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Jan 5, 2008 02:24 PM

Indonesian eats in Santa Cruz

This past November I visited Santa Cruz and ate in a wonderful new Indonesian place there. The service isn't polished, but it's very friendly, and the proprietess is happy to explain if you have questions about the (handmade, slightly hapless) menu. My party tried a beef dish, a fish dish, an appetizer and a gingered iced coffee, all perfect. Subtle, spicy, sweet, all the best S words -- plus pretty cheap. It's called Batik Cafe, at 1209 Soquel Ave. I signed up with Chowhound just so I could post about it, so you gotta trust me on this.

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    Batik Cafe
    1209 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

    1. Husband and I went to Batik Cafe for dinner last Sat. night w/ some hound friends. I was surprised to see Diah, the woman owner who usually serves as hostess, cooking in the kitchen. As we learned later when she visited our table at the end of our meal, her cook wasn't able to come in and she stepped up. Given that these are her family recipes from her native region of Java, she was able to manage and deliver. Although service and pacing was a bit slow, I enjoyed lingering at the table and having ample time to chat and digest.

      It had been a long gap since our first visit to Batik about a month after it opened, and they appear to be developing well. The menu looked similar but more fleshed out. They even have a slick and informative website up:

      We ordered:

      Roti Canai: pan-fried dough served with coconut curry dipping sauce

      Bakwan Jagung: deep-fried crushed young corn mix with flour and green onions served with Indonesian soy sauce

      Sate Ayam: grilled chicken on skewers, served with homemade peanut sauce

      Rendang Padang: cubed beef marinated and slowly cooked in twenty island spices and served with fresh greens

      Asam Padeh: simmered tilapia fillet in tamarind, chili, galanga, ginger, lemon grass, garlic, and onion sauce

      Kangkung (water spinach) with mushroom and tofu in light garlic sauce

      White rice is included in the meal, and we also ordered a side of brown rice. Overall, the food ranged from solid to very good and exuded some "soul" that I expect from such a small place w/ the owner present. Standouts were the fried corn fritters that were super crispy and well-spiced and the chicken sate w/ its juicy and flavorful thigh meat and light peanut sauce. The beef rendang tasted similar to the first time, but the 20 spices tasted more cohesive and refined than before. The water spinach was simple, fresh, and a nice treat; I don't know any restaurant in SC that serves it or any store that sells it. I didn't care for the roti canai that was doughy and not crispy, but the accompanying curry sauce was good. The tilapia's sweet and sour sauce was not to my taste, but the fish was fresh and cooked nicely.

      Diah is a very warm and hospitable owner, and the 30 or so seats were mostly filled at peak dinnertime. Given that we can walk there from our house, we'll definitely return soon to sample more of the menu.