“Are you ready to sing,” Beth, the hostess of Papa’s Kitchen asked me as I entered the empty, yet cozy Filipino restaurant on Woodside Avenue in Queens.
I was the first to arrive and her question to me caught me off guard. Zio had chosen this restaurant but with no mention of singing—or worse karaoke singing.
“Sing?” I shook my head. “No, but I am ready to eat.”
“Oh but you have to sing too,” she insisted
What had Zio gotten us into? I was debating whether to take off my jacket and stay or rush back to my car, but Eugene, Mike from Yonkers and Zio arrived before I could leave, thwarting my escape.
I glared at Zio. “Are you ready to sing?” I asked him. He saw the microphone. He saw the television with the Karaoke, both Filipino and English hits, strolling down. “What the…” was his startled response.
Eugene and I kept our heads safely down as we scanned the menu. Zio hesitated. Unbelievably, he was actually contemplating the karaoke thing.
“What about ‘My Way’?” Beth suggested. “Elvis or Sinatra.”
“I don’t know. Do you have ‘Get a Job’ by the Silhouettes?” Zio asked for some bizarre reason.
Beth checked the seemingly endless scroll of possible songs, but couldn’t find the doo wop hit.
“What do you recommend to eat?” I interrupted hoping to get Beth off the karaoke obsession and onto what our task at hand was.
She ignored me and continued to press us into singing. Zio, displaying weakness of character, capitulated. He took the microphone.
“My Way?” Beth asked.
He nodded. What followed sounded like the vocal emissions of a man in serious bowel discomfort. My appetite was waning as rapidly as Zio’s sorry vocal chords. The end was definitely “near” and we all, thankfully, faced the “final curtain” on Zio’s rendition of “My Way.”
“Can we please now order some food,” I barked.
“Who’s next?” Beth inquired, again totally ignoring my plea.
Finally, Eugene and Mike from Yonkers stepped in and Beth had no choice but to give us advice on what to order.
“Let’s start with Dynamite?” Mike from Yonkers asked.
Whatever dynamite was, it was listed as one of the appetizers and we wanted it.
What appeared soon after were thin crispy fried rolls stuffed with jalapeno and vegetables, served with a sweet, garlic chili sauce. And we ate them on plates adorned with banana leaves.
Along with Dynamite, we settled on lechon kawali, deep fried pork belly, sitaw kalabasa, beans and pumpkin in coconut milk, the bicoli express, pork loin sliced in a stew of coconut milk and lastly, pancit palabok. When I asked about the pancit palabok, Beth mentioned that the noodle dish was more for Filipino tastes. Whatever she meant by that just confirmed our insistence in ordering the dish.
While we waited for our entrees, Beth once again tried to enlist our usually stoic group from the scourge that is karaoke. And once again, one of us succumbed. This time it was Eugene with a screechy, nails on the blackboard, rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.” Making it even more painful, was the accompanying video, a series of shirtless, buff Filipino men dancing and gesturing to languid, seemingly very bored, females.
The deep fried pork belly arrived to quell our collective indigestion from the Karaoke debacle and the addition of a pungent liver sauce was a more than welcome condiment to the crisped fatty meat.
After sampling the pancit palabok, rice vermicelli noodles coated in aromatic sauce of fermented shrimp paste and garlic we understood Beth’s hesitance in recommending the dish to those not familiar with such funky exotica. To us, however, it was a revelation. The same, however, could not be said for the uninspired bicoli express, a stew of overcooked pork in a mild coconut milk broth. A similar, but much more flavorful coconut milk broth was the base for the sitaw kalabasa and the result was much more satisfying.
“Now that you are finished eating, what songs will you be singing,” Beth asked hopefully.
There was only one song left and it was sung by Eugene. Without the aid of the microphone, Eugene smiled and sang those two precious words: “Check please.”
65-40 Woodside Avenue