Rinette Wagimin’s task seems daunting. Nine months ago she opened Indo Quest Indonesian & Thai Restaurant in a west Pembroke Pines plaza anchored by a Sedanos Market in a neighborhood loaded with Latin venues.
Wagimin aims to draw diners looking for something different and to introduce them not only to Indonesian cuisine but to the version she learned in Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana).
The daughter of Indonesian parents, Wagimin was raised in this tiny country on the northeastern shoulder of South America, where she also operates a hotel and restaurant. She has never been to Indonesia, and visitors tell her the food there is a bit saltier and sweeter than in Suriname, but there’s the same devotion to fresh ingredients, emphasis on rice and skillful use of bold herbs and spices.
Influences on Indonesian food can be traced to ancient trade routes connecting India, China, the Middle East, Spain and Portugal with the Spice Islands of the Pacific later colonized by the Dutch. Having a menu that pairs Indonesian and Thai dishes works, Wagimin says, because they share many ingredients, like galanga root, lemon grass and coconut milk.
We sipped our way through a glass of creamy Thai tea while navigating the diverse, complex menu at Indo Quest, set in an attractive storefront brightened with golden runners draped over tables and decorative wood accents.
Another nice touch: Chef Winnai Kuamala, who is from Thailand, stops by to greet diners and ask about the food. He is much more engaging than the servers, who are cordial but could be more helpful in explaining the menu.
Indonesian dishes can be quite spicy, but Wagimin tones down the heat for American tastes, so if you like fiery fare, let the staff know. You’ll get a bowl of the spicy condiment sambal, made from a variety of peppers.
From the Indonesian side of the menu, start with satay skewers (chicken, beef, shrimp or grilled tempeh) or lumpia, crunchy, fried spring rolls filled with veggies plus tofu or chicken.
Indo Quest serves sweet plantains in the form of delicious pisang goring, a popular Indonesia snack of battered and fried bananas served with a perky peanut sauce.
For the Thai side of the menu, Kuamala prepares classics like spicy nam sod (minced chicken on lettuce), Tiger’s Tears (grilled beef in a tangy marinade), pad Thai and a long list of curries.
A highlight here is the Indonesian rijstafel or rice table, an array of 13 dishes including nasi goreng (stir-fried rice), nasi kuning (steamed yellow rice in coconut milk) and udang indo (shrimp in tomato sauce).
A slightly smaller feast, nasi rames, brings a plate of ayam opor, chunks of stewed chicken in a fragrant mix of curry, galanga, lemon grass and coconut milk. A second plate holds seven items including gudangan (steamed veggies tossed with spicy, fried, grated coconut), bami goreng (fried noodles) and satay daging (grilled, skewered beef). There’s also a vegetarian version of nasi rames.
End with tempura ice cream, Thai doughnuts or quarter-size pancakes (a little spongy) dusted with powdered sugar and served with condensed milk.
We just scratched the surface at Indo Quest, but it’s an intriguing introduction to Indonesian food, Suriname style.