It's 8 o'clock on a Saturday night at Dapur Asian Tapas and Lounge, and a party of 40 is in the private dining room. Another table of 20 is celebrating a birthday.
We're told all this, we imagine, so that we'll excuse any flubs from either kitchen or service. While such large parties don't normally bode well for other diners, Dapur manages to provide a mostly seamless, but admittedly long evening.
Dapur has been open since August , and owner Edi Mulyanto may be familiar to fans of Galanga in Wilton Manors, where he worked for years serving Thai and sushi in its high-style setting. Dapur is much less stylish. Sure, an oversize gold Buddha is in the dining room, but most of the artwork looks as if it were found at a discount retailer. It's pleasant enough, but hardly cutting edge.
From the outside, Dapur appears tiny. Inside, 7,000 square feet spread across several rooms: a lounge where a DJ spins on weekends, a large dining room, a smaller brick-walled dining room and a private curtained room. Altogether, the space holds 260 people.
That's a whole lot of pan Asian small plates, Dapur's specialty. I counted 33, plus four soups and six side dishes that include Indonesian, Japanese, Thai and Korean
The menu divides those small plates into three categories: steamed/grilled, crispy pan-fried and cold/salad. There are also soups, sides, specialty sushi rolls and 16 Big Plates priced between $12 and $19. There's some good value here. I suggest sharing everything on the menu. Much of it is very good.
From the steamed/grilled section of the menu came a plate of Korean-style short ribs ($10), which are chewy but deeply flavored from their marinade and sweet soy glaze. One of my favorite dishes was the Dapur slider ($10), a Kobe beef slider nestled between two sticky rice patties. What a novel invention.
Bakwan ($12), the Indonesian fritters, are made here with lump crab meat and vegetables, and they arrive crispy and fresh. Kimchi ($6) has all the right hot to sour notes I look for in this Korean specialty. But a dish called the Hot Tower ($14) ought to be called a hot mess. This towerlike dish is made up of crispy rice, lump crab meat, avocado, ahi tuna and wasabi. But once you dig in, it falls apart, so it's near impossible to get a forkful that includes each of the elements. It would be better to reinvent this as a roll.
But the rolls also were disappointing. There was no crunch in the Lobster Crunch ($18) — lobster tempura, snow crab, masago, scallions and spicy mayo. The asparagus in the Vegetable Roll ($8) needed a bit of steam to help meld into the cucumber, carrots, avocado and peppers. We also had to ask for soy and wasabi.
I'm sure many people come here and never share a thing, ordering instead from the Big Plates section, from which we sampled chicken lemongrass ($14), a thin, grilled chicken breast served with vegetables and Beef Rendang ($15), slowly cooked tenderloin with spicy coconut sauce that tasted like brisket. We rounded out the meal with two sides dishes, a bowl of simple eggplant ($6) and delicious crisp Brussels sprouts ($6).
Dessert felt very much like an afterthought, with chocolate cake ($6) and passion fruit pie ($6) tasting like they'd arrived directly from a supermarket. Oh well.
We were told that Mulyanto has a garden out back, where he grows many of the vegetables and fruits used in his cuisine and cocktails. While no one ordered from the impressive cocktail list, the staff ought to learn how to serve a drink. One diner had two Scotches on the rocks. Both times, our server insisted on passing it rather than placing in on the table. This was strange, given the fact he put every food dish on the table.
Our only other service quibble involved the order in which dishes arrived. Now that so many restaurants are serving small plates, the trick is in getting them out in some order that makes sense. As much as I love kimchi, a bowl of it without something to eat it with doesn't make sense. At one point, all we had on the table was a bowl of Brussels sprouts. And even though we told our server that one diner didn't eat seafood, it took a good 30 minutes after the short ribs for any nonseafood dish to get to the table. We'll blame it on those very large parties.
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Dapur Asian Tapas and Lounge
1620 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch weekdays, dinner daily
Reservations: Highly suggested
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Can be noisy, but the acoustics are decent
Outside smoking: No
For kids: High chairs, boosters
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Complimentary valet