Attarine is surprisingly low-key for the South Jakarta's posh Gunawarman neighborhood. The restaurant, the latest from the rising food, fashion, and hotels company PTT Family, offers diners a more modest, but still charming, take on a neighborhood joint than most of the neighborhood's eateries. I mean that as a compliment. Attarine doesn't distract diners from its main attraction: simple and honest food.
It's first Jakarta location has been so popular that PTT Family opened a second location in Berawa, Bali, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the island's hipster hotspot Canggu. The restaurant celebrated its second opening with a pretty authentic communal crab boil.
"You want to give them an opportunity to think outside the box of the everyday menu, to have something special," said Jacob Burell, the executive chef at Attarine. "[Then] you're just free throwing, just being able to do whatever you want."
Burrell, a Bay Area transplant, gives the place a NoCal atmosphere. But the restaurant itself owes a bigger debt to the Mediterranean than the west coast of the US. It takes its name from the Souk el Attarine—Morocco's mecca for spices and aromatic scents.
The food is carefully sourced, meticulously prepared, and, importantly, it doesn't try to be something it's not. There are no gimmicks here. While other eateries are obsessed with maltodextrin and algae baths, Attarine offers simple, and detail driven cuisine. It's the kind of food that can come off unimpressive before you take a bite. Then you notice the subtle flavors Burrell works into his dishes.
Take the crab boil. It's a concept that somehow hasn't already caught on in Indonesia, despite the fact that we're a maritime nation. The crab are perfectly spiced in a simple boil that's as easy to make as it's impressively complex. And the whole concept, a communal crab boil, is still new enough to be considered a novelty among Jakartans.
"I grew up with lining the picnic table with newspaper and dumping everything on there," Burrell said. "People just eat and share with their hands.
"I thought that it would be a dramatic difference compared to how you normally have guests dine here where everybody is—with even with what I would consider finger food—people are still pretty fancy and pretty proper."
It's a novel idea—communal dining—in a city where everyone huddles in their own little social circles and people are late to dinner 100 percent of the time. But how else do you tease the opening of a new beachside restaurant than with some amazing seafood?
So how do you make a new style of eating feel authentically Jakarta? Have everyone show up late. I, on the other hand, arrived on time and had to pass the minutes munching on house-made pickles and crudités. Thankfully, there were more than enough to distract from the latecomers.
Good produce is a backbone of any minimalist dish. Attarine's bite-sized hors d'œuvres are fresh and have the perfect balance of acidity. They set the casual tone for the rest of the meal. Then the crab arrived. The boil, a steaming pile of mud crab, shrimp roasted corn, and merguez sausages, was served right on the table.
It was a wonderfully messy meal, despite obvious overtures made to the place's upper-class clientele. Some of the diners complained about how hard it was to eat the crab, but, honestly, to hell with em, that's what crab boils are all about, right? It takes work to each the sweet and delicately smooth crab meat. It's messy, difficult, and exactly how it's supposed to be.
The crab was great, but the sides were the underdogs of the meal. The hush puppies had that grainy bite and the table quickly devoured the whole thing.
Attarine's atmosphere is plenty nice, but the main draw here is the food. Anyone who comes for something else is missing the whole point. The room is comfortable and down-to-earth, a refreshing change when other restaurants pile on the lavish décor.
While some may think the centerpiece is the Fiat sitting in the middle of the dining room, you should take a look at the unassuming open kitchen where Burrell has a clear view of his diners. That's the real centerpiece here.