Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Last Night's Dinner #22: @ Pistahan

*make sure to read the comments, some interesting thoughts on Filipino culture

Written by Hillsy
Last night we had dinner at Pistahan (1st Ave between 13th and 14th St) and to give it a fair non-biased review I called in a special favor from the English muffin. So, without further a do...

It wasn't until I reached the ripe old age of 7 or 8 that I made one of those eye-opening discoveries that completely turn your perception of the world upside down. Dogs can swim.

It may not seem that remarkable now, but at the time it was something my young brain struggled to grasp. Not only can they swim, but they're actually pretty damn good at it.

But how would somebody ever know that a poodle or golden retriever was nature's equivalent of Flipper with fur? I mean, they hardly advertise the fact to the casual observer. They don't have any gills, flippers, fins or other naturally evolved floatation devices and they don't even seem to like water THAT much. Yet behind this smokescreen of land dwelling bliss, lay a creature that was not only happy in H2O but could probably beat most Olympic swimmers in a 100 meter freestyle sprint.

And that brings me to Filipinos and food. Ask somebody you know to name 5 of the top cuisines in the world and you'd expect to hear the usual suspects – Italian, Chinese, Japanese, French. It's highly unlikely the Philippines would make the list, and more to the point it's equally unlikely that the average Joe on the street could even name a single Filipino dish. But if you served the same average Joe a Filipino meal, the discovery of how bloody good it is would be akin to my canine revelation as an 8-year-old.

The truth is that Filipinos make some amazing food that completely confounds expectations and at the end of a meal leaves yourself asking the question "Why the hell don't these people blow their own horn a little more and showcase what they can do in the kitchen?"

A classic example of this is Pistahan – an under-stated Filipino restaurant on 1st Ave Btw 13th & 14th that Madame Lifeflix and I visited on a hazy New York Labor Day evening.

Walk in the front door and you could be forgiven for thinking that you'd mistakenly stumbled into your grandfather's broom cupboard. Small and cramped with the character of a mouse, the only real sign of life is the waft of charred pork smoke that freight-trains up your nostrils as you walk in.

We shoehorned ourselves into a seat and ordered the Pork Barbecue Skewer for appetizer, followed by Relyenong Talong (Stuffed eggplant cooked with egg and ground pork ) and Crispy Pata (Pork hock deep fried to a crisp served w/ vinegar and soy sauce).

The pork skewer was sweet and tender with just enough chew to keep things interesting, and when eaten with white rice was a great set-up to the main course. And what a main course it was.

Pork BBQ skewers

The Relyenong Talong resembles a bloated omelet with the added bonus of ground pork thrown into the mix. Rich, heavy and satisfying – this is exactly the type of simple, yet distinct food that I'd be happy to dine on every night. This is the kind of stuff that features in the wet dreams of the makers of Lipitor.

Relyenong Talong (Eggplant stuffed with egg and ground pork)

Then there was the pork. This huge plate stacked high with dark, succulent meat and crispy, golden skin. They even threw in a couple of hooves for good measure, just to make sure you got your fill of crunchy, crackly, velvety deep fried swine.

Crispy Pata (Deepfried pork shank)

We devoured both dishes like killer bees in a 1-800-FLOWERS warehouse and finished off the meal with some Cassava Cake – a sweetened cake with coconut and jackfruit. Again, the presentation was horrendous (served in a beautiful foil tray that looked like it belonged in the backpack of a US Marine) but the food itself was sticky, heavy and fulfilling.

Casava Cake served in a foil take-out container
(Gordon Ramsey would have a shit fit)

Throw in a bottle of water and a Diet Pepsi, and the check came to 29 bucks – one of the cheapest eat outs we've had for a long time.

The Filipinos need to borrow the same marketing book as Thai and Indian restaurants have obviously read and digested. The truth is the Filipino food can easily hold its own against Pad Se Ew and Chicken Korma, it just needs somebody out there to start making some noise and telling the world about it.

I wish that they would rethink this "15% Gratuity is very much appreciated"
(bordering tacky but not as tacky as not leaving tip!)


Karen said...

i'm actually not really surprised that there hasn't been a successful filipino restaurant...or filipino anything. i'm not sure if my thoughts on this are appropriate for a comment on a blog, so i'll keep it to myself for now. but what i do hope is that the later generations of filipinos (including my own...and me) will break from the typical "filipino mentality" and actually make a significant mark on this world...other than being really sociable people and good dancers.

Z said...

That's too funny...I ate at Bayan Cafe in midtown and it was exactly the same. Can we say NO FRILLS!!! The restaurant itself was the size of my bedroom and the decor at Mcdonalds was better than there.
The food was decent but like you said presentation is at a ZERO...
The one and only dish I would never try again is sig-sig YUCK!!

Tom said...

My dear lifelix sister asked me to put my 2 cents regarding this topic.

Very few Americans know what Philippine food is. Hillsy hit the bullseye when he said Filipinos ought to learn from the Thais and Indians. I can only imagine Hillsy eating talong with his toyo as much as he devours the Chicken Korma. You see my friends, Filipinos don't have a problem making noise and telling the world about it (i urge you to attend an all out Filipino "sor-frise bertday party" you will understand). There are two simple things to understand about the culture.

1. "Kumain ka na ba?" (did you eat yet)? Yes, the overall mission of the standard Filipino "hole in a wall" is to attract as much Filipino as possible. They do not fully understand marketing and expansion strategies of American-style restaurants. While there’s another Asian cuisine [beyond Chinese and Japanese], Filipino chefs have to tinker with our receptivity to foreign flavors as Philippine food is influenced by Spanish, French and Chinese cuisine.

2. "To eat well is to live well!" (boils down to motivation). Emphasis is on living well. You might've read this story before - but this will give you a little flavor about the Philippine culture.

A self made millionare travelled to the Philippine to study the fishing methods of a small coastal village in the Philippines. He requested to shadow a local fisherman one morning. The American millinoaire complimented the fisherman on his catch, asking how long it took to catch. The fisherman replied "only a short time." The millionaire asked why not stay out and catch more. The fisherman replied, "I've enough fish to feed my family."

The Millionaire then asked what did the fisherman do with the rest of his time, he replied, "I will sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening, drink my San Miguel beer with my barkadas (friends), play my guitar, then rest. I have a full and busy life."

The Millionaire was not impressed. "I have many years of experience in business my friend, I could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat and from those increased proceeds you could buy several boats and soon have a fleet. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you could control production, processing and distribution by building your own cannery. You could leave this small island and move to the city then to New York where you could run your expanding enterprise."

The fisherman asked, "How long will this take?"

The Millioniare said, "Ten to 20 years."

"But what then?"

"Next you would announce an IPO and sell your stock to the public, making millions and millions. Then you could retire to a small island here in the Philippines where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings, drink San Miguel beer and play your guitar with your friends," said the Millionaire smiling.

Halo halo anyone?


Manang said...

is kutsarita.com your blog too? It's got the same photo of crispy pata as what you have here...just wondering...

Marichelle said...

hi there! Oh really that's funny, nope it's definitely not mine.