152 Driggs Avenue, Greenpoint
When the clock strikes 7pm in Greenpoint it’s already 8am on the isle of Bali, so “Selamat Pagi,” which means “good morning,” seems like the perfect name for a Balinese dinner spot in Brooklyn. A small sign on the door bearing the Indonesian greeting marks this bright and tiny restaurant helmed by the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream crew. Its bare-bones interior tastefully refrains from setting a tropical scene—no potted palms or faux straw awnings to get you in the mood—but a selection of Van Leeuwen ice creams displayed in a glass counter will remind you to save room for dessert.
It seems reasonable that the explosive and wildly popular flavors of Pok Pok will give Brooklynites an appetite for less-traveled Asian cuisines, but if the Pok Pok experience can be as thrilling as weaving a rented motor-scooter through Thai traffic then a meal at Selamat Pagi is more like a day of lounging at a Balinese beach resort. Of course, the fresh and simple fish-and-prawn satay—threaded onto lemongrass stalks, grilled and served with a slightly tart tamarind sauce ($7.50)—doesn’t require an avalanche of flavors to whet the appetite. The nasi campur ($15), a meal-sized sampler plate, combines some of the restaurant’s best offerings: fluffy rice, spicy pickled carrots, crispy and airy prawn crackers, crunchy long beans cooked in the exotic flavorings of gingery galangal and kaffir lime, and a deliciously spicy-coconutty salad of shredded bluefish. (Though much of the food packed spicy heat, the dish was served room temperature, as it would be in a steamy Bali kitchen.) The grassy, citrusy notes of fresh lemongrass shone in a very mild fish curry ($16)—flaky pollock over noodles with fresh cucumbers and roasted peanuts—though the subtle dish may have benefitted from a few shakes of hot sauce. But anything would seem bland when followed by a trio of flavor-forward Van Leeuwen ice creams: the sticky-sweet palm sugar variety was like a Southeast Asian take on dulce de leche, the scoop of purplish black sticky rice ice cream captured the toasty sweetness of its namesake, and the ginger perfectly balanced the fluorescent bite of fresh ginger with sweet, cooling cream.
The entire place was manned by a single host/busboy/server who handled his work with the calm friendliness of someone who just spent a week on the serene beaches of Bali himself, so we’d hate to quibble about his ambling pace. We’ll be back for a leisurely brunch (which is served Tuesday through Sunday); the Bali egg scramble ($9.50) with organic eggs, coconut oil, shallots, turmeric, roti, and papaya seems well-worth a return trip.
Photo Lauren Volo