The second restaurant in Columbia Heights/Mount Pleasant neighbourhood to feature Filipino dishes opened without much hype a couple of weeks ago. When I read about it, I asked another Filipino friend of mine to see if she’s interested in trying it out with me. She said yes and so we went.
Bad Saint DC
We decided on early dinner Saturday night since the place was small and doesn’t take reservations. We queued up just as the place was about to open and were seated on one of the bar stool areas across from the kitchen fairly quickly. The interior of the restaurant looked rather intriguing. It featured several artworks I assumed were native to the Philippines and for a bit of personal touch, had a couple family snapshots as well. My friend told me that it reminded her of restaurants in the Philippines, though slightly fancier.
We ordered a total of four dishes that we shared between us, though we probably could have just done with three. The order from which they came out was a bit odd I thought, but it wasn’t a big deal. The first dish was the kinilaw, followed by the ukoy, then the beef tapa, and finally, the pansit.
For me, this was the best dish among the ones we tried. It was slightly unconventional, mixing sweet potato with regular potato with larger shrimp pieces that were marinated in a recipe that normally called for just flour, cornstarch, and bits of dried shrimp. The portion was huge for the price we paid ($8; two came in an order) and were fried just enough where it came out crispy but not oily. It was accompanied with a spicy vinegar-based dipping sauce. The two pieces were too much for two people especially if you plan to order other dishes, but we ate all of it anyway, because quite honestly, it was difficult to stop.
Rave: Beef Tapa
The flavor of the beef tapa was spot on. It was briny, tangy, and garlicky just as you’d expect. A classic Filipino plate setting usually included garlic fried rice, fried egg, and tapa but since the restaurant advertised itself as “modern Filipino” cuisine, it had a couple of minor additions. It came decorated with cilantro stems and field greens to which my friend made a comment and said that it was the greenest plate of tapa she had ever seen. One order came with six to seven bite-sized pieces, a cup of garlic-fried rice, soft-boiled egg, and chunks of tomatoes on the side. As soon as the plate came out, you got a whiff of garlic, a welcomed aroma particularly for tapa. One serving was big enough to be a complete meal so again, even though we had other dishes on the table, this was another one we wiped cleaned.
Rant: Pancit Bihon Guisado
I wasn’t sure what exactly was strange about this dish but it wasn’t like any Filipino pancit I’ve ever eaten before. I didn’t particularly like this vegetarian version with just mushrooms as toppings since most guisados in the Philippines usually have some form of meat mixed in them for flavor. The mushrooms overwhelmed the taste of the pancit and gave it somewhat of a bitter aftertaste. The noodles were also a little different, though cooked just right. They are typically translucent but this was opaque. Foreigners who are unfamiliar with the traditional way might enjoy this variation but I’d probably never order it again.
Overall, it was a good dining experience. Most of the food was enjoyable and the ambiance was certainly nice. The service was friendly and prompt especially since they had a continuous party of folks that kept coming all night. The only thing I will warn diners about is ventilation. Since the space is small and the kitchen is susceptible to frying a lot of items one right after the other, the restaurant gets a bit smoky. I asked one of the owners about improving ventilation and she responded that it is indeed, a work in progress. It didn’t bother us much but some people might frown upon it.