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Sometimes the road to the genuine article is unexpectedly rocky. Perseverance is often rewarded, but circumstances can make perseverance a challenge and some might not be up to it. This particular journey involves a restaurant we’re very much inclined to like, on one (we hope only one) unfortunate, regrettably timed night.
It starts with a Facebook post by an old friend, John Quinlan, who had come across a review of the Madison restaurant Bandung in ... the Jakarta Post! That’s Jakarta as in Indonesia—not the first place we’d think to look for a review of a Madison, Wisconsin, restaurant. But Quinlan loves Bandung, so he sent the article out to his friends and we loved the piece. In it, writer Sylvia Lim tells the story of how Bandung owner Mochammad Sjachrani came to Madison and opened the restaurant on Williamson Street in 2000. Lim writes about the soybean product tempeh, a uniquely Indonesian use of soybeans, as opposed to tofu in China or miso in Japan. Sjachrani has been making, serving and selling his tempeh for fifteen years. And, Lim goes on to tell, Bandung is one of just fifty or so Indonesian restaurants in the United States. Do the math and it becomes pretty impressive that one of those fifty is on Willy Street.
We’d been to Bandung perhaps a half dozen times and liked it. One of us remembered liking the dish Holy Basil. But we’d not been there in a while and Quinlan’s post of the Jakarta paper’s article was just the push we needed. We were quite sure a genuine article awaited us.
We talked about all this as we were seated at one of the few open tables at six o’clock on a Sunday night. We were happy to see the place so crowded with a great mix of customers, tables of ten and two and most everything in between, take out orders being picked up and some folks even choosing to sit outside on a cool, early summer evening.
We had been talking about Death’s Door gin being featured in a Wall Street Journal story about a London pub specializing in pairing small-grower Champagnes with gourmet hot dogs, and the mayor’s recent trips to Montova, Italy, and Freiburg, Germany, as a recognition of the growing importance of Madison competing in a global marketplace, and how that could be reflected in having so many good, diverse, cultural cuisines.
We ordered a glass of wine and asked the server for her recommendation of a tempeh dish, which she confidently provided for us. The wine arrived, followed a short time later by the tempeh appetizer, fried, with a peanut dipping sauce, which tasted pretty much as it sounds ... a little bland. We ordered our entrées and, when our server came back to clear our first-course plates, another glass of wine. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. A half hour went by. Then another. At one point we walked back to the counter and explained a moderate time pressure and our interest in getting a rough idea of when our entrées might be finished. Our server said she would check with the kitchen and let us know. That’s the last we saw of her. No report. No wine, no food. It was clear the tables around us were having similar problems and most of them had been there when we arrived. An hour and a half after we sat down, we left enough money on the table for our wine, appetizer and a tip ... and left.
Look, we’ve been around this block before. There’s a fair chance we’ll go back someday. But we thought about what it would feel like if we’d written our piece, praised the food and left a reader to deal with our Sunday experience. This is just a cautionary tale. But it was a genuine disappointment.
Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband.
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