John Avila is far from the first chef to realize that restaurant training plus Mom’s recipes equals dining gold. But he’s actually including Mom in his venture. At Minahasa in Revival Food Hall, you’re likely to spot the former Gibsons Italia chef and his mother, Betty, overseeing a trim, curated menu of Indonesian home cooking.
With so little representation of this cuisine in Chicago, it was a pleasure to find a real-deal beef rendang ($18), braised nearly dry in coconut milk and curry paste. After a 20-minute car ride, the rice had absorbed most of the scant, intense gravy. Yet the flavor zinged and careened with spice, and the lean cubes of beef offered a master class in braising. I can’t wait to try it in situ.
While I’d happily eat all the Indonesian standards on the menu or specials list — chicken and pork saté or the great one-plate meal nasi goreng — Betty’s Minahasan recipes are the restaurant’s calling card. The Minahasa, a people from North Sulawesi, prepare renowned curries that are floral with bumbus (spice pastes), bright and sour with calamansi juice, and hella hot with bird’s eye peppers. Tuturuga (available with chicken, $16, or slightly undercooked red-skinned potato, $14) hangs citrusy flavors along a backbone of turmeric. But the MVP is ayam rica-rica ($16), battered white meat chicken jostled about with the pure happiness of tomato, chiles, lime leaf, ginger, and powdered shrimp. The chicken is good for sopping up those flavors, but I can’t wait for Avila to bust out the cakalang (skipjack tuna) this sauce is meant for. Betty, can you work on him?
Oh, almost forgot: Betty’s chicken and shrimp egg rolls ($3)! Avila says they’re not particularly Indonesian but they’re what he grew up with — crispy, greasy, and loose and seasoned in a way that practically shouts, “My mom made this.” Get extras.