The Christiane Chronicles: Stop underappreciating Atlanta chefs, and 2 standout Indonesian spots

Raves and rants from veteran dining authority Christiane Lauterbach
Christiane Chronicles
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

I’ve often wondered why Atlanta is bent on turning its back on talented artists. Did we appreciate Guenter Seeger’s passion for farm produce and seafood harvested in our coastal waters? No! How did we show our love for Sotohiro Kosugi’s stellar abilities as an ambitious, modern sushi chef? We passed. Both are now big names in New York, where Seeger is about to open a small restaurant and Kosugi enjoys his two Michelin stars at the reborn Soto.

I can keep going. Joël Antunes left for Arkansas (Arkansas!), and Joshua Skenes runs the astonishing Saison in San Francisco. Where’s world-renowned chocolatier/pastry chef Jacques Torres? Not here. Peter Chang landed in Virginia. Alex “MF” Kinjo is in Houston (at least he will reopen MF Sushi in Atlanta). They all could have established their trend-setting flagships here, but instead we ran them off.

If we don’t wise up, more toques are going to pass on us. Support Hector Santiago so he can make more than burritos. Embrace Billy Allin of Cakes & Ale in Decatur, where his restaurant is often accused of being too expensive (it isn’t). Robert Phalen is probably running out of patience at One Eared Stag, where his dining room always seems quieter than it should be on a weeknight. Get it together. We’re smarter than this.

Christiane Chronicles
Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Indonesian food has been a personal favorite ever since I discovered it in Holland as a teenager. It’s richer than Vietnamese, more subtle than Malaysian, and—at least in Atlanta—far less sweet than Thai. Our two surviving standouts, Batavia and Tempo Doeloe, are around the corner from one another in Chamblee. Both are good—Tempo Doeloe’s lamb satay over rice cakes and its shaved ice dessert are musts—and both stock steam tables where $7 gets you two proteins, one veggie, and rice. Still, you’ll find me at Batavia more often.

There, young goat stew (the menu calls it lamb) in coconut milk, peeled shrimp in a creamy tomato gravy, and snacks of shrimp fritters or tofu with fried anchovies and peanuts are good introductions for the uninitiated. Bolder appetites will dig the tendons, gizzards, and anything prepared with belacan (a pungent shrimp paste). Always ask for extra house sambal, a condiment made with chile peppers that’s the pride and glory of any Indonesian kitchen.

This article originally appeared in our July 2015 issue.