Malaysia said...

Well, I know how you feel when it comes to eating your own food in the United States. I have had many bad experiences eating Malaysian food here. So now I just resort to cooking myself most of the time. ;)

 
At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Seth Chadwick said...

The photo of the combo looks inviting and then I find out it is mediocre. Sad.

But, for a great visual, J., Madge, Boris and I were thinking of making Hot Dog On A Stick uniforms for next Halloween.

In any event, the one Indonesian place that was here in Phoenix metro had good reviews, but folded last December.

I guess I am not missing out much by shying away from Ramayani.

Thanks for the great review, Elmo.

 
At 12:19 AM, Anonymous Passionate Eater said...

Hi there Elmo friend! I just tagged you for a meme (if you are interested). I know that I am definitely interested in what you'll have to say. You can get the topic from my blog.

 
At 9:02 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Oh man. Temph - I love that stuff! There's only a few restaurants in Hawaii that serve it, most often grilled with teriyaki sauce though, but what you had...I think I might have to visit just to have the tempeh alone! :_

 
At 10:59 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

aw, too bad it was *eh* - i wonder if the westwood one is better? because i still want to try it...

 
At 11:43 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Tripe on a stick? I've been giggling about that for the past five minutes. Cat keeps giving me funny looks. I'm thinking we turn it into a chain. Just trying to figure out how I'd serve haggis and menudo on sticks...

 
At 10:32 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

thalassa_mikra,

I guess I have no reason to drive out to L.A. to try out the progenitor of this Rowland Heights store.

Bee Yinn Low,

If only I had the talent and patience to replicate Indonesian dishes in my own kitchen...if only!

Seth,

I'd love to see your Halloween costumes! That's hilarious! I always wonder what kind of grief those teens who work there get from their classmates.

PE,

Hope you liked my entry! I just posted it today.

kathy,

That tempeh is pretty darned good. I wish more places served it in Orange County. I can seriously say that none do.

sarah,

Since I think you live close to the Westwood one, I'd love to read about it from you if you ever do get a chance to drop by.

Chubbypanda,

Haggis on a stick!?! Now that's crazy talk! HA!

 
At 8:38 PM, Blogger James A Paris said...

The Ramayani in Westwood isn't so hot either. The chicken was 95% bones. Now Indo Café in Palms isn't bad, though their quality has been slowly deteriorating over the years.

 
At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Foodie Universe said...

I don't think that atmosphere is Ramayani's strength--the Westwood location is nicer than a fast food restaurant for sure, but isn't the kind of place that makes you want to linger, especially when the TV is blaring.

 
At 10:35 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

James and Foodie U,

Indonesian places are notoriously lacking in ambience. Those that try, try too hard and those that don't (like Toko Rame) feel like the holes-in-the-walls they are.

There's new place in Rowland Heights area called Java Spice (or something to that effect), that I will have to try soon. Maybe you guys have tried it?

 
At 11:25 PM, Anonymous Yokey Tan said...

I work for Ramayani, and I apologise that you and some of you have had a negative experience in our restaurant. We have just opened for three months in Rowland Heights, we strive to do our best to upkeep the quality of our food and at the same time, price it to be reasonable. Many Indonesian Restaurants in the US are started by mom & pop, and Ramayani is no exception. We do not claim to be the best but we try very hard to be the best for all Indonesians in SoCal. We are very grateful to the many who believe in us, and supported us all these 23 years, or we will never have the opportunity to be in such a convenient location, though not a very nice ambience, but nearer to our supportive and loyal customers. Thank you that you gave us a good review of our Babat Goreng. We are very grateful of your blog, for it gives us feedback to continue to try our very best to improve and grow to be the best for all our supporters. And because of your blog, we are now in google. Thats a milestone for us, thanks! ;-)

 
At 4:29 PM, Blogger momopi said...

Is this restaurant closed? I was at Diamond Plaza yesterday for lunch and they didn't open.

 
At 4:04 PM, Blogger bing said...

I have no idea there's a Ramayani in Rowland Heights...I always go to the one in Westwood...is it the same owner??

 
At 4:09 PM, Blogger bing said...

oops, just read the other comments and answered my own question...

when i first moved to LA, my ex-bf took me to Ramayani in Westwood (his parents frequented the place when they were college kids)...and Yokey was there and we had a good chat...

I will still keep going to the Westwood Ramayani...sometimes food is also abt the people and the memories..

 
At 4:14 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

momopi and bing,

Yep, it's by the same owners. But sadly this branch is no longer open. It lasted a year, no doubt suffering from the really bad location in that floundering mall.

 

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