His name is Erwin Tjahyadi, but you probably know him as the guy who invented the phorrito — that’s the pho burrito — at Komodo, his food truck turned brick-and-mortar in West L.A. The Cordon Bleu–trained chef is returning to his more refined roots with a new Indonesian sit-down concept: Bone Kettle, set to open in Pasadena later this month.
Bone broth, its namesake offering, is what Tjahyadi was raised on. “My mom cooks broth every morning; we grew up eating broth,” he says. At the restaurant, he boils beef tendon, feet, knuckles and marrow for 36 hours. The resulting concoction is milky and infused with garlic, onion and chile. But that is just the signature dish — there are other items on the menu.
We asked Tjahyadi for three must-order dishes. First, he suggests gado-gado: a cooked vegetable salad whose name translates to “mix mix” in Indonesian. Tjahyadi’s version features cherry tomato, Chinese green bean, tofu, rice cake and purple cabbage, all drizzled with a mortar-ground peanut sauce that’s tangy with tamarind. The beautiful, Technicolor mess is topped with fried shallot.
Also, to share: beef tartare, brightened with fish sauce instead of citrus. It's a textural blend of fried and fresh shallot, Japanese silken mayo and a Thai basil and chive garnish. Accompanying it is a garlic onion chip for crunch.
And finally, the suggested main course: beef rendang. “Traditional beef rendang is braised beef cooked in a wok for 48 hours,” Tjahyadi says. Traditionally, the result looks like dry rubbed meat with nary a drop of liquid. In his take on the dish, he sous vides short rib for 18 hours.
For those less familiar with Indonesian cuisine, Tjahyadi gives us a little backstory.
“A lot of flavors are bolder and stronger and are right in your face than Vietnamese and Cambodian flavors. A lot of other East Asian [foods] are more subtle and let herbs speak for themselves,” he explains. “We tend to heavy cook our meat and heavy cook our vegetables. A lot of braising, a lot of longtime cooking, a lot of spices. When you taste [the food], it’s so overwhelming that you have to eat it with white rice to complement.
“We use a lot of turmeric, galangal and kaffir lime. Kaffir lime leaves, they’re like using lime zest but 10 times stronger, so concentrated. We use a lot of calamansi instead of lime. It’s like a mixture of kumquat and lime.”
If this is intriguing, let your education continue at Bone Kettle. Tjahyadi says he's looking forward to stretching his legs a bit with the new restaurant. Although he’s enjoyed enormous success with Komodo, which soon will have three locations, he welcomes a change from the limitations of the fast-casual concept.
“I feel like I can be more creative with Bone Kettle, menu-wise. With Komodo, people are pretty set with their mind. They want to come eat tacos and burritos, so you can only experiment so much. … At Bone Kettle, I’m going to be able to change the menu every three months.”
67 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (626) 795-5702, bonekettle.com.