Friday, March 27, 2009

Winner By Knockout

I don’t like it when people mess around with Filipino food.

By “messing around”, I mean the current invasion of “modern Filipino cuisine” wherein Kare-Kare is deconstructed, Laing is turned into pasta sauce and Sisig becomes a pizza topper. I like my Pinoy food cooked the way it should be, or at least the way Filipino mothers, lolas and kusineras all over the country make them. This means that Kare-kare is slow-cooked in its peanut-based sauce until the ox tail is jiggling about like Jello, gabi leaves are simmered in coconut milk and sili to make Laing, later to be served with steamed rice, while the enigmatic pork parts that go into Sisig are happily sizzling away on an iron plate.

When a craving for Pinoy food hits me, I rarely go out to eat, more so now that the classic Filipino restaurants of my childhood are just not as good as they used to be. There are a few though, such as the late Larry Cruz’s Bistro Remedios, which continue to dish out exemplary regional dishes.

One weekday lunch, my Tita P and I decided to make the quick drive from our office to the Malate restaurant. Despite it being a Lenten Friday, we were dead-set on ordering the specialty of the house (and most of Larry C.’s establishments),which is their version of Crispy Pata called Knockout Knuckles- deep-fried crispy pork knuckles topped with a fragrant garlic sauce, accompanied by the usual soy sauce with vinegar and onions.

After being ushered into the bright and cheery dining room- reminiscent of the old houses in the provinces- we quickly ordered a cheekily-named appetizer called Ipusit Mo Baby (baby squid fried to a crisp) and Adobong Balut (battered duck embryos cooked adobo-style). Those went so fast I wasn’t even able to take pictures.

Tita P and I were given a few minutes to digest after we wolfed-down the starters before the main dishes were sent in. For our viands we chose, of course, the knuckles and the Binukadkad na Crispy Plapla, which I know sounds pornographic but is really just deep-fried butterflied Tilapia.

The Knockout Knuckles were as decadent and sumptuous as I remember it- the flesh was juicy and fork-tender, topped by a layer of fat which melts in your mouth, the skin bubbling and crisp, enhanced by the softly-wafting aroma of slow-cooked garlic. Although the garlic topping is something not commonly found in most Crispy Pata recipes, this is one preparation that I have to admit is pure genius.

Our meal was accompanied by a simple siding of Ensaladang Talong (grilled eggplant, sliced tomatoes and onions with a vinegar sauce) and a generous serving of Bamboo Rice. A common practice in Southern Philippines, rice is cooked inside a stick of bamboo, in this case, with some shredded chicken and shitake mushrooms. The result is a densely-packed, flavorful rice dish which goes perfectly with, well, everything.

We gave a valiant effort at finishing the whole meal which would sufficiently feed four, but gave-up when we could no longer suck in our stomachs under our tightening shirts. After having the remains of our meal wrapped, we ordered some dessert: Claude’s Dream for me (buko pandan jelly and young coconut on buffalo milk ice cream) and Gula Melaka (tapioca served with palm sugar and coco cream) for Tita P (who looked like she had a fist-full of Xanax at this point). The desserts were just alright for me, not really worth the extra calories. I can imagine how some people would like them, though.

This Malate institution is truly the jewel of the LJC group of restaurants, proving that the classics only need minor tweaking (or none at all) to be made extraordinary. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Bistro Remedios
Adriatico St.
Malate, Manila
Tel. no. (632) 5239153


Miguel said...

The Knockout Knuckles look champoion...if it werent lang so far from where I live....

Noel said...

I don’t like it when people mess around with Filipino food.

Same here. Great post, Chinkee. Now I want to eat that Knockout Pata....


Chinkee said...

Hey Mig! You really should try it. Maybe you can make a side trip during one of your Chinatown excursions...:-)

Chinkee said...

Thanks Noel! That pata was truly inspiring... Hehe. If I remember correctly, they also have this dish in Cafe Adriatico and Fely J's.

Noel said...

Yes, they have it in Fely J's. Now I remember, that's what I had there the first (and only) time at Fely J's. Everyone else was ordering seafood to be healthy, but they all wound up getting from me. I didn't mind though, as it was too much fro me to finish anyway. Yup, it's really a knockout dish.