To most New Yorkers, the Indonesian island of Bali is synonymous with “far-flung paradise.” Over in that tropical Eden, rituals are performed daily at 11th Century temples overlooking turquoise bays while the ubiquitous din of gamelan music fills the air.
At Selamat Pagi, Greenpoint’s new Balinese restaurant, the gamelan is pre-recorded and isolated to the bathroom. In the dining area they pump the Smiths, a fitting accompaniment to a chic new eatery crafted around the minimalist bare-wood aesthetic that the neighborhood’s booming economy demands.
Few have experienced that boom firsthand the way Ben Van Leeuwen has; along with his brother Peter and wife Laura, Ben started selling ice cream out of a truck throughout the neighborhood in 2008. Now, a mere five years later, the trio have three store fronts – one in Greenpoint, one in the East Village, and one in Boerum Hill – and, with Selamat Pagi, a full-scale Indonesian restaurant.
Don’t be embarrassed if you’re not sure what Indonesian food is; most of us don’t. That’s because, in the wildly diverse melting pot that is New York, Indonesians are an underrepresented bunch, with approximately 7,000 currently living in New York. For a nation of 230 million (the fourth most populous in the world), that number is extremely low. That lack of Indonesian immigrants might explain why Selamat Pagi doesn’t have any actual Indonesians working in their kitchen. “I wish we had some Balinese people helping prepare our dishes,” admitted Ben. “None applied.”
To get a sense of what their menu tastes like, Van Leeuwen says that Thai food is a good reference point. However, unlike Thai cuisine, Indonesian food almost never uses fish sauce. Instead, the recipes usually use shrimp paste to add flavor to their curries and sauces, alongside loads of fresh turmeric, lemongrass, and galangal.
It’s also fair to say that the similarities stop at the taste buds. Diners should expect to pay a little extra for the exoticism of this Southeast Asian fare. The Beef Rendang, a West Sumatran curry stew, is priced at $17, although the meat is wonderfully tender with a sophisticated flavor. There’s also a wine menu full of acid-driven whites and subdued reds to help balance out the bold Eastern flavors, and a beer list sure to please diners willing to pay extra for an elite microbrew.
Still, it’s clear that a large part of what you pay for is the ambiance. Softly glowing candles line the bar, and there’s fresh tulip on each table. It’s a subtle nod to a far-off culture where flowers are a ritualized currency, a daily offering to a pantheon of gods Greenpointers might get to know.
It makes for a nice touch… even if they do keep the gamelan music locked up in the bathroom.
152 Driggs Avenue