The Indonesian goddess of food, Queen Sri, watches over Ylang Ylang, Costa Rica's only Indonesian restaurant. From the restaurant's back wall, candles softly illuminate Sri's golden crown and wooden gaze.read more close
Like the tropical idols, Ylang Ylang's recipes have traveled half the world to make it to Costa Rica. But thanks to restaurant owners Hans and Caroline, they're here, and what a wonderful thing that is. Indonesian cuisine doesn't have the name recognition that Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and other SE Asian cuisine has, but what it lacks in reputation it makes up for in flavor.
Head Chef Caroline, born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, has brought her encyclopedic knowledge of Indonesia's incredibly complex recipes. Take for instance, the Ajan Paniki, $21: a succulent, slow cooked-chicken leg marinated in a pureed and fried blend of more than 10 ingredients including onion, garlic, red pepper, ginger, tamarind paste, palm sugar, coconut milk, lemon grass and a dash of sweet soy sauce.
But the secret ingredient in their cooking is the Kaffir leaves, a green double-headed leaf that comes from a member of the citrus family and is available from only one supplier in the whole country. These are the lengths that Ylang Ylang goes to ensure the quality of its food. The service is equally meticulous. Hans personally cares for each table so that he may impart his knowledge and love of Indonesian cuisine on each of the 10 guests Ylang Ylang accepts per night – yes, that's right. Ylang Ylang only serves 10 people per night (not ten tables), so make sure your reservations are in order beforehand.
Among other Indonesian specialties, which are listed nightly on the restaurant's chalk boards, is the Ikan Ketjap; Sumatra style red snapper, $21; a filet sautéed in butter with sea salt and lemon then covered in another of Caroline's specialty sauces that includes red pepper, paprika, onions, garlic, tamarind paste, dried shrimp powder and palm sugar. A host of Indonesian sides accompanies the meal including curried jasmine rice, white rice and vegetables. All of the dishes are served family style over hot plates on the center of the table.
For dessert Caroline prepares lemon cake, $11, and/or the Kwee Dadar, a crepe made with palm sugar, coconut and colored green by the addition of pandan – an ingredient from her garden – stuffed with fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream.
Settled among the restaurateur village of Ojochal, Ylang Ylang is an intimate restaurant with oceanside views and permeated with the scent of Ylang Ylang flowers (used to make Chanel No. 5) that grow on trees surrounding the open-air restaurant.
Impeccable. Like everything else, Hans and Caroline manage everything, answering all questions, sharing their experiences and their love for Indonesian cuisine.
Entrees $21; Desserts $8
5 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Wed. - Sat.; closed May, Sept. – Nov.