People who live in hot climates know best how to deal with them. So when summer heat waves strike, look for cool refreshment in a place like Agung, an Indonesian restaurant that serves some wonderfully chilly drinks.
Rudy and Francine Yap, who run Agung with their daughters Susan, Helen and Louise, are from Sumatra, where the food as well as the weather tends to be very hot. They have also lived in Jakarta, another toasty spot. And they can make frosty drinks that will produce the same sort of shivers as sitting on a ski lift in a blizzard.
An Unusual Blend
One of them is es tape, a tall blend of ice, milk, young coconut strands and rose syrup that is pale pink like a summer valentine. In the bottom of the glass is an ingredient that makes this possibly the most unusual milk shake in town. It is cassava, fermented to produce a winy flavor. (Another style of es tape is made with fermented rice.)
If es tape is cold, es Shanghai is positively arctic. Not a drink, it is a bowlful of ice hiding an exotic mixture of small dark beans, palm seeds, jackfruit, bits of Chinese grass jelly and soft coconut shreds. Rose syrup and milk are poured over the ice, which gradually melts into a sweet soup unless you eat it very quickly, which is impossible given the tooth-freezing temperature.
Other icy drinks ( es means "ice"), are es teler, which combines avocado, jackfruit and coconut; es kelapa muda, which contains strands of tender young coconut; es cincau, made with grass jelly, and es advokat, which is just plain avocado. The appearance of avocado in a sweet drink may surprise some but is a regional taste encountered also in the neighboring Philippines.
Sates and Kebabs
This attention paid to Agung's drinks is not intended to slight the food, for that, too, is quite interesting. A specialty here is sate Padang (Padang is a coastal town in West Sumatra), which is nothing like the usual kebabs with peanut sauce. Agung makes sate Padang with tongue, a replacement considered more acceptable to Western tastes than the lungs and other internal organs that would be used in Indonesia. The sauce is brilliantly yellow, tasting of lemon grass and definitely not of peanuts. There is marvelous pork sate too, again without a peanut sauce, but amply flavored with a sweet soy sauce marinade. Those who like peanut sauce can have it with beef or chicken sate or with the vegetable plate called gado gado.
Susan Yap told an interesting story about ayam panggang Agung, which is chicken in a rich coconut sauce. In Sumatra, when a baby is 40 days old, the family sends chicken prepared this way and arranged on a bed of yellow sticky rice to the friends who visited them at the time of the birth. The friends respond by sending back uncooked eggs and rice.
Mention of eggs leads to another exceptional dish, tahu telor. Tahu, which is tofu, is cooked with the eggs (telor) into a sort of large, flat omelet topped with a soy sauce mixture that is sweet and hot with chiles. An interesting side dish that is available in season is underripe mango cut into sticks and combined with jicama in a sweet and sour marinade.
The lone diner can try several dishes by ordering combinations such as nasi rames and lontong istimewa. These plates come with tastes of chicken, beef, deep-fried egg with red chile sauce and vegetables cooked in coconut milk arranged over nasi (steamed rice) or lontong (rice cakes). And two can eat very well by ordering nasi rames lengkap, a miniature rijsttafel that includes 12 of Agung's specialties for $25.
Agung Indonesian Restaurant, 3909 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 660-2113. Open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Accepts Visa and MasterCard. Parking on street or in small lot beside restaurant.