Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Channeling My Inner Yono

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My first "serious" restaurant job when I moved to Albany in 1988, was at Yono's Robinson Square restaurant location.  My interview with Yono was memorable as I struggled to interpret his questions through his thick Indonesian accent, an accent I was soon not only able to understand, but also to imitate.  I was hired as a server but ultimately filled a number of positions, including bartender, hostess and babysitter - each of which taught me skills that I continue to hone to this day.  I can't begin to tell you how strongly Donna and Yono influenced me about hospitality and food and service, or how much I owe to them for giving me the opportunity to learn the professional and personal skills which they shared with me.  Also, did I mention that I met my husband (as well as a couple of my dearest friends) there?  And 20+ years later, I am still taking care of guests I originally came to know at 289 Hamilton Street, which is pretty damn cool.

I've always loved Yono's food, particularly his curries and his tofu dishes like Tahu Kecap, and like to think I picked up a couple of tricks during the many years I worked for him.  Tonight's dinner was a riff on Yono's satay and the boys loved it.  No, really, Griffin said it was the best dinner he's had in awhile (?) and Quinn gave me a solid "yummy!"  While Yono generally uses lamb, I chose chicken thighs with excellent results. (Beef, shrimp, or pork would have also worked.) Now, there is nothing complicated about my version of satay - it is inexpensive, quick (other than marinating time) and delicious.  During a recent foray to the Asian Food Market on Colvin Avenue, I picked up a packet of Asian Home Gourmet's appropriately labeled Indonesian Satay marinade. This morning I mixed the marinade packet with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil (as directed) and a few shots of kecap manis (my usual secret ingredient in grilled meats) and tossed in 8  boneless chicken thighs which I had cut into chunks.  This was definitely a minimalist version of satay - I certainly could have gotten more creative by adding ginger, lime leaf, coconut milk, tamarind paste, etc, but it is still ridiculously hot, and I was primarily cooking for kids, so I kept it simple.  

While the chicken marinated in the fridge for about 6 hours, I placed some wooden skewers in a water bath in the hopes that a good soaking would prevent a fire, which it did.  Yono serves his satay with an incredible  house-made peanut sauce and I had a bottle of prepared peanut sauce which I served on the side of my skewers. My purchased peanut sauce certainly didn't compare to the scrumptious sauce which Yono makes, but it was passable and satisfied my craving.  I grilled the chicken for about 8-10 minutes, turning once, and must say it were delicious.  I also skewered some red peppers, grape tomatoes and Vidalia onions and had an easy, fairly healthy meal with only about 20 minutes of active preparation. 

I won't claim that my satay approaches Yono's,  but we all enjoyed our meal and I wouldn't hesitate to purchase that marinade packet again.  If I had a piece of Donna's Hummingbird Cake, and a bottle of spicy Gewurztraminer, my mock-Indonesian meal would have been complete.  Of course, getting downtown to enjoy Yono's cooking is the ideal for me,  but it is nice to know that my years as an honorary member of the Purnomo family (and official family party crasher) allow me to bring  Indonesian inspired meals to my family. Terima kasih, Donna and Yono, for everything. 


  1. Just read this post. Funny, my friend Mark P.(aka Tito) was also a server at Yono's back in the 80s. I wonder if you knew each other.

  2. Of course, I know Tito! We worked together during the David days when Emily was maybe 3. I always enjoyed him and we're now Facebook friends. What a small, small world.