Sunday, August 10, 2014

LOCAVORE


Traveling northbound from the beaches of Jimbaran, for our second week in Bali we settled into a villa sandwiched between the dense jungle and the tranquil rice fields of Ubud. Exploring our surroundings, we found plentiful places to eat profoundly satisfying home cooking and simple fare at astonishingly reasonable prices. Punishingly spicy beef rendang and chili prawns at Puteri Menang, crisp Balinese duck at Tepi Sawah, world famous roast pig at Ibu Oka and roadside chicken satay amidst the buzzing scooters in the stifling streets - we ran the gamut.

Uncharacteristically contemporary in style for the bohemian nature of Ubud, Locavore is championing a quiet revolution, going against the grain of the majority of chefs on the island who continue to write menus full of pricey, luxury ingredients of no nativity to Indonesia, made even more expensive by their importation. With the island's climate so conducive to agriculture and it's surrounding water teeming with impeccable seafood, time and time again we were astonished by the deficient desire and determination of chefs and restaurateurs to support local farmers, and look inward for inspiration. We perceived this misguided desire to appeal to foreign money by serving foreign food to be fundamentally flawed, making Locavore's approach all the more inspiring.

Prix Fixe 475,000 Rp
Kai-Lan Leafs

Still in it's infancy, after being built virtually from the ground up, Locavore opened it's doors to the public in 2013 on the precarious bend of a narrow street full of craft boutiques and cafes. With their finger on the pulse of modern technique and a firm grasp on contemporary cuisine, chefs and co-owners Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah have rapidly attracted a landslide of well-deserved attention and enthusiastic reviews on online crowd-sourced sites like Tripadvisor, which may be looked upon with skepticism at home, but are heavily relied upon in tourist destinations like Ubud. Peacefully pushing and championing a zealot approach toward a locally sourced food philosophy prevalent throughout Europe and North America but slower to gain popularity in Indonesia, they're challenging the norm and forcing people in Bali to take notice.


A wooden door with a circular porthole window is all that stands between the sweltering heat and bustle of the street and a tranquil, minimalist dining room. An open kitchen where a concise brigade works with collected composure overlooks a two tiered dining room of lime green walls and beautiful wooden tables embellished with radiant flower arrangements.

Opting for the seven course tasting menu our meal began with flash-fried kai-lan leafs served over a bed of stones. Dark green, brittle leaves the size of catcher's mitts dusted liberally in a warm spice blend were nimble, and despite the humid climate retained an audibly crisp texture that shattered on the tongue. The cocktail selection was fairly priced and very creative, leaning toward refreshing, resourceful island flavors. 

Bloody Mary Sorbet, Tomato Consomée

Whether it be a playful gamble for a single quenelle of caviar at Mugaritz, the smell of fresh cut grass and a glass of ice-cold lemonade in the dark and dramatic entrance to Alinea, or a linen napkin full of warm madeleines dusted in icing sugar at Daniel, thinking back to the best meals we've had the good fortune of experiencing in our lives, the thing they all have in common is that the most memorable elements are almost always in the smallest details. At Locavore, hoisted atop a meaty slice of tomato from the restaurant's garden, a modestly salted scoop of frigid, chili-infused tomato sorbet sat amidst a warm, crystal clear tomato consomée. The contrasting temperatures invigorated the appetite, while intense tomato flavor that echoed in each of the dishes components soothed the heat from the chili. The sum of the dish's parts was like the most clever bloody mary we'd never dreamed to conceive of, and despite the lovely meal to follow, will remain the most memorable portion of food  in which we indulged on our honeymoon. You only get one shot at a first impression, and the team at Locavore seized that challenge with zeal earning a well deserved place amidst the best bites that have ever graced this site.

A deficit in color on the crust of a pale loaf of sourdough bread was disheartening but the thoughtfulness demonstrated in taking the time amidst service to bake each table their own loaf upon arrival and serve it piping hot was admirable. Served with a duo of vibrant homemade accompaniments, an herbaceous kemangi (lemon basil) pesto and a sweet passionfruit oil went a long way in helping us to forgive the bread's disconcertingly deficient color. Though the crumb and taste of the bread proved satisfying, adjusting either the time or heat in the baking process to impart a little more color would be well-advised.

Sourdough, Passion Fruit Oil, Kemangi Pesto

A smear of salty, savory king fish mayonnaise was evocative of vitello tonnato, paired with rolled slices of the same fish flash-marinated in sour-sweet passion fruit juice and floral vanilla bean. Shaved, pickled fennel provided an acidic component that cut the richness of the mayo and the crunchy krupuk kulit. In the majority of Muslim Indonesia, krupuk are made from fried cattle skin, but in predominantly Hindu Bali where the pig is revered, it's common to find a variation made from pork; imagine our surprise when the unfamiliar "krupuk kulit" on our menu turned out to be something as familiar as oreilles de crisse. Slivered breakfast radish and fennel fronds infused the dish with fresh flavor and color. 
King Fish, Krupuk Kulit, Radish, Fennel

A modest portion of subtly earthy chicken liver mousse remained the core of the next dish, while playful preparations of sweet corn shared the spotlight. Vibrant yellow dollops of purée and shingles of whole corn kernels were anticipated inclusions, but the unexpected addition of crunchy popcorn was at once clever and spirited. The inclusion of acidic bits of pomelo and peppery, floral nasturtium brought levity to each mouthful while the depth of the liver was further emphasized by the unpretentious complexity of caramelized halves of sticky-sweet shallot.

Chicken Liver Mousse, Preparations of Corn

A series of mains began with a perfectly prepared pavé of locally line-caught baramundi topped with faintly bitter, sauteéd chinese broccoli and an uplifting, frothed lemongrass beurre blanc. The rousingly acidic incorporation of a small mound of quick-pickled, grated carrot amid a spoon-push of fragrant vanilla bean infused potato mousseline cut like a hot knife through butter.

Baramundi Meunière, Lemongrass Beurre Blanc

Following the baramundi was a dizzyingly esoteric bowl of decadently fatty oxtails, asparagus tips and pillows of pan fried gnocchi in a faintly perceptible puddle of earthy eggplant purée, the works cloaked in a lathery foam sprung from an asparagus and wood sorrel velouté. The progression of season, from winter to spring embodied in a bowl of pure pleasure. 

Oxtail, Gnocchi, Asparagus

"Nose-to-tail" cookery may be a trend that provokes endless eye-roll inciting photos of chefs with small pigs slung over their shoulder on seemingly every North-American cookbook cover for the past decade, but at it's core isn't only a socially responsible choice, but also an ethos that compels a kitchen to practice their butchery and charcuterie skills, strengthening technique, honing skills and promoting creativity and resourcefulness. It also means that the pork preparation in this dish differs on a daily basis depending on what remains of the animal. On this day, a generous portion of blushing, tender pork loin topped with a spoonful of the unmistakable ballpark-mustard bite of piccalilli a.k.a chow-chow (depending on what part of the world you call home) sat in a silky purée of Bali's indigenous purple sweet potato. A second potato preparation, pommes dauphine, brought about memories of culinary school. Part mashed potato and part choux pastry, the mixture is rolled into ping pong ball sized spheres and fried until a golden brown exterior gives way to a seductively creamy center. Proof that in many cases, innovation is no substitute for the classics. A wedge of baby romaine heart dressed in a citrus vinaigrette and a few splashes of shallot jus, presumably recovered from the caramelized shallots in the chicken liver mousse and corn dish earlier in our meal, covered the remaining angles of a course that was at once profoundly satisfying and pleasing to the eye. 

Pork, Sweet Potato, Picalilli

We loved the personal touch demonstrated by our waiter in sharing an anecdote about our first dessert, Burbur Injin. He told us a little bit about how his mother would prepare it for breakfast and how it's prevalence in most Balinese homes has earned this black rice porridge a fond place in the hearts of many. At Locavore, this homespun ode to a recipe in the repertoire of every mother on the island is served warm, studded with dehydrated coconut and an innovative addition of tangerine gel. Our mothers certainly never made this for breakfast, but the story our waiter shared with us helped us to imagine it, and connect with the dish in a way we might not have otherwise been able to. We loved the scoop of perfectly executed, creamy palm sugar ice cream, but felt that while the padan leaf scented coconut foam added a welcome dimension to the dish, it's quantity was a touch excessive in relation to the rice.
"Bubur Injin" Black Rice Poridge, Coconut, Tangerine, Palm Sugar Ice Cream

Variations of passion fruit and young coconut was both strikingly beautiful and texturally engaging. Chewy little toasted, chocolate chip shaped mounds of meringue, dollops of viscous gel and velvety quenelles of sorbet demonstrated the versatility of these indigenous ingredients, and the kitchen's adept ability and vision to rise to the task of exploiting their flexibility. Developing a menu of as many courses is sure to satisfy appetites, but the restraint and planning required to execute and stagger portions across a menu of this length without leaving the diner uncomfortably full is a feat far less commonly realized. Fundamentally speaking, it is our experience that the attribute which defines the good tasting menus from the great ones is not intricacy or extravagance, but the organization needed to accomplish a balance that can only be achieved through actually sitting down and eating the menu you intend to serve from start to finish. The chasm that separates the chefs who take the time to perform this seemingly most obvious task and those who don't is literally speaking, painfully obvious. 

Passion Fruit & Coconut

Mignardises began with yet another scoop of ice cream, this time vanilla bean served with a teak spoon in a long stemmed martini glass. It was objectively speaking, perfectly executed but after three straight courses containing an ice cream component, we began to wonder if the kitchen had just acquired a new ice cream machine they were using a touch overzealously. A whitewashed casserole uncovered table side to reveal two large, piping hot madelaines was quick to capture our hearts. A fennel infused crème anglaise served along side them was brilliant, the sort of thing you'd humiliatingly eat with a spoon in the privacy of our own home, like scraping icing from the walls of a mixing bowl with your finger. 

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Madeleines, Fennel Crème Anglaise

We entered a modern, minimalist restaurant with a modest demeanor not knowing what to expect and left excited, inspired and convinced that we had discovered what will without a doubt in short time become one of the most sought after reservations in South East Asia. Service was professional, cordial, kind and informative; our waiter never once differed to the kitchen on our questions about unfamiliar ingredients. The atmosphere was contemporary and refined, the food was innovative, and for the most part, exquisitely executed. At less than the equivalent of $50 per person for a tasting menu of this calibre our meal came at an unbelievably extraordinary value. It's to be noted that the tasting menu is also offered in a completely vegetarian format, and all cocktails are offered in virgin equivalents. Locavore has come an astonishingly long way in a very short time and in our estimation, has only a handful of details that stand between it and international acclaim. While their commendable approach to sourcing locally defines their cuisine, balancing the need to minimize waste whilst reducing repetition (ie: coconut, passionfruit, vanilla, ice creams) will be a challenge that we're confident this team can and will easily overcome. In the next few years, we feel it's much less a matter of "if" but "when" Locavore debut's on the World's 50 Best list and when it does, don't forget where you read it first.


Locavore
Jalan Dewi Sita
Ubud (Bali), Indonesia
+62 0 361 977 733
www.restaurantlocavore.com


1 comment:

  1. Having been a fan of Locavore myself, it's fun to read your description about the place. Just a small note, while Locavore is fresh, the duo started their quest into sourcing everything local much more earlier upon heading the kitchen of Alila's restaurant "Plantation" where it tooks about 2 years to fully able to source locally ingredients they need.

    And it's Puteri Minang (Western Sumatera) instead of Menang (winning), and yes their spiciness is several note above other similar eateries standard, I often break sweats eating here :).

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