Komodo isn’t an Indonesian restaurant — it’s an interesting hybrid serving exotic flavors with contemporary flair
By Richard Foss (Richard(at)RichardFoss.com)
Sometimes a name makes promises that aren’t fulfilled, which is usually a bad thing. I remember a place called House of Rotisserie that once had specialized in rotisserie chicken; they changed concept but not name. Customers were set up for one experience and got another, and that probably has something to do with why they’re not around any more.
I had a similar feeling at first when visiting Komodo, which someone had described as an Indonesian fusion fast-food restaurant. (And yes, that name is usually associated with a very large lizard, but that’s because it lives on Komodo Island in Indonesia.) I find Indonesian food delightful and was so happy someplace was serving it so close to home that I went the very same day. I took my brother, who is also an adventurous diner, and his dog, which isn’t, but the restaurant has a patio and we wanted to get the mutt out of the house.
On arrival, I discovered my mistake — there are only two remotely Indonesian items offered here. It was difficult to figure that out while eyeing their wall menu, which had the names and prices of items but no descriptions, because almost everything Komodo serves is a hodgepodge of Asian, Italian and Mexican ingredients in original combinations. Only after we were handed paper menus could we discover that some items were puns or deliberately misleading. (How else could you describe labeling a pile of tater tots with steak, bacon, cheese, sour cream and jalapenos as a salad?) Other items were straightforward but strange; we resisted the temptation to order kimchi nachos, which sounds like the punch line to a joke about Los Angeles food but could be wonderful for all we know.
After much indecision, we decided to start with two tacos — one stuffed with fish and grapes, the other with pork rendang — and continue with pork and carrot meatballs, a “Macobb” salad and the sole authentic Indonesian dish, nasi goreng. Komodo doesn’t serve wine, though there is evidently an intention to do so based on a poster on the door, so we ordered mango punch and lychee lemonade instead.
The tacos arrived first: street taco-sized tortillas very fully stuffed. I had ordered the codfish with grapes, salad and toasted almonds because it’s a combination I have enjoyed before — the great French chef Escoffier created a fish and grapes recipe in 1903, though he didn’t think of putting it in a tortilla, as he probably never saw one. He also didn’t add beets, dried fruit or whatever else was in this salad — the complexity was a delightful surprise but could have been a problem for someone with a food allergy (Note to restaurants: terse descriptions are hip but can be a problem for some clientele.) The flavors here were excellent, however, and if you’re omnivorous, go for it.
The pork rendang was a slightly simpler dish — a Californian riff on an Indonesian spicy beef dish, as most Indonesians are at least nominally Muslim and don’t eat much pork. It’s less spicy than the rendang I’ve had at Indonesian restaurants, but true to the idea of stewing meat with coconut milk and many aromatic spices along with garlic, ginger and chilies. The cucumber-and-tomato salad helped moderate the heat, and it was a very successful item.
The other items arrived all at once and made us absolutely sure we had over-ordered. Those pork meatballs had a slight spiciness to balance the carrot sweetness and garlic, and they reminded me of the Japanese chicken meatballs that are served in yakitori restaurants. The romesco sauce that accompanied them was tasty by itself but wasn’t a good match of flavors — a little shredded cabbage or greens would have been better.
The Macobb salad — and yes, that’s a pun on “macabre” — wasn’t scary at all; it was not too far from a standard Cobb, if you don’t count the addition of duck confit and Chinese lop chong sausage and the fact that there was little, if any, blue cheese. The salad was good, though unexceptional, and worked well as a respite from the spicier dishes.
‘Spicier’ included the nasi goring — fried rice with vegetables, onion and spices topped with a fried egg, with chopped steak included for a $2 up-charge. Except for the addition of corn to the mix it was a rather faithful rendition of a classic dish, which is a novelty between these walls.
We departed satisfied with our meal. At $42, we could have easily spent less, because we couldn’t finish everything despite enjoying it all.
Komodo is an interesting hybrid, offering fast food with modern style, pretty presentations and lots of ideas. This offspring of a critically acclaimed food truck is one of the more interesting new restaurants in town and well worth investigating. I await the day an Indonesian restaurant opens in the neighborhood, but until then I’ll go here.
Komodo is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. There is validated parking for the structure off Navy Street. Wheelchair access is good, and there are vegetarian and vegan options.
Komodo, 235 Main St., Venice (310) 255-6742 komodofood.com