The Beans of Halo Halo

5 Oct

Our fourth expedition of 2002 took us to Queens again. Queens, I might point out, has probably been our most visited borough; the variety and number of restaurants that fit our criteria almost endless. This visit to a Philippine restaurant remains memorable by Eugene’s vehement, bordering on obsessive, dislike of a certain dessert he had. It has become the one dessert that, almost on cue, he reminds us of whenever the subject of dessert comes up. Here, then, is the origin of Eugene’s fixation.

Ihawan
40-06 70th Street
Woodside, Queens

Ihawan

Zio labored hard on his pick, our fourth since beginning these adventures. Not quite sure of himself and his instincts, he constantly sought out my consultation for his choice. This was the man who introduced me to the heavy brown sauces of subterranean Wo Hop, the sublime calamari marinara at Dominick’s on Arthur Avenue, the “zuppa di pesce” at the Pine Tavern on Bronxdale—well before the New York Yankees discovered it—one of Manhattan’s original Thai joints, the now defunct Bangkok Cuisine on Eighth Avenue, and the marinara pizza at Patsy’s in East Harlem. Now, years later, he wanted my advice. He can’t say that I didn’t warn him about what would happen if he moved to the food wasteland of Hartford, Connecticut.

What we ultimately came up with was a Philippine restaurant called Ihawan. The last time I had eaten Filipino food was in Los Angeles during my time as a starving screenwriter. There was a small, inexpensive family place near where I lived on Sunset Boulevard that specialized in Filipino dumplings and soups served by the very friendly daughters of the owner. The soups and dumplings were good, but I think I went more for the overly attentive service of the daughters.  What we were to experience at Ihawan was much different than my recollection of the Filipino food I had in LA.  Advertised as the “Home of the Best Barbecue in Town,” Ihawan was an easy find.  In Woodside, just off the BQE and under the number 7 train, Zio and I made it in less than a half hour, including the ten minutes we waited in front of the restaurant as a parade of busboys and kitchen help unloaded huge bag after bag of garbage into a garbage truck.  We were also, unfortunately, downwind of the truck and able to capture the alarming essence of the restaurant’s ripe leftovers.

Gerry and Eugene were already seated in the upstairs dining area. We would be a smaller group for this adventure with Rick and Charlie having to bow out due to last minute commitments. For a Tuesday evening, the mirrored, very bright dining room was bustling with local Filipino families, a variety of different ringtones constantly emanating from the multitude of cell phones. The menu was an immediate challenge to us. With items such as “milkfish in tamarind soup with vegetables,” “sizzling sisig” (pork ears and liver marinated with lemon and hot pepper on a hot plate), “dinuguan” (pork stewed in pork blood gravy), “laing” (gabi leaves sautéed in coconut milk), “kare-kare” (stewed oxtail in peanut butter sauce with mixed vegetables), and fried “lapu-lapu” (grouper) with sweet and sour sauce, we didn’t know where to begin or end. We started with drinks, Zio and I trying the cantaloupe juice, Eugene opting for the iced buko (young coconut juice), and Gerry, attempting the “sago at gulaman,” also known as sweet drink mixed with tapioca pearl and gelatin. The drinks came and we sipped, but none of us got much further. The sugar content would make a diabetic go into immediate insulin shock. And it was worse for Gerry; he had those multi-colored tapioca pearls to deal with.

The dinner plates began to pile onto our table soon after; chopped pork belly in liver sauce, deep fried marinated milk fish, sautéed long beans with shrimps and pork, the stewed oxtail in the peanut butter sauce, minced pork spring rolls, and barbecue pork and chicken on a stick. The tastes of the entrees were varied; there was Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and even Spanish mixed in there. The four of us easily consumed everything with the exception of Eugene, whose pathetic excuse for not finishing the pork belly in liver sauce was his lame claim that he ate too much the previous two days.

We forced ourselves to try the desserts; how often do you get to experience “mais con hielo” (sweetened corn with milk & crushed ice),  Filipino flan, and “halo-halo” (mixed fruits with milk & crushed ice), ?  As it turned out, the flan was the highlight of the desserts, denser and even more flavorful than the flan at La Fonda Boricua. Zio and Eugene took a few sips of the halo halo and while Zio finished the unusual offering, Eugene could not. Pondering the tall frothy glass that contained his drink, he said, “Sometimes when you order chili it comes with only meat. Other times it comes with just beans. I like to know what is in my chili when I order it.” I think what Eugene was really trying to say in his own bizarre way was: “Where the hell was the fruit? And why were there cannellini beans in my dessert?” Cannellini being the bean Zio thought they most resembled. Whatever they were, Eugene was actually offended by their presence in his dessert.

 

 

Despite the misfortunate, at least for Eugene, beans of halo halo, Ihawan, with its very exotic (to us) offerings proved to be a very worthy choice and at $13 per person, well under our allotted budget.

Ihawan is still around and doing so well that they have opened a sister restaurant. This one called Ihawan2 is located amongst the new condo empire of Long Island City. Though from what I can tell, maybe to best serve the demographic of that high rise haven, they do not highlight their Filipino food.  On their website, www.ihawan2.com, they instead have opted to feature those two dreaded words: “Asian fusion.” So if grilled pork ears and snout (sisig) just don’t work for you, you now have other options like California rolls, tempura, and chop suey. And for dessert there is always halo halo.

2 Responses to “The Beans of Halo Halo”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Adventures in Chow City: The First Decade « Fried Neck Bones…and some home fries - March 27, 2012

    […] Eugene’s bean drink revulsion The Beans of Halo Halo […]

  2. Who is Tito Rad? | Fried Neck Bones...and some home fries - September 18, 2013

    […] from where we were on this day called Ihawan, and for dessert, Eugene sampled the halo halo (see The Beans of Halo Halo). At almost every meal since that one at Ihawan, he has made it a point to state that the halo halo […]

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