Asnul Bahar, a petroleum engineer who came to the U.S. from Indonesia in 1997 to earn his Ph.D. at the University of Tulsa, never expected to find himself and wife Indri in the restaurant business.
“Even though I have been a job consultant and I teach classes all over the world, I have stayed in Tulsa since I came to TU,” he said recently. “I never had been in any business of my own, not to mention the food business, until 2017.”
He said he was teaching a class in Indonesia, his native country, when a friend introduced him to a brand of seasoning paste, Rendang & Co., and asked him if he would like to market it in America.
“I said, ‘No way,’” Bahar said. “He said it was a good product and to take some home and try it. My wife used it, and I passed it around for friends to use, and they all loved it. Based on that, I formally applied to import it legally to the U.S.”
He said he has been selling the line of seasonings online all over the country, mostly to Indonesian customers. He said last August the subject of starting a restaurant came up in his household.
“Our son starts college next semester, and my wife already is feeling empty,” Bahar said. “She has cooked for large groups and charities and such things, and she was interested in starting a restaurant.”
He said Guldeep Singh, owner of India Palace, was instrumental in helping the Bahars establish their restaurant, called Rendang & Co. Indonesian Bistro, in a strip center on 51st Street across from LaFortune Park.
We visited recently for dinner. Rendang’s space in the center had been taken back to the studs, and everything was shiny new.
We ordered two dishes — nasi padang ($14.95) and soto ayam ($8.95), described as national dishes of Indonesia, plus one called bakmi ayam bakso ($10.95).
The nasi padang plate included a mound of steamed rice surrounded by rendang, ayam goreng balado, a whole hard-boiled egg in chili sauce and veggies.
Rendang was slow-cooked, spicy, shredded beef and took up a fair portion of the plate. It had been flavored with chili sauce, palm oil, shallots, garlic, ginger and galangal.
Ayam goreng balado was a chicken leg that had been marinated in herbs and spices, fried without a batter and lightly covered in a chili paste.
The veggies were a mix of very thin green beans and sliced jackfruit in a spicy sauce. Jackfruit soaks up the flavors around it, something like tofu, and has an almost meat-like texture. A green sauce for the chicken and a red sauce for the beef were pretty fiery.
Bakmi ayam bakso was a large bowl filled with egg noodles, chicken and thinly sliced mushrooms in a mellow broth. We had flat, crispy, kind of sugary wontons served on the side like crackers.
The dish came with three meatballs in a separate bowl swimming in a broth that was difficult to describe but likely an acquired taste for the average American palate.
Soto ayam proved to be a hearty dinner on a cold night. It featured chicken, cabbage, mashed potato patties, lemon, a hard-boiled egg sliced in half and vermicelli in a yellow broth. Because the thin vermicelli noodles were translucent, they likely were made from mung beans.
The menu has a number of vegetarian dishes marked with a V, and a picture of a pepper next to a dish indicates it has chili sauce.
For our beverages, we chose a black tea from London and a green tea from Sri Lanka, and both went nicely with the food.
In retrospect, I wish I had tried a coffee, as well, because Rendang carries a line of Kopi Ketjil organic coffees from Indonesia.
“Indonesia grows some of the best coffee in the world in the mountains,” Bahar said.
The Bahars’ son, Kareem, ended up being our server and did a fine job explaining different aspects of the menu.
One wall is decorated with a large relief of Indonesia, the world’s largest island country that includes more than 17,000 islands and many languages and cultures. Indri is from south central Java, and Asnul is from western Sumatra.
“Our food is mostly like the areas we come from,” Bahar said.