Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ira's Gourmet (Pasadena, CA)

Ira's Gourmet
704 W Howard St, Pasadena, CA 91103
Sat 07/11/2009, 06:20p-08:30p

Indonesia is comprised of thousands of individual islands, resulting in a national cuisine that is a patchwork of regional foods intertwined with local and foreign influences. The fare draws particularly upon the traditions of India, the Middle East, China (e.g. lumpia, bakso), and Europe; likewise, indigenous Indonesian dishes such as satay have spread throughout Asia, if not the world.

In all my years of eating, I don't think I've ever come across true Indonesian cuisine. Thus, when I heard that Cathy of Gastronomy Blog was organizing an Indonesian tasting, I jumped at the chance to attend. The food was to be provided by Ira's Gourmet, an Indonesian food specialist based out of Pasadena, run by Ira Sarnadi (say "ee-ruh" not "eye-ruh"). As one would imagine, most of Ira's customers are Indonesians longing for a taste of home cooking, so she was very excited about exposing the blogging community to the cuisine of her homeland.

The blogger turnout was one of the largest yet: Anjali of Delicious Coma, Connie of Hey Hey Scenesters!, Danny of Kung Food Panda, Diana of Diana Takes a Bite, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, HC of L.A. and O.C. Foodventures, Jackie of Citynitz, Kate of Princess Kitty's Lala-Land, Marie of Starchy Marie, Neil of Food Marathon, Pam of Rants and Craves, Sook of Yutjangsah, Wesley (sans Evelina) of Two Hungry Pandas, and Weezermonkey (whew!).

Ira's Gourmet Sign
Walking down a quaint residential street in Pasadena, I spotted the sign above, directing me to the festivities. However, the sign proved unnecessary, as the din of reveling bloggers easily guided me on the right path to Ira's backyard...

Where's My Money?
...Where I was greeted by our organizer Cathy, who was right on top of collecting the very reasonable fee of $10.

Buffet Line Buffet Line
Backyard Seating Backyard Seating
The food was served buffet style, and since I arrived somewhat late, and wanted to take photos, I was invariably stuck at the back of the line. Seating was provided under the awning, or out in the yard. Seeing as how it was 95°F, I wisely chose the awning.

Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale 2008 Kalmuck Zweigelt 'Pink'
As for booze, things were strictly BYOB, and I, embarrassingly, forgot to bring anything (Cathy was hoping for some Cristal). Thus, we first enjoyed Connie's Saison Dupont, a wonderful, fruity, zesty farmhouse ale from Brasserie Dupont (forgot to snap a photo). Anjali brought another beer, the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale, which I'd had once before at Coi in San Francisco; it was a sweet, nutty beer with a distinctly rice-tinged finish. Finally, HC provided "Pink," a 2008 Zweigelt Rosé from Austrian producer Kalmuck. As you'd expect, it was a light, refreshing wine, with some juicy berry flavors and a nice minerality as well--a proper, perfect potent potable for summer.

kevinEats' Plate of Indonesian Goodness
This was my first plate, served on a banana leaf. I'll run down each individual item down below. Note that there was also another dish, lemper, or banana leaf-wrapped sticky rice stuffed with chicken, that I somehow missed.

Telor Baldo
Telor Balado
This dish starts with a hard-boiled egg, which is then fried and topped with sambal balado (a tomato-based chili sauce with shallots and garlic). The frying action gives the egg a slightly tough exterior layer, but leaves the interior intact. The application of the balado provides a spiciness that offsets the somewhat monolithic heaviness of the egg--a nice balance of sweet, spicy, and salty.

Sambal Goreng Terong
Sambal Goreng Terong
This was fried eggplant, smothered in sambal, a sauce of chili, onion, garlic, and tomato. The rich, slightly bitter flavor of the eggplant was complemented by the spicy condiment, but I would've preferred the aubergines to have been crisper in consistency.

Bakmi Goreng
Bakmi Goreng
Looking at this dish, a stir fry of egg noodle with diced chicken, shrimp, meatballs, egg, and vegetables, it wasn't hard to guess its Chinese origin. The name, bakmi goreng, in fact, translates roughly to "fried rice vermicelli." Nevertheless, it was a great noodle dish, with a distinctive flair that takes it a notch above your typical vermicelli. I especially enjoyed the use of meatballs.

A dish of Javanese ancestry, empal is sweet fried beef, meat that is cooked in onion, garlic, palm sugar, tamarind, and coriander, then fried. The result is beef with a very pleasing sweetness, a bit of a zesty kick, and a tough exterior slightly reminiscent of carnitas. Quite nice.

Nasi Kuning
Nasi Kuning
Nasi kuning literally means "yellow rice," and in fact, is rice cooked with coconut milk and turmeric, giving the staple a distinctly coconut-tinged flavor. Though tasty on its own, the rice is meant to be eaten with sambal trasi (a shrimp paste chili sauce with red/green chilies, onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomatillos, shrimp paste, and kaffir lime leaves) and the following three accoutrements:

Bacem Tempe
Bacem Tempe
A popular item in Java, tempeh is cake of fermented whole soybeans, firmer and more flavorful than tofu. Here, it was cooked in onion, garlic, coriander, and sweet soy sauce (kecap manis), then fried. The result was a savory cake with an almost potato-like texture and a nicely caramelized exterior.

Bacem Tahu
Bacem Tahu
Like the tempeh, the tofu was prepared in a similar fashion, cooked in an amalgam of onion, garlic, coriander, and sweet soy, and then fried. However, the tahu was a totally different experience, savory on the outside, but still possessing a soft, mild interior. It was nice to compare these two similar, yet so different interpretations of soybean.

Ayam Goreng
Ayam Goreng
Finally, we come to my favorite item of the meal: Javanese-style fried chicken, more specifically, chicken cooked with a commixture of onion, garlic, lemon grass, candle nuts (kemiri), and turmeric, then fried. The end result was crisp, immensely flavorful, with an indescribable savory verve--simply one of the best preparations of fried chicken I've had. A whole bucket please!

Es Buah Pasadena
Es Buah Pasadena
Dessert consisted of an assortment of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew (the money melon) balls, in a syrup of coconut, condensed milk, and pandan leaves--a nice, refreshing interplay between creamy and fruity flavors that proved a fitting end to the meal.

Ira Sarnadi
The woman of the hour: nicely done Ira!

Ira's Gourmet Menu Ira's Gourmet Menu
The menu of available items is shown above; click for larger versions. I'm told that a selection of three items for lunch, delivered in the Pasadena area, goes for $8.50. Orders can be placed via email at sarnadira{AT}

Since this was my first experience with Indonesian cuisine, I can't really make a definitive judgment here, as I have no adequate basis for comparison. However, I can say that most everything I ate was quite tasty, and being introduced to this fare via "home cooking" was a pleasure and a treat, especially in the presence of fellow members of the local food community. Thanks again to Cathy for setting this up!


Blogger Diana said...

Makes me hungry for more fried chicken! Nice write-up!

Sunday, July 19, 2009 8:20:00 AM  
Blogger weezermonkey said...

Lemper was the best. Sorry, dude.

Oh, and can you not use my real name? Thanks. :)

Sunday, July 19, 2009 9:10:00 AM  
Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

That was definitely a party, and thanks for not mentioning the post-dinner events. LOL

BTW, that pic of Cathy looks like she's one of those church ladies collecting the tithe! LOL

I could use a fried chicken now! Mmmmmm

Sunday, July 19, 2009 9:59:00 AM  
Blogger citynitz said...

Good times, good times. That was my first time eating Indo food as well! Great review! =)

Sunday, July 19, 2009 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

Kev - So glad to read that you had a memorable and positive experience! Wouldn't it be fabulous if we could taste a new cuisine at someone's house every weekend? Dreamy!

Sunday, July 19, 2009 1:06:00 PM  
Blogger yutjangsah said...

This was such good food. I loved that rice and that chicken was to die for. We should all go to that Indo restaurant rec'd by gourmet pigs and her technie friends.

Monday, July 20, 2009 6:31:00 AM  
Blogger MyLastBite said...


My ex-husband used to cook Indonesian all the time. Tasty memories!

Monday, July 20, 2009 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Diana: I wish I'd helped myself to more while I was there!

Weezermonkey: Name has been removed. Also, where was the lemper? I didn't even see it.

Danny: I figure there'd been enough chatter already on Twitter about the night's events. Agree about Cathy though!

Jackie: Ah good times indeed. And when can we expect to see your post up? :)

Cathy: That would be a neat idea--you just need to organize it. ;)

Sook: What was the name of it again? Wasn't she going the following day?

Jo: He was Indonesian I take it? What does your current husband cook then? ;)

Monday, July 20, 2009 4:03:00 PM  
Blogger weezermonkey said...

Thanks, dear. :)

Ira gave us our lemper personally. She was all like, "You! Latecomers! Here!" and shoved them in our face.

I'm glad she did. Tee hee hee.

Monday, July 20, 2009 11:22:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I was a latercomer, and I didn't get anything shoved at me. :p

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 4:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the review. I love it!
I wish I could FedEx the lemper to you.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009 6:20:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Ira, just tell Cathy to organize another event. ;) Thanks again for having us.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009 7:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Friday, December 04, 2009 11:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Saturday, December 19, 2009 4:30:00 AM  

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