When I get a hankering for falafel, I head for Holy Land on College and Ashby in the Elmwood neighborhood of Berkeley. Run by a retired Israeli couple and their daughter, Holy Land is the closest one can get to Tel Aviv without flying out of SFO.
So I was very surprised to have recently found Holy Land had been replaced by an Indonesian restaurant called Padi. According to East Bay Express, the turnover was very swift, as the new owner simply took over the old lease and kept nearly everything intact. The hamsas and kitschy photos of Jerusalem have been replaced by oil paintings of flowers and birds. It’s enough to make you wonder if you had dreamed the existence of the previous restaurant.
I will certainly miss the falafel, hummus, and baba ghanoush, but this new place looks promising. Padi is run by Jimmy Sujanto, who is also the chef. The menu is billed as “homestyle Indonesian”, and that’s exactly how it feels. The tempeh is often housemade, as are the fried fish cakes and satay sauce. The satay sauce is particularly pleasing with its fresh-roasted peanuty flavor and rustic chunks of peanut.
My favorite dishes so far are the gado-gado, a warm salad of cabbage, bean sprouts, fried chunks of tofu and tempeh in a satay sauce with a hard boiled egg; the pempek palembang, fried fish cakes served on a bed of noodles and cucumber with a spicy vinegar sauce; and daging semur, beef braised in soy sauce and tropical spices (I particularly enjoyed the flavor of star anise that permeates this dish). Ayam penyet, or “smashed fried chicken” topped with a spicty chili sauce is also fun to eat. Spice choices are mild, medium, spicy, or crazy spicy, with medium being sufficently spicy to my palate. (The waitress noted that Padi spicy is very spicy indeed.)
For dessert, don’t miss the black glutinous rice with coconut milk. This pudding is served warm, and, while being just this side of too sweet, is addictive. The rice pudding is both toothsome and soft, with an almost earthy flavor reminiscent of Chinese red bean desserts and the creamy sweetness of coconut milk. The grilled banana with cheddar cheese and chocolate sprinkles is unusual, but was very much enjoyed by my companion (who ordered it without the chocolate sprinkles). As I don’t enjoy bananas, I’d be curious to try the dish with plantains, as described in the menu.
Sunday, December 9 is Padi’s grand opening party. I’ll miss the falafel, but look forward to eating more of that fabulous gado-gado.
Note: As Padi has only recently had its soft opening, I have only eaten at this restaurant once. As such, this write-up reflects a first impression of the establishment more than a more intensive review. Incidentally, falafel lovers will be pleased to learn that Holy Land continues to operate at its original Rand Avenue location in Oakland.