Filipino Food Gets its Due

| March 24, 2013

Maharlika chickenLast night I headed down to the East Village to join some good friends at a Filipino restaurant. Having lived in the Philippines for a year, more specifically, Cebu City, I feel that I have a pretty good handle on this cuisine and certainly some wonderful memories of living in this part of the world.

While its Asian neighbors of Thailand, Korea, Vietnam and India have enjoyed the limelight, for the most part Filipino food has flown under the radar. Well that apparently has changed and my experience at Maharlika was nothing short of a sneak attack.

This small, bustling restaurant had an East Village buzz and a tangible, young, ethnic heartbeat. After waiting at the bar and enjoying a Hilda Koronel (kalamansi mimosa – kalamansi honey and sparkling wine) we were shuffled to a table in the back where the next two hours would be joyfully spent tasting some extraordinary Filipino delights.

We started off with some appetizers including the Bangus (crispy, boneless baby milkfish), the Lumpiang Barquillos (crispy, tightly rolled rice paper cigars filled with beef, pork, water chestnuts, carrots and aromatic vegetables) and the Chicken BBQ (banana ketchup, honey, coconut vinegar marinade). These were a spectacular start! The Lumpiang were exquisite and the Chicken BBQ was reminiscent of the food I would get while walking on the street outside of of our home in Doña Rita Village—perfection!

As it was a Friday we ventured back onto the cocktail list and happily dove into the FPJ (Fernando Poe Jr.), comprised of Hendrick’s gin, Maharlika  Cocktailcaraway, cucumber, lime and Peychaud’s and the Teo Tita (vodka, kalamansi honey, lemon, splash of seltzer), both excellent choices.

Moving onto the entrees, we explored some unique dishes including the Ginataang Hipon (red snapper braised in coconut milk and crab essence w/sauteed kang kong), a delicious Lamb Shank preparation, and the Filipino Pride Chicken 'N’ Ube Waffle (flourless Filipino-style fried chicken, ube “Prince-worthy” purple yam waffle with anchovy bagoong butter and carmelized macapuno syrup). Paired with a side of Baby Bok Choy grilled in garlic oil, these were delectable and it started to become apparent that this was indeed the finest Filipino food I had ever experienced.

As a culinary journalist, I would feel remiss not sampling the house specialty, Pampangan Style  Sizzling Sisig.  Made from pig ears, cheeks, snout, and belly cooked three times (boiled, grilled, sautéed) with garlic, silis, red onions and  kalamansi, and served with garlic fried rice, this traditional dish would send most with an American palate running toward the door, or at least under the table—the fact is, not only was it delicious, but the star of the evening!

It wouldn’t be a feast without at least mildly delving into the dessert menu, so with a final gasp we shared the Jack Fruit and Sweet Corn Custard, topped with toasted coconut—a fitting end to a wonderful meal.

For those of you that have never had the pleasure of experiencing Filipino cuisine, I highly recommend Maharlika. For me, it is nice to know that I can revisit my past in Cebu City by simply hopping on the 6 train.