The announcement came on Monday: Following less than a year in service, Redwood City Indonesian restaurant Warung Siska would close immediately. It was a tough blow to the local Indonesian food community, especially after Warung Siska managed to earn a mention in the esteemed Michelin Guide in its brief timespan. But Siska Silitonga, who was a chef partner in the Redwood City restaurant but parted ways in January to pursue other ventures, says she’s determined to ensure the closure will not be the end of the Bay Area’s Indonesian food movement.
Since leaving Warung Siska, Silitonga has been focused on a number of upcoming projects. She’s in talks with a few investors for a new restaurant in San Francisco, which she envisions as a way to both feed and uplift the Bay Area Indonesian community. Her initial vision for Warung Siska was for it to be a space for Indonesians to eat, but also celebrate Indonesian culture; among the plans that never made it to light was to create a community space of sorts. She hoped the venue could host Indonesian musicians and language classes, and be a space for Indonesian pop-up vendors to serve food and learn how to run a restaurant on Warung Siska’s off days, Silitonga says.
Although those plans never came into fruition, Siska still wants to create that dream restaurant. “The reiteration of whatever my next restaurant is going to be, now I can laser focus on that community aspect — and there is no negotiation, it has to be that way,” Silitonga says. “I believe in it, I know people will come. I want to cook my food, let me put what I want to put in it … No censorship of menu, no censorship of flavors.” She’s looking into how she can help her future staff and treat them well. Mentioning her admiration of chef Reem Assil’s progress in a worker-owned restaurant model, Silitonga says she hopes to create an equitable pay model once she gets moving on the new restaurant.
Nothing is finalized yet, however, so in the meantime Silitonga is busy with some upcoming events and pop-ups. First is a night with Outstanding in the Field on June 15, an al fresco dinner series that pairs a chef with a farm and diners eat at a long communal table in an outdoor setting. Silitonga will also resume her pop-ups after that, mentioning a potential partnership with Mission Bowling Club this summer, while also continuing to sell her sambal sauce through Good Eggs. And if attempting to open another restaurant wasn’t enough, she’s also looking to write an Indonesian cookbook; Silitonga paired up with a writer to help shop the concept around to publishers. “This is an exciting project because we need more Indonesian cookbooks out there,” Silitonga says. “The cookbook is something where you can use local ingredients and doesn’t require a trip to the Asian market, something you can just do at home and is easy to use, easy to cook.” The book will also be part memoir, Silitonga adds, following her journey as a pop-up chef alongside the recipes.
As far as the now-closed restaurant goes, Silitonga remembers the Indonesians who came from all over the Bay Area to Warung Siska to eat her food and give her a hug, some even wearing batik, the traditional clothes from her home country. “We need a space to represent people like this, where a grandma can come and wear her best batik, and make it welcoming for the grandmas and the children,” Silitonga says. Warung Siska closing doesn’t have to be a sad event, she adds. “It didn’t work out this time, but there’s gonna be another one.”