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COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Island Continental

October 13, 1994|JONATHAN GOLD

Ramayani is the poshest Indonesian place in town, a new restaurant next to the dry cleaners in a new, weirdly cosmopolitan mall wrapped around a high-rise tourist hotel near the TV studios in Hollywood. If you've spent much time in L.Al's spartan Indonesian restaurants, all Formica and batik, this sister of an unspectacular Westwood cafe might be a little bit astonishing: mirrors everywhere, marble floors in the bathroom and long display cases of duty-free-shop-style luxury goods that give the place the feel of a first-class lounge at some East Asian airport.

A large-screen TV set seems always to be blasting Oprah or something in the afternoons, except when it's playing karaoke videodiscs of "Feelings." The first time I came in, the waiters were taking turns crooning Paul Anka tunes.

Where the best Indonesian restaurants in town tend to specialize in the cooking of a specific region, Ramayani serves something like an Indonesian equivalent of the Continental cuisine of those joints that used to serve both crepes Suzette and veal piccata. The restaurant's impossibly large menu features things from all over the Indonesian archipelago--the sweet, thickly sauced food of Java; the complexly spiced stews of Bali; the impossibly hot Padang-style cooking of Western Sumatra--along with the sates, fried noodles with chicken and peanut-sauced salads that seem common to all Indonesian kitchens.

Some of the best dishes here are the simplest stir-fries: Chinese watercress fried with garlic; squid fried with red chile and a pungent dose of fermented shrimp paste; shrimp tossed with chile and a generous handful of pete , the notorious stinky bean of Indonesian cooking. The plain fried game hen with garlic seems to be about 95% crunch.

To start, there are rempeyek kacang , lacy Javanese fritters, almost cookies, spiced with coriander and as spiked with peanuts as peanut brittle; corn fritters that would be at home on a Southern table; the crisp, egg-filled pastry called martabak that is a little like an East Indies version of the Moroccan bestila .

Otak-otak are bland little cylinders of fish-cake baked in banana leaves. Indonesian fried won ton seem identical to the usual Cantonese takeout won ton, right down to the pleasing oiliness and the little dish of sweet and sour sauce.

Gulai kambing , a fine version of the traditional West Sumatran holiday dish, is a spice-fragrant, brothy lamb stew, almost fire-engine red, enough to flavor an entire plate of rice--the dish could be the Indonesian mole. Daging sapi bumbu Bali involves slices of rather overcooked steak stewed in a chile-red Balinese spice mixture seasoned with tamarind.

What you want to go for is nasi gudek , a combination plate that is the most famous dish of Jogjakarta but is served nowhere else in Los Angeles. It revolves around a stew of chicken and green jackfruit, a seething yellow mass rich with coconut milk, barely sweet and faintly tart, with a round aftertaste of fruit. It is served with a bed of rice seasoned with frizzles of browned onion, garnished with a deep-fried egg and crunchy batons of plantain, and includes a couple of pieces of chicken in mild yellow curry. It is difficult to believe there might be quite so much pleasure in what is Ramayani's version of the No. 2 dinner at El Coyote.

* Ramayani

5825 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (213) 467-1218. Open Sunday-Monday and Wednesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Mastercard and Visa accepted. Guarded lot parking. Takeout. Dinner for two, food only, $17-$25.

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