Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 38
Warung Siska, Redwood City
One of the few Indonesian restaurants in the Bay Area, Warung Siska opened with a splash this year in downtown Redwood City, providing a real pop of joy in this dismal pandemic.
The space was formerly Nam Vietnamese Brasserie, which was opened by restaurateur Anne Le Ziblatt just weeks before the pandemic hit. Rather than reopen as is, Le Ziblatt decided to team with Chef Siska Silitonga and Ervan Lim, managing partner of Napa’s Live Fire Pizza, to start anew with an entirely different concept.
Perhaps it was kismet that the Indonesia-born Silitonga and Lim would join forces with Le Ziblatt, who fled Vietnam with her family and wound up in a Jakarta refugee camp, where local Indonesian families would help sustain them with homemade food.
Warung Siska is a tribute to the warmth and vivacity of the culture and cuisine, serving up Indonesian dishes full of big, bold, unforgettable flavors you’ll find yourself craving time and again.
The restaurant has no outdoor seating, and requires proof of vaccination to dine indoors. However, if your preference is takeout instead, you’ll be glad to know that the food travels quite well, which I discovered when the restaurant invited me to sample a to-go order recently.
When I interviewed Le Ziblatt for a story in the Nob Hill Gazette earlier this year, she told me one of Silitonga’s dishes that absolutely blew her away from the get-go was the bakwan (corn fritters, $13). I heartily agree. These golden, crisp and lacy fritters, each the size of my entire hand, are chock full of corn kernels, okra, and green onions. Makrut lime leaves give them an irresistible perfume and floral-citrus note. Best yet, they actually stayed crisp until I drove home with them nearly 40 minutes later.
Joining the corn fritters on the small plates side of the menu is the lemper (grilled sticky rice cakes, $12) that are a must-try, as well. They resemble Hawaiian musubi. Two layers of sweet, sticky rice sandwich a filling of spiced shredded chicken that gets neatly tied with a length of banana leaf. A spicy savory sauce made with kecap manis, the Indonesian sweet soy sauce can be drizzled on for a hit of heat.
The main plates all come as complete entrees with rice and veggies or pickles, with the exception of the padang sauce noodles or mie saus padang ($23). It’s a tangle of chewy, thick egg noodles with plenty of squid bodies, picked mussels, and shrimp along with one jumbo one as the centerpiece. It all gets tossed in a flavorful tomato-turmeric sauce that hugs each noodle.
For more shrimp love, there’s the shrimp sate or sate udang ($24) that showcases head-on, shell-on large skewered Gulf shrimp glazed in a soy-chili sauce. It’s messy but good. As an accompaniment, there is fluffy coconut jasmine rice and lightly pickled cucumbers and carrots.
You get two tender legs with the duck betutu ($24), marinated in heady Balinese spices, roasted, and showered with grated ginger for smack-your-lips flavor. A tomato relish adds a saucy element, fried shallot-topped jasmine rice mellows everything, and salted, spiced, roasted peanuts turn up the heat again.
The kalio brisket or curry beef brisket ($29) is incredibly succulent and tender. Cooked in a clove-turmeric curry sauce, the meat is a little sweet, a little sticky, a bit spicy, and a whole lot of umami-forward. Pickled mustard greens add a bright crunch.
The coconut lemongrass panna cotta ($9) is the perfect way to douse the heat of the palate at the end. Not too thick, but possessed of a soft, yielding texture, it’s topped with diced pineapple, sesame seeds, and candied orange peel. It’s arranged in a pool of palm sugar syrup, thick like molasses with a taste a little like burnt caramel.
Pro Tip: Don’t pass up the krukpuk or garlic chips ($5). In fact, get two orders. These airy, crunchy shrimp chip-like treats are wonderfully garlicky. Eat one, and you’ll be devouring the rest in a jiffy. They’re also gluten-free and vegan. And they stay crisp even the next day. Well, if you should miraculously have any left, that is.
Milohas, San Jose
After watching this family-owned bakery spotlighted on “Check, Please! Bay Area,” I was salivating so much I knew I had to make a beeline there.
Milohas did not disappoint. The San Jose bakery specializes in handmade Colombian empandas that are baked with a range of fillings.
You can order ahead of time online or at the counter, where you’ll be asked if you want your empanadas cold or heated to enjoy then and there.
The empanadas are $4.75 for small ($3 more for a large size). I got the small, which is plenty for a light lunch, as each is chock-full of filling, so you get a nice ratio to dough. And what dough it is. It is house-made, buttery as fine pastry, and full of very flaky layers. Indeed, Milohas comes from the Spanish words, “mil hojas,” which mean “one thousand layers.”
The spinach and cheese is pure comfort, with gooey cheese and plenty of spinach to make you feel like you’re doing something good for your body. There’s just the slightest kick of spice, too.
The chicken one is packed with shredded breast meat cooked with onions and parsley, giving it the taste of pot pie.
The pineapple-pepperoni will satisfy anyone who loves a good pineapple pizza.
However, if you prefer your pineapple in a dessert-like preparation, the pineapple empanada will hit the spot with its tangy-sweet tropical taste. You definitely have to like pineapple, though, as this one is groaning with the diced fruit.
The guava fingers ($1.75 each) are a popular dessert choice, too. Filled with sticky orange guava paste, they are small and slender, giving you just the right amount of sweet to end the meal.
The empanadas keep well for a day or two in the fridge. So, grab an assorted box-full, and heat in a toaster oven when the craving hits. Two sauces come with — a creamy orange one that’s a spicy jolt, and another tangy, chunky onion-cilantro mix akin to a Columbian pico de gallo.
One drawback is you can’t always distinguish which empanada is which once you get them home. With the spinach and cheese one, the bit of green peeking out here and there is a dead giveaway. But for the others, you’ll probably have to cut them half to be sure of their contents.
Pro Tip: On weekends, look for two other pastries not available on weekdays: roscon, sweet round breads filled with guava paste ($4) and miloha ($4.75), a Napoleon-like puff pastry dessert layered with custard and finished with Colombian caramel.