In an era and a city in which the mainstays of many ethnic cuisines have become passe, Indonesian food maintains a cache of exoticism.

In an era and a city in which the mainstays of many ethnic cuisines have become passe, Indonesian food maintains a cache of exoticism.

The reasons for this are legion, but chief are: the variants within Indonesian culture (Indonesia encompasses thousands of islands, scores of ethnic groups and strong influences from India, China, the Middle East and the Colonial Dutch); the paucity of local Indonesian restaurants; and vast linguistic differences (for plain white rice, try asking for nasi putih!).

That's what makes the recently instituted Sunday brunch buffet at our city's premier outlet for Indonesian food - Taste of Bali - a great "see-it-before-you-eat-it" vehicle for familiarizing Midwestern palates with some of the exciting dishes for which Indonesia is known. And at $12, Bali's buffet is also a great deal.

After a few visits to Taste of Bali's Sunday steam-table spread (there's also a smaller Tuesday-Friday one) I can confidently say it's mostly a joy to eat.

My nitpicking issues are: dishes aren't always replenished quickly, and when they are, it's in small batches, meaning while they won't drastically degrade on the table, there's not a lot to go around either; occasionally the many enticing fried things soak up too much oil; the seafood - while always interestingly prepared - has only been of OK to so-so quality; and I wish the famous Indonesian meat-substitute jackfruit would make an appearance.

Anyway, expect to see 10 hot dishes, a soup, steamed and fried rice, a good salad with an unusual dressing, a bought-and-thawed American dessert (I'd prefer an authentic Indonesian one) and sliced fruit. As for flavor profiles, expect lots of sweet, spicy and aromatic Thai-style cooking agents mixing it up with some Chinese and Indian influences. Expect these kinds of dishes:

An unnamed, highly restorative, spicy and brothy Tom Yum-type soup with pronounced lemongrass and gingery accents.

Mie Goreng - Texturally fun to eat, firm lo-mein-like noodles in a sweet soy sauce.

Fu Yung Hai - This terrific, Indonesian-style egg fu yung is like a quickly deep-fried veggie frittata with a wonderfully crispy exterior.

Beef Gulai - Gingery, Thai-like coconut milk curry with beyond-tender beef strips, carrots, potatoes and a thin, velvety sauce.

Ayam Goreng Rica-Rica - Another yellow, Thai-style curry with blocks of silky tofu, chicken and thin green beans.

Udang Bakar - Grilled and sweetly glazed, smoky-tasting shrimp satay.

"Scalp in curry sauce" (sic) - Relax, it's scallops and shrimp, and they're delicious in their Thai masaman-like curry sauce.

Crispy Crab - Crab Rangoon pockets tasting mostly of sweetened cream cheese.

Hot and Spicy Squid - Irresistible. The lightly battered, crunchily deep-fried squid bits had a salty edge and explosive flavors from sliced jalapenos and sweet sauteed onions.

For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog "Under the Table" at