Let's spend a Friday evening in a tiny, cozy restaurant just steps from the bustle of Little Manila and feast on home-style Filipino food cooked and served by some of the warmest titos and titas in Woodside. Guests are encouraged to belt out tunes on the karaoke mic during and after dinner, so make sure to warm up those vocal chords beforehand.
From The NY Times article by Ligaya Mishan:
“Purple Haze” crashes from the speakers as stingrays flap languidly across the flat-screen TV. The singer, leaning over the rubble of his dinner (monumental pig hooves, broken crab shells), nails every throwaway whoop. The crowd, if that’s what you can call three tables, erupts.
At Papa's Kitchen, which opened last October in Woodside, Queens, this could be Saturday night, or Wednesday night, or every night. Beth Roa, co-owner, waitress and M.C., makes the rounds from table to table, gently proffering the karaoke mic, while in the kitchen her brother Miguel cooks serious Filipino comfort food. (Ms. Roa pitches in at the stove as needed.) The scent of roasted pork steals through the tiny room, infiltrating clothes and hair.
Filipino cuisine is slowly creeping into the American mainstream. “Top Chef” recently featured a haute reimagining of balut, fertilized duck egg, with duck confit and foie gras. In New York, young Filipino-Americans have opened restaurants with wink-wink references to their heritage, like Spam fries and Tang cocktails.
Papa’s Kitchen is how they kick it old school. (“Papa” is Beth and Miguel’s father, who taught them how to cook back in Quezon City, the Philippines.) It occupies a single-story house barely the width of a station wagon. It is so small that at first it operated only as a takeout joint. When neighbors asked if they could dine in, it became a sit-down restaurant.
Mirrors on one side, a purple slogan (“Divine Tradition Papa’s Creation”) painted on the other: this is the extent of the décor. Plates are paper, flatware disposable (if provided at all), water served in plastic cups.
The menu is minimalist and mostly in Tagalog. Best to leave it up to the Roas and order the salu-salo sa bilao, a feast of stupefying proportions, presented in two winnowing baskets lined with banana leaves. (It is available on Fridays, Saturdays and by special request; minimum party of four required, $25 a person.)
One basket comes heaped with meat around a daunting mound of rice. If the stars align, it will include tilapia fried whole, meant to be eaten like fried chicken, by grasping it with your fingers and ravaging the dainty bones; tuna belly, bought fresh that morning, doused with a “secret” marinade and grilled; and chicken adobo, poached in an intense concentration of garlic, soy sauce and vinegar.
Inevitably there is pork, perhaps belly, marinated both before and after cooking to deepen its flavor, or crispy pata, deep-fried pig’s trotter, cut lengthwise, the better for gnawing.
The biggest surprise are golden tubes called dynamite, akin to spring rolls but skinny and tight as cigarillos, with a nearly sheer, crepe-like wrapper. They are deep-fried but confoundingly light on oil, and come open-ended so that you can see the dangerous filling: a whole jalapeño stuffed with ground pork and cheese.
The second basket is filled with mostly vegetable accompaniments, intended as counterweights in flavor — salted duck egg to be paired with longganisa (sweet-spicy Filipino sausage), mango with chicken adobo — or, when you are exhausted from eating, as bland balms to incite your appetite anew.
Do not underestimate their pleasures. The finest dish at Papa’s Kitchen may be hiding here: laing, taro leaves steeped in coconut milk, like a larger-than-life version of Thanksgiving creamed spinach, amplified by green finger chiles, crab meat and shrimp. The recipe comes from the Bicol region, where Papa grew up.
For dessert there might be banana turon (fritters) or orange slices, but the real postprandial event is karaoke. On each of my visits, the evening did not properly begin until the prep cook, Lila Soriano (whom the Roas call Manang, a term of respect), emerged from the kitchen and sang, beautifully, the pop song “Ako ay Pilipino” (“I Am Filipino”). At the end, she announced, in English: “Welcome. Tonight we are all Filipinos.”
****We will NOT be doing the salu-salo feast; instead we will be ordering a la carte family style and sharing the food bill. Please bring cash. The restaurant is CASH ONLY. Please RSVP YES only if you are 100% certain you can come as this is a limited RSVP event and a restaurant reservation is required.****
I suggest the following menu:
-Grilled Tuna Belly
-Laing (taro leaves in coconut milk)
-Sitaw at Kalabasa
If people still have room for Filipino desserts, we can walk around the neighborhood and go get some halo-halo :).