It's Just Brunch: Taste of Bali

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

In an era and a city in which the mainstays of many ethnic cuisines have become passe, Indonesian food maintains a cache of exoticism.

The reasons for this are legion, but chief are: the variants within Indonesian culture (Indonesia encompasses thousands of islands, scores of ethnic groups and strong influences from India, China, the Middle East and the Colonial Dutch); the paucity of local Indonesian restaurants; and vast linguistic differences (for plain white rice, try asking for nasi putih!).

That's what makes the recently instituted Sunday brunch buffet at our city's premier outlet for Indonesian food - Taste of Bali - a great "see-it-before-you-eat-it" vehicle for familiarizing Midwestern palates with some of the exciting dishes for which Indonesia is known. And at $12, Bali's buffet is also a great deal.

After a few visits to Taste of Bali's Sunday steam-table spread (there's also a smaller Tuesday-Friday one) I can confidently say it's mostly a joy to eat.

My nitpicking issues are: dishes aren't always replenished quickly, and when they are, it's in small batches, meaning while they won't drastically degrade on the table, there's not a lot to go around either; occasionally the many enticing fried things soak up too much oil; the seafood - while always interestingly prepared - has only been of OK to so-so quality; and I wish the famous Indonesian meat-substitute jackfruit would make an appearance.

Anyway, expect to see 10 hot dishes, a soup, steamed and fried rice, a good salad with an unusual dressing, a bought-and-thawed American dessert (I'd prefer an authentic Indonesian one) and sliced fruit. As for flavor profiles, expect lots of sweet, spicy and aromatic Thai-style cooking agents mixing it up with some Chinese and Indian influences. Expect these kinds of dishes:

• An unnamed, highly restorative, spicy and brothy Tom Yum-type soup with pronounced lemongrass and gingery accents.

• Mie Goreng - Texturally fun to eat, firm lo-mein-like noodles in a sweet soy sauce.

• Fu Yung Hai - This terrific, Indonesian-style egg fu yung is like a quickly deep-fried veggie frittata with a wonderfully crispy exterior.

• Beef Gulai - Gingery, Thai-like coconut milk curry with beyond-tender beef strips, carrots, potatoes and a thin, velvety sauce.

• Ayam Goreng Rica-Rica - Another yellow, Thai-style curry with blocks of silky tofu, chicken and thin green beans.

• Udang Bakar - Grilled and sweetly glazed, smoky-tasting shrimp satay.

• "Scalp in curry sauce" (sic) - Relax, it's scallops and shrimp, and they're delicious in their Thai masaman-like curry sauce.

• Crispy Crab - Crab Rangoon pockets tasting mostly of sweetened cream cheese.

• Hot and Spicy Squid - Irresistible. The lightly battered, crunchily deep-fried squid bits had a salty edge and explosive flavors from sliced jalapenos and sweet sauteed onions.

For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog "Under the Table" at

Taste of Bali

2548 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side