I’m not sure how it happened. But it did.
I was traumatized by eating at Dava a restaurant at the AYANA Resort.
Normally I am circumspect of resort food. But, I did want to check out other resorts while in Bali so that we could be a little more informed if there were to be a next time, and several TripAdvisor folks recommended it.
The resort, itself, has some of the most impressive landscaped grounds I’ve seen. Waterfalls, views of the ocean, green, manicured landscapes with a modern “jungle” feel.
We checked out the rooms. Interestingly, all of the rooms are the same size, according to the person who showed us around. The differentiating factor is whether it is on the Club floor or not, and the view. Inside, the rooms were fine, but not awesome (meaning, modern and updated, versus older).
Since we were there, anyway, and were relatively far from where we were staying (the Grand Mirage in Nua Dusa – more on that later) – I figured we should try out the food.
I shared the six-course “Degustation” menu with my wife. In a nutshell, the food was absolutely inedible. I don’t think we finished anything. It started off with something that was on the menu – a cracker – that actually wasn’t bad. But then came the real menu items. The Balinese Chicken Cake had a horrible, crumbly texture and a strange “chemical” taste that was overpowering. So we didn’t finish that.
The Pan Seared Scallop came with a green pea puree which when we ate it, tasted repuslive and artificial, as did the ham. The scallops themselves, which we had high hopes for because we figured the seafood would be local, tasted worse than if I had bough scallops from Trader Joe’s and put them in my own frying pan. There was no finesse to the scallops at all (no translucency or delicate sweetnessone expects)…just blah.
The Butternut Pumpkin Capuccino had a vanilla foam and cumin – the combination did not go well, and the buttternut pumpkin without the extra stuff itself wasn’t bright or sweet. Again, if I got the butternut soup from Trader Joe’s and heated it up, it would have been much better than this.
At this point, I was getting nervous about how bad things could possibly get.
Marinated Grilled Sea Bass – didn’t finish the mixture of lemongrass butter sauce made the whole thing forgettable. The Slow Cooked Beef Cheeks were tolerable – a little mushy and, again, I put beef cheeks in a sous vide machine at home and it tasted better than this.
The dessert was also gross: Kolak Water Gel the sweet potato they used didn’t gel with the overly sweet banana sorbet. The US$0.75 bur bur cha cha – a nyonya dessert of yams and coconut milk – was ten times better than this.
I left that dinner in shock, as well as out $1,000,000 RP (about US$100!). The scenery was good till it got dark, but for the rest of the evening, I was in shell shock over how badly my taste buds had been assaulted by the chemically taste in most of the foods, the very weird pairings of flavors, and the gross textures of the food.
This is the most expensive meal I have had throughout my time in Southeast Asia – and is also my very worse.
I couldn’t understand. I found the place because of this Lady Iron Chef blog but, now, in retrospect, the review was a little strange: “To sum things up, the food at Dava is complex and sophiscated, with multi layers of flavour and texture.” What on earth does that mean?
But there were more than one positive reviews besides the one from Lady Iron Chef and Expat Gourmand and more generic publications like DestinAsian.
Nevertheless, I felt snookered, and have been wondering: how do I get really reliable information about places to stay and eat when traveling abroad?
I realized, whether here or San Francisco, there’s huge risk for these very expensive places compared to eating the tried and true. Penang street food at US$1.00 a person trumped this by a mile (although, if I did have to spend money, the restaurant at 7 Terraces in Penang was awsome and half the price!
Now a word about Nua Dusa
I was anxious to try some good food that night at Dava because the night before the food at the Grand Mirage dinner buffet was also incredibly bad. Agin, this same chemically smell, strange textures and flavor pairings. It made us anxious about any kind of food.
Turns out the best thing we ate was US$.25 fried rice at one of the warungs.
However, the food continues to be frustrating here. I suppose it is to be as expected. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the popularity with tourists and the quality of food. I’m not sure if I’m capturing that exactly right, though.
Back in Penang, Tek Sen is filled with tourists, but the food is outstanding.
Maybe the relationship is the probability of food > mediocore goes down when “all inclusive” is part of the package. That’s what we got in Nua Dusa. It was supposed to make it easier with the kids. Definitely easier than if we had to go out for every meal. But I’m not sure that if the food is horrible it actually makes it easier.
I’ll probably try to compile some of these learnings into something more actionable on “How to have a great vacation in Bali” or something like that.
- Heavily promoted areas in Bali don’t seem to meet the quality (looking at you, Ibu Oka)
- Western food, even with promises of local influence, will probably bomb in non-Western areas (Dava is the prime example)
Maybe it’s about someplace other than Bali
There are, after all, 17,000 Islands in Indonesia. I’ve been thinking: maybe th real treasure is someplace emerging, one of the other islands other than Bali that hasn’t experienced their version of the “Eat Pray Love” Phenomenon.
How could I find out about some islands other than Bali?