Rave Over JAVA
New Noodle House Has People Talking ñ and Rightly So
2400 E. Oltorf, Ste. #14-15, 443-5282
Mon-Fri: 11am-10pm; Sat, 6-11pm;
It's hard to say just how many messages it takes to be officially considered a deluge, but after receiving menus and tips from one Chronicle ad representative, two Chronicle contributors, two friends, and several readers via e-mail, all recommending this Indonesian restaurant, I certainly felt like a flood had washed over me. So I made time to check out JAVA Noodles, and I can report that all the positive commentary was legitimate; dining at this economical restaurant is a most pleasant treat. In fact, based on the consistent quality of the food and service and the very reasonable prices, it's hard for me to figure out why this place is not overrun with business. My best guess is the somewhat out-of-the-way location. The quiet, simply decorated eatery is one of the few tenants in a hilltop strip mall on East Oltorf. But there's plenty of parking, and when you make the effort to find JAVA Noodles, you'll be richly rewarded.
My first experience was for a late lunch. Even though we arrived after the lunch special time period (11am-2:30pm), the hostess graciously brought the lunch special menu. It features 15 entree choices, each of which is served with a cup of soup, steamed or fried rice, fresh sambal sauce, marinated vegetables, and shrimp chips ñ all for the remarkable price of $4.95. My friend chose a stir-fry called the Java Special, a mixture of still-crisp, fresh vegetables, boneless white chicken pieces, tender beef strips, and shrimp sautéed in a spicy red curry sauce. With rice, this flavorful dish made a mighty mountain of a meal.
In order to see the widest variety of dishes, I opted for the Nasi Rames, a combination plate of spicy rendang daging (beef cooked in coconut milk), sate ayam (chicken grilled on a skewer) with a thick, dark peanut sauce, ayam Kalasan (deep fried boneless chicken), and a fried egg cake with a mound of steamed rice. This assortment offered somewhat of a crash course in traditional Indonesian dishes. The beef in coconut milk was one good-sized chunk of beef that shredded easily with a fork ñ tasty but a little on the dry side. I was intrigued to find a culture from halfway around the world that featured fried chicken, but the Indonesian version is done in a light, crispy tempura batter and bears no real resemblance to the Southern American dish. The peanut sauce that accompanied the sate reminded me that although spicy peanut sauce is a traditional condiment in Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine, recipes vary from house to house and cook to cook; I've never tasted any two alike. This version is dark and thick, spicy with a dose of sweetness.
I returned to JAVA Noodles on a Monday night, after convincing some friends that our takeout choice should be Indonesian. (I just love impressing friends with new restaurant discoveries.) Six people ate their fill of four entrees for about $30, and I had plenty of food left over for lunch the next day. The bountiful Udang Ca Broccoli with ginger ($8.95) was a seafood stir-fry studded with plump shrimp and crunchy broccoli, carrots, chard, and cabbage, although I didn't detect much ginger flavor. My personal favorite was the excellent Sate Babi ($6.95) ñ marinated pork strips grilled on skewers and served with a thin soy-based sauce and a side dish of sweet and sour marinated cucumber and carrot slices.
One friend who suggested that I try this restaurant described Indonesian cuisine as "Thai food's milder cousin," and the comparison makes good sense to me now. The biggest difference between the two seems to be that Indonesian food (at least as it's presented here) is not as aggressively spiced as Thai food typically is. I found dishes listed as "spicy" on the menu to be much milder than similar "spicy" dishes on Thai menus. All I'm really saying is that if you're one of those fire eaters who insists on having your head blown off, it may be necessary to ask for a little extra heat at JAVA Noodles to do the job.
The word "java" has been synonymous with coffee in American slang for many years and the folks at JAVA Noodles will gladly show you why. Order a cup of the richly flavored drip coffee or indulge in the Far East coffee-condensed milk concoction over ice, and the derivation of the slang term will instantly become clear. The trip is worthwhile for the coffee alone. I haven't made it to the $5.95 JAVA Sunday brunch buffet yet, but it too is highly regarded by all the folks who sent me here in the first place. I'll be making time any Sunday now.
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