4741 SE Hawthorne
When you read certain menus, "your" dish unquestionably pops out. When you scan others, you're forced to settle for something less than perfect. When reading Surabaya's menu, I felt like the whole thing was catered to me. Each dish is loaded with strong flavors, but the food doesn't come off as forced, weird, or yuppie. Meats, vegetables, and spectacular sauces blend together to create some of the most compelling cuisine I've had in Portland.
Surabaya uses the flavors of Indonesian food paired with Dutch elements (the Dutch colonized Indonesia, and the chef, Richard van Rossum, lived in Indonesia and Holland before emigrating to the U.S.), and combines them with Northwest ingredients. So you experience a range of flavor you may not have encountered before, but it's combined with Colombia River sturgeon, or organic beef.
Prior to your salad, you're served shrimp chips with two different kinds of dip. One of the dips is a vinegar coleslaw (called "turmeric pickled vegetables"), the other is a spectacular ground peanut sauce. It's a welcome, lighter alternative to the bread basket, and the tang of the sauces makes you anxious for more. Surabaya's chef, above all, has an incredible knack for creating mouthwatering combinations of ingredients. For example, tell me you don't salivate when you read this; "Soy and coriander brined porkloin grilled and served with a sweet potato mash, braised spinach, sweet corn in coconut milk broth topped with an Asian pear sambal." Or this: "Baby field greens tossed in a sesame and sweet soy dressing with pancetta pralines, wild mushrooms, baby pear tomatoes, fried tofu, and Oregon Blue cheese." I ordered this salad and loved it. The Blue cheese blends masterfully with the slightly sweet dressing, the pancetta pralines (nut-sized pieces of dried pork) add a spike of salt, and the greens, mushrooms, and luscious tomatoes create an earthy bed.
For our main dishes my cohort and I ordered the sturgeon and the oven-braised short ribs. The sturgeon was tender, grilled slightly rare and accompanied by a host of vegetables swimming in a spicy-hot coconut milk sauce similar to a Thai curry, but not as sweet. The huge piece of rib meat was savory and slow-cooked, tasting like stewed beef, and served with delicate polenta and a flawless, salty gravy flavored with the dark pit of the kluwek nut.
Surabaya's weekend brunch is also compelling, including mixes of veggies, crab, cod, beef, and even lettuce rather than piles of toast and fried potatoes. The sweet potato hash with Dungeness crab had huge pieces of claw meat and a spicy, curry-esque sauce that was delicious, if a bit jarring for breakfast.
Notably, in addition to the dynamic food, the service at Surabaya was fantastic. While being well informed, pleasant, and available, the staff doesn't overwhelm you with their presence, allowing you to enjoy your food--and company. After only a week away from Surabaya I was back for another meal, and judging from their Friday night crowds, I'm not the only addict. So get over there now, before the hour wait kicks in and you're standing in the rain. Or even better, make a reservation.