2504 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Prices: Most dinner entrees $7 to $8.
Credit Cards: American Express, Diners, MasterCard, Visa.
There's a new cuisine in town. Wheaton, already home to a Laotian restaurant (Baan Lao), now boasts Sabang, the first Indonesian restaurant in the Maryland suburbs.
It's an elegant place, with soft carpeting and colors, quiet acoustics and an intimate, inviting aura. The prices are moderate and the service has been excellent.
The food? You'll find similarities to Vietnamese and Thai cooking in Sabang's grilled satays and coconut milk, and in some of its sweet sauces.
Most of the dishes here aren't particularly memorable by themselves, so ordering from the regular menu can be disappointing.
But when 15 dishes are combined in the traditional Indonesian banquet called rijsttafel, the festive feeling more than compensates for any individual deficiency -- a good case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. (The rijsttafel is a good buy too, at $25 for two people.)
Here's a rundown of what you'll get in the rijsttafel. An Indonesian-style egg roll, with a very light, crisp wrapper and a flavorful ground pork filling. (Even better, but not in the rijsttafel, is the unusual soft egg roll, like delicate blini.) Then comes a choice of chicken or beef soup -- the beef is livelier. Then a wonderful chicken satay, lightly grilled, succulent, with a nice peanuty sauce. (Note that all the satays here are excellent, particularly the lamb one, but the portions are smallish -- they're best as shared appetizers.)
To preserve your palate, save the hot and spicy beef for the end of your rijsttafel -- the pungent sauce will set your mouth atingle. A milder dish in the rijsttafel, reminiscent of a good stew, is beef and potatoes in a lovely, homey sauce flavored with coconut milk. The curried vegetables are pleasant but nothing special, much less hot than East Indian curries. Likewise the stir-fried tofu, in a mild sauce with bean sprouts. The green beans, on the other hand, are a delightful sleeper, fresh and firm, in a lovely, complex, slightly sweet sauce.
Continuing with the rijsttafel, the chicken with coconut sauce is lovely, long-cooked in a gentle, meaty sauce, reminiscent of an old-fashioned chicken stew. Spicy chicken wings are fairly hot, a pleasant dish. Vegetables in yellow sauce (with turmeric and nutmeg) have a delightfully zingy sauce, simultaneously hot, sweet and tart. The Indonesian salad is nothing much -- iceberg lettuce, cucumber and tofu in a thick peanut sauce. To finish off the rijsttafel, there's a bit of fresh fruit.
Here are some guidelines for the regular menu. The fried corncake with shrimp appetizer is excellent, an Asian version of polenta. The marinated grilled chicken is decent enough, a bit dry, in a lightly peanuty sauce that's quite oily.
The grilled fish with hot soy sauce was a letdown, the fish past its prime and the sauce achingly sweet. If you try a fish, the one with the excellent yellow sauce (see above) is probably a good bet.
The beef here tends to be a bit dry and chewy. The version with egg is served with sliced hardboiled egg -- not very exciting. The special fried rice is well done but nothing special.
The bottom line? Go for the rijsttafel.