Reviewed by jamescollier on Sep 03, 2011
A year or so ago I joined a group of about 10 people at a new "fusion" restaurant at Bullard and First. I'm not sure what they were fusing, but it tasted horrible. Lunch took an hour and a half, and at about 75 minutes in one of our guests was told the dish she ordered couldn't be made. I never went back.
That spot recently closed, and a new Indonesian restaurant, Kuali, took over the space (a few hundred square feet inside of a strip mall). I met Tracy—who you'll be hearing more from on TasteFresno—there on Wednesday for a meeting about the community kitchen (you'll also hear more about this idea soon). Here's our take.
James said: It's small, and it's an odd layout, and it's hard to forget what was last here. When I first walked in, I couldn't help but think, "I sure hope the food is good."
Tracy said: A little divey, but clean. Some foreign tongue was being bantered about, and that's always a good sign. I was perhaps a bit thrown off by the silverware which was, in fact, plastic utensils rolled into a napkin, picnic style. At least it was not a spork!
T: Super! If I get a glass of water with ice and all the dishes are hot, I'm a happy camper. The crew was attentive, but not pain-in-the-ass attentive. Excellent balance. Our waitress seemed genuinely happy when we told her we were adventurous and ready to eat.
J: I counted a front of the house crew of three (family, perhaps) for only a handful of tables, but that meant for attentive care during the meal. Service was friendly from the start, but even more so after we asked for recommendations, and explained that we were open to trying something new.
J: On to the good stuff. We shared an appetizer and two dishes: babi kepap (pork belly in a sweet soy sauce, with rice) and nasi rames (a sampler plate with satay skewers, beef curry, and barbecued chicken). I can't remember the name of the appetizer, but the hand-written description pasted on the menu said it was a fried crepe with a sweet stuffing. Everything was flavorful and delicious.
T: We started with a fairly generic salad that was in a killer peanut ginger dressing; the hum-drum iceberg was merely a vehicle to get the dressing in my mouth. The crepes were soft and slightly curried with an overall comfort food halo. And then there were entrees! I was thrilled to see dished rolled out onto banana leaves making the meal, finally, seem truly authentic. The chicken thigh was fall-off-the-bone tender and despite looking teriyaki and sweet in nature, was very savory. Eating the pork belly was like digging for buried treasure of little nugs of flaky pork among salty, fatty belly (trust me, a good thing). The beef curry was rich and red, and almost reminiscent of a mole sauce with coconut milk. Finally, my favorite, was the chicken satay. I know, I know, you're saying, "...chicken satay? Really?!" But this is not a generic strip of dried out chicken. This is a gingery, lemongrass-ish, tender flash of smokey-spicey goodness. Go for it.
T: This is going to be a great lunch spot for me. The prices are very reasonable (we got out for just over $20 with a tip) and the food is a curious blend of Asian flavors. And hello... shrimp chips!
J: Kuali renews my excitement in the local restaurant scene—I'm already thinking of a return trip to explore more of the menu. And I can look past setting and details (like the photos on the menu…oy) when I'm exposed to something new, and when the food is this good!