A First Look at Wallflower, a Modern Indonesian Restaurant in Venice
Duck lumpia and beef satay
It's been more than three years since L.A. architect Dustin Miles announced that he'd open a Southeast Asian restaurant in the old Ace Trophy building on Rose Avenue. Meanwhile, Superba Snack Bar, which opened in 2012, has helped turn the sleepy stretch of Venice into a dining destination.
The journey to opening Wallflower has been a long one for Miles, who has more experience designing venues such as Venice Beach Wines than opening and operating restaurants. After a series of announcements about soft opening dates that never happened, Miles finally opened Wallflower on Nov. 2 with barely a whimper. The house was half full with friends, family and neighbors.
Designed by Miles, architectural details at Wallflower include open ceilings with unfinished wooden slats, repurposed wood counters and oversized industrial windows. Bathed in sunlight during the day, the breezy space suits Venice. Come between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. for a breakfast menu of porridge, cakes and rujak (fruit salad), plus coffee from Demitasse. As the sun sets, the space transitions into dinner service. The dimly lit dining room becomes dotted with tea lights and is punctuated by a dramatically backlit bar. It feels like the coolest loft party in Venice.
The fare is billed as modern Indonesian, and the overall menu reads like a travelogue of executive chef Harryson Tobing's trajectory as a chef, beginning with his childhood in the streets of Sumatra, Indonesia, where he worked as a teenager at Chinese restaurants to keep himself occupied while his parents worked. There are foraged mushrooms fortified with nutritional yeast. Duck lumpia is wrapped in sorrel leaves instead of standard-issue romaine. Wok-cooked dishes are not stir-fried, they are tossed. Appetizers are billed as "Street Snacks" at the top of the menu, although the portions are large enough for two or three people to share as part of a multicourse meal.
Angelenos have enjoyed countless versions of satay with sweet peanut sauce, but Tobing adds uniquely Indonesian touches to the dish at Wallflower, such as sambal matah (a relish made with shallots, lemongrass, shrimp paste and makrut lime), boldly spiced peanut sauce and rice cakes steamed in banana leaves.
Additional chef touches include a crispy egg in the kwee tiauw goreng, a dish of stir-fried wide noodles with sambal, bok choy and bean sprouts. The crispy egg is actually a circulated egg that's rolled in panko bread crumbs and deep fried.
The "Merantau" section of the menu feels the most experimental, with mash-ups between international influences that are native to Indonesia and those the chef learned while working at a luxury hotel in Oman. The chef's version of Japanese curry has a basket of ingredients that are not found in typical Japanese or Indonesian curries, such as kombu, lotus root, eggplant, bamboo shoot, squash, nori and roti jala (Indonesian lacey crepe).
Large-format dishes meant for three to four people to share are listed under "Homecoming." There's whole fried fish redolent with the funk of fermented black beans, banana-leaf-wrapped halibut with a tomato chili paste, wok-tossed lobster with a "wok hay sauce" and smashed chicken with sambal and lemon basil.
Presumably, the true homecoming is at Wallflower, where Tobing's global influences have come together.
609 Rose Ave., Venice; (213) 373-6609; wallflowervenice.com.
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