Another Foothold for Philippine Cuisine

Another Foothold for Philippine Cuisine


Alongside that daunting tuna jaw might be kalderetang kambing, goat braised in tomato purée, with green olives leaching brine and liver pâté extending its dark mineral contour. More liver pâté is loosened with vinegar as a dipping sauce for lechon kawali, hunks of pork belly that emerge from the fryer equal parts shatter, sink and chew.

Ampalaya, or bitter melon, is tossed into a pan of scrambled eggs at the last minute, so it loses none of its color or crunch. It’s still defiantly bitter, but with a cooling freshness. Langka, or jackfruit, is slowly undone by coconut milk, until its texture is somewhere between short rib and potato.

Best of all is laing, a tangle of taro leaves, flown in from Hawaii and carefully pruned of their stems, saturated with coconut milk and braised into a soupy, sublime mess. (Be warned: For most of the vegetable dishes here, pork and shrimp lie in the depths.)

A few years ago, Tito Rad’s (the name means Uncle Rad’s, short for Conrado) took over the storefront next to its original location. Now there’s a back room for spillover and sprawling parties, outfitted with wooden slat windows and green wall panels, which Mr. Albenio wistfully said was meant to evoke outdoor dining. Tables are covered in white paper, quickly stained by the procession of dishes. The front window is etched with the restaurant’s logo, a man in a fedora, testament to Mr. Albenio’s love of hats.

Dessert is another crowd of plates: airy turon, lumpia with oozy guts of caramelized banana; a threesome of dense cassava cake, jammy ube halaya and leche flan, akin to crème caramel; and langka ice cream, made by Nenette Albenio, the chef’s sister, which tastes of sheer voluptuousness and, improbably, the scent of sampaguita, Philippine jasmine.

One night there were slices of birthday cake, too, insistently shared by a 75th birthday party in raucous swing. With the cake came a story, of how the woman of honor had never married, how she had instead devoted her life to bringing her relatives to the United States, all of them now assembled here. The inscription in the icing read: Auntie.

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