Celebrating the rich flavors of the Philippines at Filipino Restaurant Week 2018

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Filipino Restaurant Week (#FRW2018), that annual, much-awaited foodie event among fans of Filipino cuisine, has grown so much after its inception back in 2015 when 13 Filipino restaurants across the boroughs of New York as well as Jersey City offered fixed priced lunches and dinners. This was in reaction to the then emerging popularity of Filipino cuisine, particularly in New York City.

This time, 24 restaurants and pop-ups in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia are participating and will be providing special prix fixe menus of delectable Filipino cuisine from 14 to 26 May. Lunches are at $25 and dinners are priced at $35. Other a la carte menu items are also available in these restaurants during the promotional period.

The eclectic mix of participating restaurants and cafes offers a wide spectrum of Filipino food to make sure that there is something for every diner out there. There are traditional restaurants that offer home-cooked goodness and there are coffee shops like Mountain Province and Kabisera Kape that offer light fare and truly Filipino coffee and tea.

This year, we have a number of first-time participants, including Perla in Philadelphia, Flip Sigi, Swell Dive, Ibis Eats, Tama and Mighty Bowl.

Chef Jordan Andino of Flip Sigi shared his excitement about being a part of this group and seeing the same restaurants he visited in the past few years made him a little nostalgic.

“I feel honored to be a part of this and it is cool to see the same restaurants that I’ve visited in the past 8, 9 years that I’ve based my life on doing so well and to be a part of that is a real honor,” he shared. “We are a Filipino taqueria, meaning we serve Filipino food using Mexican vessels like sandwiches, tacos and burritos with a little bit of Filipino love sprinkled on top. It is by no means traditional and I don’t try to pretend and I tell our guests this is my take on Filipino cuisine.”

His restaurant Flip Sigi opened its second location last year in the Upper East Side in addition to its Greenwich Village home. He is also the current featured chef at the Chefs Club Counter in Soho.

Another first-timer is Bjorn dela Cruz of Manila Social Club. He now runs Ibis Eats in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

“I am excited for Filipino Restaurant Week to be able to open up Filipino food in the Crown Heights area. What should we be doing to mainstream the food – we have to be very honest with ourselves, no shortcuts, no half-measures,” dela Cruz said. “Filipino food is absolutely amazing. It is so vibrant and delicious. It is a very dynamic cuisine and we can’t get stuck on just one thing or one dish.”

Dela Cruz is famous for his creation, the ubiquitous $100 golden ube donut that was the toast of the social media world a couple of years ago. The donut was made out of ube, covered with 24-karat gold leaf and piped with Cristal gelee and ube mousse and its icing laced with more Cristal champagne.

“I love ube and I made it my mission in 2016 to make ube a thing. It’s that one ingredient that opens up to other Filipino cooking styles and dishes,” Dela Cruz said.

One of the pioneers of the Filipino Restaurant Week project is Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney and Maharlika, along with Purple Yam and Kuma Inn.

“It is exciting to see how it has evolved,” Ponseca told us, excitedly adding that she is working on opening a third restaurant – this time in Williamsburg.

“We’re calling it Tita Baby’s and it is going to be a panciteria,” she teased. “It is an homage to all the women in our lives that took care of us, cooked for us and fed us.”

If plans don’t miscarry, the place will open next month. She is also coming out with a cookbook under Artisan Press, which is coming out this November.

Anton Dayrit, executive chef of Mighty Bowl restaurants, talked about their restaurant which now has three locations in the city – MacDougal in the Greenwich Village, Midtown East and a third one in the Upper East Side (on 77th and Lexington).

“It’s spicy and really good hang-over food,” he said, describing their offerings. Among their more popular bowls is the Manila Bowl and for FRW, they are offering Sisig Bowl as well.

Miguel de Leon, one of the owners of Tama, a small neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn talked about their place being mostly a take-home spot.

“We want to invite our flavors, our history into your homes,” he said. “We look back at our history in order for us to progress and that’s how we at Tama flavor our food with, we look back and respect the Spanish flavors, Mexican flavors from the Galleon Trade to the American Occupation and bring them to you in a package that’s delicious, affordable and exciting.”

Tama opened in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn a year ago.

Just recently, they became viral on social media with their “sisig burger” creation, using homemade ube bun, slathered in chili-garlic hot sauce and chili aioli, then topped with a fried egg, local greens and a patty made of sisig.

This year, the Philippine Consulate General in New York partnered with the Philippine Department of Tourism New York, Philippine Airlines, and Tanduay Asian Rum for FRW 2018.

Speaking at the launch, Deputy Consul General Kerwin Tate emphasized that Filipinos’ love for food extends to their humanity – the desire to share, and the wisdom to always make sure to leave something for those who will need it.

Tourism Attache Susan Del Mundo shared with the audience the various gastronomic tours available in the Philippines. The Department of Tourism is working on exciting new farm to table programs in partnership with organic farms and agricultural organizations.

In order to entice more participants to join, the Department of Tourism is sponsoring a social media campaign allowing diners to win terrific prizes. Lucky diners have a chance to win a round trip ticket to Manila courtesy of Philippine Airlines, three nights’ hotel accommodations, a bespoke culinary tour, Barclay Centre concert tickets courtesy of Tanduay Asian Rum and other travel items during the promotional period.

 


 

The participating restaurants of Filipino Restaurant Week 2018 are:

NEW YORK:

FlipSigi (1752 2nd Ave., New York, NY 10128, 833-FLIPSIGI)

Grill 21 (346 E 21st St., New York, NY 10010, 212-473-5950)

Ibis Eats (663 Franklin Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11238, 718-676-4150)

Jappy Afzelius Pop-Up at Ugly Kitchen (103 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003, 212-777-6677)

Jeepney (201 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003, 212-533-4221)

Kabisera Kape (151 Allen St., New York, NY 10002; 929-920-8250)

Kuma Inn (113 Ludlow St., New York, NY 10002, 212-353-8866)

Maharlika (111 1st Ave., New York 10003, 646-392-7880)

Mighty Bowl  (817 2nd Ave, New  York, NY 10017, 646-649-5603)

Mountain Province (9 Meserole St., Brooklyn, NY 11206, 718-387-7030)

Sisig City Food Truck (www.sisigcity.com; http://www.facebook.com/SisigCity)

Philam Kusina (556 Tompkins Ave., Staten Island, NY 10305, 718-727-3663)

Purple Yam (1314 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn, NY 11226, 718-940-8188)

Swell Dive (1013 Bedford Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11205, 917-652-4779)

Tama (147 Lewis Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11221, 347-533-4750)

Talde (369 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215, 718-205-7299)

Tito Rad’s Grill & Restaurant (49-10 Queens Blvd., Woodside, NY, 11377, 718-205-7299)

Ugly Kitchen (103 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003, 212-777-6677)

NEW JERSEY

La Parilla de Manilla (1159 St. Georges Ave., Colonia, NJ 07067, 732-510-7033)

Max’s (687 Newark Ave., Jersey City, NJ 07306, 201-798-2700)

Noodle Fan (2814 JFK Blvd., Jersey City, NJ 07306, 201-626-4443)

Pinoy Filipino Restaurant (18 Division St., Somerville, NJ 08876, 908-450-9878)

Talde (8 Erie St., Jersey City, NJ 07302, 201-630-0077)

PENNSYLVANIA

Perla (1525 S 11th St., Philadelphia, PA 19147, 267-273-0008)

Regional Filipino cuisine at the James Beard House

Dinuguan, tinagtag and other regional Filipino dishes showcased at James Beard House dinner

Dinardaraan (dinuguan in Tagalog) served at a James Beard House Dinner? Yes, please.

It’s about time. The classic Filipino dish – pork meat and offal stew cooked in pig’s blood, vinegar and spices – made its way to the James Beard House by way of the sold out Regional Filipino cuisine dinner last week.

Five chefs and restaurateurs from across the United States travelled to New York City to cook regional Filipino dishes. About a hundred James Beard guests, subscribers and guests savored the five-course dinner.

San Francisco-based Chef Francis Ang of Pinoy Heritage, Chef Lou Boquila of Perla in Philadelphia; Chef Carlo Lamagna of Magna in Portland, Oregon; Chef Melissa Miranda of Musang from Seattle, Washington; and Chef Miguel Trinidad of Maharlika/Jeepney in New York City prepared appetizers and entrees based on traditional dishes from different regions in the Philippines. Each course was paired with wine carefully selected by the James Beard sommelier.

The dining experience began with a reception where five hors d’oeuvres prepared by the chefs were served. We missed a couple – kinilaw and itlog – but we had paella negra, Snake River Farms wagyu beef tartare and rellenong tahong as we enjoyed Tanduay Rum cocktails prepared by Kevin Dietrich and Tim Walters.

Then we were led to the second floor of the house for the main event.

Chef Lou Boquila prepared escabeche, made out of Spanish octopus with atchara, red pepper and sugar cane vinegar palm sugar gel.

Born in the Philippines, Chef Lou draws on his Filipino background for inspiration in the kitchen. He is passionate about creating innovative dishes and inspiring others to expand their palates. He wants to introduce the distinctive food he has known since childhood.

He opened Perla – named after his mom – in 2016 in the East Passyunk neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Up next was Chef Melissa Miranda’s sarciado (fried Skuna Bay salmon with egg sauce, tomato and scallions).

After spending time teaching English in Florence, Italy, Chef Melissa, a native of Seattle, came back to the US with a culinary degree and six years of Italian cooking experience. In Italy she learned about flavor, freshness and seasonality.

She holds occasional Musang popup dinners, where she blends the skills she learned in Italy with the Filipino flavors of her childhood. Musang, she shared with us later, is her father’s nickname.

Chef Miguel Trinidad is the only non-Filipino among the chefs but with his Dominican heritage and New York upbringing, he understands that pushing Filipino food forward in the culinary spotlight means thinking outside the box. Formally trained at the Institute of Culinary Education, he was a “rookie” chef when tapped to be the Executive Chef at Soho hotspot, Lola.

Miguel honed his skill and love for Filipino cuisine on a three-month exploration across the island nation. His travels and his focus on Filipino food since 2007 have brought him credibility in the Filipino community as proven by how far both Maharlika and Jeepney have gone.

For the dinner, he prepared pancit Isabela (rich beef broth with noodles, poached quail egg and savory topping).

The fourth course was the above-mentioned dinardaraan (Kurobuta pork collar with blood soil sarsa, savory suman, pig’s ear chicharon, pickled onions and mustasa), prepaid by Philippine-born and Detroit-raised Chef Carlo Magna.

He went to school at the Culinary Institute of America and created the pop-up dinner series, Twisted Filipino. He is the soon-to-be chef/owner of the fully Kickstarter-funded restaurant, Magna in Portland.

An FBI – Full Blooded Ilocano (his dad is from San Nicolas, Pangasinan and his mom is from Aparri, Cagayan Valley), Chef Carlo loves the big, bold flavors of Filipino cuisine. His favorite dishes to eat? Anything goat, the trifecta of kaldereta, pinapaitan and kilawin.

For dessert, our last course, Chef Francis Ang served tinagtag (Maguindanao fritter with passion fruit, persimmons and parsnip).

Chef Francis is behind SF’s Pinoy Heritage, along with a team led by his wife Dian, and fellow visionaries Danica and other industry friends. They serve dishes that are experimental, forward-thinking, and, above all, made with the freshest local ingredients.

Ang transplanted to San Francisco at the age of 19 where he attended the culinary program at City College of San Francisco. Once he graduated, he landed an internship at the Copenhagen Bakery in Burlingame and shortly after, found himself working at Gary Danko. Francis was lucky enough to be trained under Gary Danko himself and forged his career path even further.

Our taste buds were having a party, enjoying the rich, complex flavors of dishes most Americans (and probably a handful of Filipinos) haven’t tasted or heard of before.

Filipino Food Movement

Filipino Food Movement President Sonia Delen was overwhelmed with the success of the event, and remarked that it is her organization’s vision to have Filipino cuisine be more accessible to foodies and patrons around the United States.

“We are so happy with the outcome tonight, and I am so thrilled that there are Filipinos who flew from all over the country just for this dinner,” she shared.

FFM co-director and founder Joanne Boston, a FYLPRO alumna, expressed her pride in seeing her legacy project come to fruition. She added, “It is surreal to see the James Beard House serve a full-course Filipino dinner to a capacity crowd. I truly feel the love tonight.”

After this event, the Filipino Food Movement is gearing up to start planning the third Savor Filipino food festival. The organization really kicked off in 2014 during the first Savor Filipino food festival where they expected 10,000 attendees and ended up with 30,000!

“Since then we have built a strong social media presence and continue to focus on building support for those who produce Filipino food, as well as educating and providing resources to anyone who is interested in experiencing and learning about the cuisine,” Boston told the Asian Journal. “The Regional Filipino Celebration at the James Beard House is the first event we’ve done outside of the San Francisco Bay Area and we are excited to see where it takes the movement.”

Consul General Ma Theresa Dizon-De Vega was among the diners that evening. She described the event as a truly defining moment for Philippine cuisine, as the Filipino Food Movement took a giant leap forward with the singular honor to be featured at the James Beard House.

Why Regional Filipino

Gathering the five chefs together for this historic dinner was not an easy task.

“Our friend, Chef Paolo Dungca was visiting San Francisco from Washington, DC. We were at a Fil-Am restaurant and he said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had Filipino food at the James Beard House in NYC?” I picked up my phone right then and there and texted our other friend Chef Sheldon Simeon in Maui who I knew was already known at the Beard House,” Boston shared.

Sheldon delivered and got the ball rolling for the group.

“Without hesitation, I said yes right away,” Chef Carlo said, recalling the time when he was asked if he wanted to cook at the JBH.

“As a young cook, there are certain goals you set for yourself. To be able to cook at such a revered institution was one of them for myself. To be a part of a team representing Filipino cuisine and culture at such a high level is amazing and exciting for all of us. James Beard is often referred to as the father of American cuisine, and to be able to be part of that story through cooking at the James Beard House, is truly humbling and an honor,” he added.

With the diversity of the cuisine in the Philippines in mind, the team decided to showcase and highlight dishes from the various regions of the country.

“The menu itself is inspired by the many regions of the Philippines.  We are set on showcasing the many flavors and techniques that the Philippines has to offer. As young chefs, we are excited to bring our skill and training to the table, and giving our interpretations of some classic dishes,” Lamagna said.

Boston talked about how Filipino food can be more accessible and understood by Americans and basically everyone.

“Though some Filipino dishes aren’t for everyone, I would love for them to get to know the cuisine and understand it a little better before they go ahead and reject it. People will understand the food, the people, and the history of the Philippines if they take the time to research and eat it,” she said.

“What I do take issue with are those who refuse to eat certain foods because of their colonized mentality. Like dinuguan,” Boston continued. “People say it’s inhumane to eat it. That it’s dirty and not “proper” or “classy” or whatever. This is why people of other cultures do not eat our food: our own people feel embarrassed to eat our food. That’s so sad.”

Which is why putting it on the menu for the JBH dinner was such a statement. The dinuguan dish may not have been served the traditional way (the blood was used a sauce or gravy) but just pushing it forward along with the other heretofore unknown or unfamiliar regional Filipino dishes.

Which is why the dinner at the iconic JBH was historic in many aspects.

Showcasing the talents of the upcoming and established chefs pushing Filipino cuisine in America is analogous to the James Beard Foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable.

Which is why each of the courses served at the dinner had a corresponding wine to match, proof that Filipino dishes can be eaten and enjoyed more with a glass or two of wine.

Which is why there should be more Filipino dinners at the James Beard House, and more Filipino restaurants in the United States and more Filipino-American chefs pushing the envelope for the Filipino Food Movement.

“My dream is that Filipino cuisine in general is not looked upon as a trend, but as a standard alongside the many other cuisines that are prevalent on the market today,” Chef Carlo said when I asked what his dream for Filipino cuisine is. “My hope is that the food will maintain its heart, soul, and integrity through this growing process.”