Ask where to find good Indonesian food in LA, and you’ll likely be met with blank faces. The cuisine, whose bold and intense flavors are a colorful mashup of Indian, Chinese and Malaysian influences, among others, can be found in Duarte, Alhambra and a few other neighborhoods—but it’s not easy. As the latest addition to La Cienega’s Restaurant Row, Hutchinson Cocktails & Grill, at first glance, doesn’t seem to embody authentic Indonesian food. Its name sounds like a restaurant that should be attached to a mall in suburban Connecticut. The menu is really only half Indonesian, the other half comprised of American steakhouse classics. And the owners? Not Indonesian. Ian and Justin Hopper were raised in upstate New York. Their grandfather, however, moved to Sumatra to build an airfield after getting a Ph.D. in geology at Caltech, then raised his family in Jakarta, where the Hoppers’ mother learned to make tom kha and krupuk. While preparing for the opening, Hutchinson’s chef, James Trees (FIG), had some recipe help in the form of mama Hopper, —which may explain why the Southeast Asian dishes on this menu are the ones that excel, while the tradional American steakhouse half leaves some room for improvement.
Servings here are large, which is good because they are also expensive. A lobster tom kha can comfortably be split between two people (as it should, at $21 for a bowl). It’s also worth the splurge: a luxurious coconut-lemongrass broth is as seductive as the dimly-lit restaurant itself, aromatic with generous slivers of galangal and thick with lobster meat and mushrooms. Other appetizers—skewers of chicken satay and delicate lettuce cups—appease those still unsure if Indonesian food is their thing, but the beef rendang sliders are both exotic and approachable. Chef Trees prepares the sliders and the larger rendang entrée by braising the meat in coconut milk for three and a half hours, then keeping it on the line at a precise 120 degrees; the result is a phenomenally tender beef. The sliders drip with slaw and meat between Parker house rolls—when stopping by for a quick bite at the bar, this dish should be the first thing you order.
One of my favorite dishes here is the nasi goreng, a sort-of Indonesian fried rice that arrives with a fried egg wobbling atop a protein-packed rice bowl; chicken, pork and prawns are all mixed in among thinly sliced green onions and herbs. It’s nothing new, sure, but the flavors are well balanced, and the dish avoids the excessive grease that always seems to burden fried rice.
What is somewhat perplexing about Hutchinson’s is the strict departure from Indonesian food on other parts of the menu: there are green beans (fine), mac and cheese (fantastic during one visit, oppressively rich during another) and butternut squash, doused in a blend of Chinese five spice, brown butter and pistachios, which results in a confusing, and slightly burnt, aftertaste. There is also a nice selection of steak cuts—and an American Wagyu skirt variety was perfectly fine—but it seems strange to come here for a steak and side of mac and cheese, especially when you’ll be far more satisfied with a bowl of lobster tom kha. The one exception? Dessert, which includes an airy, all-American key lime cheesecake. On a thin layer of sweet graham cracker crust and topped with whipped coconut cream, this heavenly dessert says upstate New York more than Jakarta, and I’m completely fine with that.
What to Eat: The beef rendang (sliders, $13; full, $36). The lobster tom kha ($21). The nasi goreng ($19). The key lime cheesecake ($11).
What to Drink: Noah Ellis (Red Medicine) heads the bar program here, which is a great thing. Beer and wine are both offered, but it would be a shame not to try one of Ellis' cocktails, like the creamy Tamarind Sour ($12) which mixes Pimm's No. 1, Batavia arrack (first produced on Indonesia's island of Java), tamarind and a splash of vanilla soda. For a hit of spice, the Malabar ($11) left my mouth tingling after each sip: a base of vodka, coupled with lime and chili, gives this drink a pleasant kick.
Where to Sit: Deep-set leather booths, heavy wood, dim lighting—anywhere you sit at Hutchinson's oozes sex appeal. It has a quintessential date night vibe, but the bar area, which is slightly more casual and in a separate, sunken-in section, also makes it a great spot for a business meeting. Just be sure to look around. The restaurant is stunning, from the personal artifacts and family photos placed on shelves to batik casts and fish-trap lamps that hover above tables.
Conversation Piece: A topographical map stretches across one wall; that, too, has family ties. It's actually Grandpa Hopper's thesis, a man who Ian and Justin describe as a modern Indiana Jones. He explored 36 islands in Indonesia, and many of the artifacts scattered throughout the restaurant are his.