Egg Rolls and Adobo by Candlelight

18 Oct

Philippu
21-01 21st Street
Astoria

Hobbling from a knee injury, I made the trek from the N train stop at Broadway in Astoria down to 21st Street. Turning right, I could see Gerry and Zio waiting in front of a White Castle.  And before I could even comment on Gerry’s new salt and pepper, heavier on the salt, goatee, Zio approached me anxiously.

“They have real tablecloths,” Zio said, his shame evident on the expression of his face. Could he possibly have erred so badly by choosing a place that might actually be a little too classy for the riff raff that was our group?

“Yeah, and from what I saw, they might even have candles on the tables,” Gerry added.

Linen table clothes and stemmed water glasses

Trying to ease Zio’s embarrassment, I reminded him that I noticed crispy deep fried pigs’ knuckles on the online menu he forwarded to me. That made him feel a little better and we walked the next block to Philippu the Filipino restaurant with the linen tablecloths and candles.

Eugene and Mike from Yonkers were already seated in the spacious, sparkling, mostly barren restaurant. The big flat panel television was on and tuned to a Filipino news network. Rick walked in a few minutes later and, with the exception of a few other diners, we had the restaurant to ourselves.

“I think this might be the cleanest place we’ve been in,” Eugene remarked innocently. “Did you see the bathroom?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Zio buried his head in the menu, trying to ignore Eugene and hide his disgrace.

And, despite the tablecloths, plasma television and clean bathrooms, the menu offered tremendous promise with items such as sizzling sisig (minced pork relish on a sizzling plate), dinuguan (pork and beef blood cooked in vinegar) and bopis (pork lungs and heart sautéed in tomatoes, chilies and onions). Yet with all the exotic choices, the best we could decide on was the grilled pork belly, sautéed taro leaves in coconut sauce, kare kare (oxtails in peanut sauce), chicken adobo, and deep fried sweet and sour fish.

Zio was a bit concerned that we neglected the appetizers.  We didn’t really; it was just that at Philippu, what was offered as appetizers were a challenge including a mix of the conventional; buffalo-style chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, and shrimp tempura, along with an assortment of Filipino-style egg rolls. We choose a sampling of the egg rolls and when the first one arrived in a soft, chow-fun like wrap, stuffed with a variety of vegetables, Eugene observed that it tasted like an egg roll with chop suey inside. At first it seemed like one of Eugene’s typically nonsensical statements, but after a few bites, we were in agreement—the vegetable stuffing was clearly reminiscent of cafeteria Chinese.

“Chop suey” stuffed egg rolls

The next selection was pretty much like the first but with a hard, crispy fried exterior like that of a fried Vietnamese spring roll with that same “chop suey” stuffing. The final selection was a platter filled with tiny, firecracker-sized fried egg rolls stuffed with something that was pretty much unidentifiable; maybe minced pork—maybe mushroom. I couldn’t tell and because the egg rolls were so dry only an abundance of the accompanying vinegary dipping sauce could rescue them.

Thankfully our entrees arrived promptly and the waiter could clear what was left of the unfortunate egg rolls. My first taste of the entrees was of the grilled pork belly; a piece of tender pork surrounded by a thick roll of fat in a slightly sweet, brown barbecue sauce. The chicken adobo was tender and swimming in a soy-vinegar mixture while the oxtails of the kare kare came in a big bowl of peanut sauce with string beans and greens. Lastly, the green taro leaves arrived, sautéed in mild coconut sauce.

Mild seemed to be the operative word at Philippu. The food had flavor, but lacked the edge, or bite that would make it really standout. The only foreign taste was the presence of very bitter, bitter melon that was hidden in a shrimp and vegetable noodle dish. It was as if the sterility of the restaurant contributed to the blandness of the food. Whether that blandness was perceived or actually a reality was hard to tell.

Kare Kare

For Philippu, there were no raves, bathroom cleanliness excepted, and there were no complaints. Our lack of enthusiasm was evident when no one had any desire for any of the dessert options.  But, despite our uncharacteristically mellow mood, all that remained was the fat from the pork belly and one, unpicked oxtail that even Mike from Yonkers deemed not worth the effort.

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