A few months ago, a friend told me that she has a friend who had eaten off of a secret Indonesian menu at a place called Nori Thai and Sushi. All of my foodie radar signals went off. If true, this discovery would cover two holy grails-the secret menu and the foodie urban legend. This could be a big discovery.
So I called. I said “Hi. I hear you have a secret Indonesian menu. Is that true?”
“Yes, that’s true,” the voice on the other end of the phone replied matter-of-factly.
“If I come in, can I eat from that menu?”
“Yes. Just call that day or the day before to be sure we have the ingredients.”
So last Sunday, I called. I told them my story. “Hi. I was told you have a secret Indonesian menu. When I called a few weeks ago they told me I should call to be sure you have the ingredients.”
The voice on the other end of the phone replied “ok, I’ll check. Actually, let me have you talk to the chef.”
A few seconds later, a gentleman with a soft accent picked up the phone. “Are you looking for a particular dish or can I just cook Indonesian food for you?” Um, YES.
Mr Foodie and I arrived that evening with our friends Sandy and Ben, from Chef John Hall post fame. Our waiter remembered me-he’s the one who had picked up the phone a few hours earlier. He brought out the chef.
Marty, we would later learn, is from Bali, Indonesia. He again asked if he could just cook for us. (YES.) He asked about our spice tolerance (which is fairly good). And then he disappeared into the kitchen.
And then, dish after dish began to arrive from the kitchen. Marty was in his groove. First, a warm salad, called a gado gado salad. Firm tofu, spicy homemade peanut sauce, delicious crunchy wafers and peanuts on top. Although not entirely the same thing, reminded me vaguely of the famed rainbow salad at Burma Superstar in San Francisco. A wonderful mixture of mild and spicy, with a comforting warm but not hot temperature.
Next, lamb kebab, also in peanut sauce. Tender lamb, delicious spicy sauce. These disappeared quickly.
Next up was the red snapper. Lightly fried, sweet and very spicy, covered in hot peppers and cilantro. Fantastic.
Then a stir fried chicken noodle dish. Probably the best noodle dish I’ve had in the ‘Ham. Noodles stir fried with chicken in a delicious, light spicy sauce. Served with those delicious crunchy wafers on top (what are those?).
And finally, the fried chicken or ayam goreng, served with “Indonesian hot sauce.” We couldn’t figure out what was in this spicy, slightly smoky concoction, which Marty told us he makes from scratch. With the juicy dark meat chicken, it was just to die for. We practically drank it from the bowl.
Between courses and after dinner, Marty returned to our table to check on how we were enjoying the food. He asked us which dish was our favorite, which prompted a heated debate (literally, as everything, especially the fish, was pretty spicy). We couldn’t agree. Everything was incredibly delicious, and as far as we are aware, unique in Birmingham’s food scene.
So I asked Marty the million dollar question-with such an amazing secret menu, why not make it a part of the regular menu? He explained that he is the only chef at Nori who can make the Indonesian dishes. He started out just making them for the Indonesian community in Birmingham. He asked how we found out and we told him we heard it from a friend… who heard it from a friend… He smiled and said that this sort of thing has been happening more and more lately – that non-Indonesians come in requesting his Indonesian food. He said he would be ok with us spreading the word… and here we are.
Since it’s just Marty in there, I would recommend calling ahead to be sure they have the ingredients, and to give Marty a heads up. If we hear something different-like if we hear that they are going to add it to the menu (hint, hint) we will definitely let you know. But please don’t let this additional step deter you. Letting Marty do what he does best – cook you authentic homemade Indonesian food – will be a deliciously memorable experience. And one that I don’t think you will find at any other restaurant in town (although if you hear about another one-you’d better tell me!).
Photo credits courtesy of Mr Foodie.