The menu that Irwan Ngadisastra is serving at his new lower Queen Anne restaurant is similar to the menu at Indo Cafe, the Northgate restaurant he's owned since 2009, but there are a few brave deviations: At Cloves, diners can order oxtail soup, grilled squid and frog legs.
"I've done some research, and a lot of Americans like frog legs," Ngadisastra says. "Indonesians love frog legs. At first, I thought to some people it might be gross, but then I asked a lot of people, and they said 'we love frog legs!'"
A native of Indonesia, Ngadisastra moved to Seattle in 1997 to study business. "Introducing Indonesian food throughout America, that's my dream," he says. But he couldn't afford to open a restaurant, so stayed on the food world's outskirts until Indo Cafe's owner was forced to return to Indonesia for personal reasons. He offered the restaurant to Ngadisastra.
"I've always wanted to introduce Indonesian cuisine to the American public," Ngadisastra says. "Indonesia is the fourth most-populated nation, but our food is not as well known as Thai or Vietnamese."
Ngadisastra two weeks ago opened his second restaurant, hoping the high-traffic location would help acclimate more American-born eaters to the notion of eating satays and sambals.
"Indonesias food is definitely not scary," Ngadisastra says. "The only thing scary is the durian ice cream. Either you love it or you hate it."
Cloves' menu draws liberally from Indonesia's many regional cooking traditions, which were informed by trade with India, the Middle East, China and Europe. Ngadidastra says the greatest hits collection is meant to draw attention to the nation's culinary diversity.
"The spices are different," he says. "I don't want to disrespect other nations, but sometimes, when you order, it all tastes the same."
The restaurant is not certified halal, but Ngadisastra says its kitchen passes muster with Indonesians observing religious dietary restrictions. Cloves doesn't serve any pork.
Although Ngadisastra is prone to reiterating that Indonesian cooking is highly approachable, he also like to tout its spiciness. Heat seekers who've struck out at other restaurants will find impressively hot grilled chicken and fried fish at Cloves, he promises.
"Five-star Indonesian heat is seven-star Thai heat," he says.