Jokingly, I told my husband that the only reason I agreed on to move here from my beloved country Indonesia was because it has an Indonesian restaurant: ‘Bali Satay House’. But to be honest, Doug did sell their name to ‘lure’ me as if living with him here is not a good enough motivation.
The owner, Iwan Muljadi (‘om Iwan’ as I call him or ‘captain Iwan’ as my kids bestowed him) claimed that it’s the first Indonesian resto in the Midwest. But I do know this, there aren’t so many Indonesian resto in the US that could last long and survived in the food service. As we travel within the US or around the world, we learned that they aren’t as many Indonesian restaurants as Chinese’s. For some reason, Indonesian restaurants just can’t survive.
Unsure about the exact year they started, when I got here in 2000, Bali Satay was just a small cozy shack in Campustown. Cafetaria-like seatings with plastic utensils, a small kitchen, but with loyal customers. Limited Indonesian menu like gado-gado, lamb fried rice, and chicken satay were their selling points. Back then, the pricing was dirt cheap. This attracted college crowds into flocking Bali Satay.
Then along came demanding customers who wish to see a better Indonesian restaurant in town and don’t mind paying more -like us. Our friends said that they really like the food but don’t fancy the idea of eating in. At that time, I feel like Bali Satay was my home away from home and I ate there often. But in the summer, the restaurant’s hot and humid while in the winter, it’s freezing. Uncomfortable. So having listened to his customer’s comments, the owner made a big decission to purchase a bigger restaurant few doors down and moved Bali Satay in. I think it was in 2004.
Better seatings, better utensils, better ambiance, and more variety of food. Combining Indonesian and Chinese cuisine, their a la carte menu now has more Indonesian dishes other than gado-gado and the like. You’d see in the Indonesian entree group: ‘Mie Ayam’, ‘Ayam Goreng Mentega’, ‘Cumi Goreng Mentega’, ‘Kwetiau Goreng’, etc. While for appetizer, you could order ‘Somay’, ‘Risoles’, and ‘Fried Tofu’ among the Chinese appetizer like Egg roll, Spring roll, Crab rangoon, etc. Better improvement comes with higher price. Same goes with Bali Satay. But the good thing is, it didn’t stop the crowds from coming. What usually priced as a $5.99 fried rice is now $7.99. ‘Specials’ are more expensive, even. Dishes like ‘Soto Madura’, ‘Lontong Sayur’, ‘Nasi Campur’, and ‘Sweet n Spicy Salmon with Sambal Terasi’ are tagged $8.99.
I know it’s impossible to have the exact taste of food or drinks like I used to taste back home. Not only it’s hard to find the exact same ingredients and spices, it’s also because the restauranteer had to adjust to the local’s liking, therefore Americanizing the Indonesian dishes. ‘Es Campur’ here is good, but nothing like what abang-abang (street vendor) sells in Jakarta. Although the ‘Es Alpukat’ (avocado shake) is amazingly similar to home, and the ‘Es Duren’ (durian shake) is something that only the brave (unless you are Indonesian!) would order.
Too bad, Bali Satay does not maintain their food quality very well. Once my daughter’s favorite, their Chicken Satay was uncooked a coule of time we ordered. The empal (sweet marinated beef) in Nasi Campur that had made our friends fell in love, was too tough to chew every now and then. Too bad. The service isn’t the greatest either. That’s actually what stopped us from coming in so often, beside the food quality issue. But lately I’ve been coming back, and they have better waiter/waitress. Fast(er) service too, I notice.
One of Iwan’s brilliant ideas was to turn Bali Satay into a nightclub. Soon after the restaurant’s hour is over (9:00ish at night), admission is charged to watch the live band/DJ. There was even a ‘Drag Queen’ show one night. The nightclub serves snack (from the appetizer menu) and booze from the recently built bar. We went there once to see the ‘reggae night’ with the [supposedly] DJ from the Caribbean. It was quite fun!