Blog: A restaurant for all seasons

A Tiki Tuesday sounds like fun, but a Tiki Tuesday at a Filipino gastropub? Now, that’s a unique and rare experience…especially in Manhattan.

As a child growing up on the other side of the globe, I remember my grandfather would sit with his drinking buddies at the dinner table having San Miguel beer or “lambanog” (liquor made from coconut) and fried leftovers as “pulutan” (a meat snack, usually fried with little or no sauce at all). This would take place long after dinner was over and all the children had left and gone to the den to watch The Neverending Story or some cheesy horror flick.

They would smoke and fill the dining room with the scent of alcohol and cigarette. Some would play mahjong or cards, while some would just watch. But what stood out were the laughter, the intoxicated voices, and the story-telling.

My cousins and I would peek but we would get turned away. “This is no room for children to play,” the elders used to say. It wasn’t until we were a little older that we were allowed to stay for a bit and witness how wasted some of them would get.

They would offer food and even ask if we wanted a sip of “lambanog.” My cousins and I would decline. I still remember.

Then we would either go back to the den to watch more TV or hang outside. We would exchange stories as well (minus the alcohol) and talk about ghosts or fantasize about living on a different planet and how we would react if, all of a sudden, an alien appeared in my grandfather’s yard. We would do this under the stars and under the moonlight…inside my uncle’s jeepney.

It’s funny how, many years later, I would find myself again in another type of jeepney, talking amongst friends and having fun just like the old days, but with a twist.

As the walls of the restaurant reminded me of what a jeep’s interior and exterior look like, I was also excited to see a showcase of Philippine meals prepared in a quirky but innovative fashion.  The result–a blend of refined old-fashioned flavor with bold and exciting new textures in a fun, albeit tight, atmosphere.

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A sample of what we had were the Chicaron Bulaklak (crispy pork ruffle fat; and since “Bulaklak” means flower, you get the idea of what this looks like), Lumpiang Shanghai (beef/pork spring rolls with sweet chili sauce), Bicol Express (slow-roasted pork shoulder with coconut milk and chilis served with Vigan longganisa), and Menudo Pie (pulled lamb shank with tomato, carrots, potatoes, olives, and sausage). A dizzying but delicious mixture of Malay, Chinese, Spanish and American influences.

And just like my grandfather and my uncles before me, I too had San Miguel beer to wash down the sumptuous meal. No “lambanog” or desserts though, but I intend to go back and try their “Kamayan” night. “Kamayan” means eating without the use of utensils. Just your bare hands (and, yes, I will wash my hands right before eating). Food is normally served on a bed of banana leaves which adds a layer of excitement and adventure to the whole eating experience, not to mention a certain appetizing aroma that the leaves give off. At least, that’s what I remember as a kid. Everyone can partake or grab food and share. It sounds a little primitive, but it can be enjoyable.

Ah, I miss those days. Although I much rather use utensils (not gonna lie), it will be a fun experience to try and do it all over again…with some friends, of course. It will be an exciting night. I can just imagine all the different shapes and colors and flavors and all the food sitting on that green canvas, ready to be devoured. Yum!

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