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Sep 15, 2005 06:27 PM

Renee's Revisited (Renee's Kitchenette: Philippines in Queens)

  • b

I've known about Renee's Kitchenette for years, and I'm sure you have too. I never went that often, maybe once every few years, but lately I've been going a lot. It's like an overlooked wallflower that turns out to have hidden charms. Filipino food can be addictive. I've read an article by a Filipino woman whose yearning for the foods of home is so great that she spends all her savings on plane tickets for Manila. If she'd known about Renee's she could have saved her money.
This tiny but sparkling clean Queens place bills itself as "home of Pampanga's best cuisine." Pampanga is the region of the Philippines that has been devastated by volcanoes. But the crowds of Filipino diners seemed happy enough the first time I went there this year. I ate quite early, so I could see a movie. The place was almost full, though. I ordered a whole Tilapia served with a sweet and sour sauce yummy enough to appeal to those who like sweet and sour but sophisticated enough to appeal to those too sophisticated for sweet and sour. Ginger, spices, just enough sugar so it wont taste too tart. I ate the whole fish, head tail and everything between. It was $9, including a bowl of rice which I doused with a sauce made from rotten fish. (Same sauce as in Vietnam and Thailand and all of south Asia -- and ancient Rome too, for that matter).
The second time I went later. It was jammed, I was lucky to get a table and later had to share it with a Filipino family. I was the only one there not part of a Filipino family... though I was, I guess, when I shared the table. What I got, Sarciadong Tilapia, was one of the best Filipino meals ever. A whole tilapia fish was cooked and topped with diced tomatoes, minced onion and scrambled egg. It was almost literally swimming in a bright red broth made with stock, lots of garlic, and tomatoes. The broth was probably a legacy of the centuries of Spanish rule
I thought about Spain on my third visit. And midway through my delicious plate of Kalderetang Kambing I had a very minor culinary epiphany. For culinary purposes, the Philippines should be considered part of Latin America. The biggest food influence on the Philippines is Spain. My goat stew, with its rich brown sauce, was just like that served in El Castillo de Jagua, a wonderful Dominican restaurant on Rivington in Manhattan. Yes, there are Chinese influences in Filipino cooking, sweet and sour,  fried noodles etc, but they are a lot like the stuff served in Chino latino restaurants that cater to a Latin crowd. So on the food map of the world the Philippine Islands lie between Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and maybe that's why they call it the Bermuda Triangle.

Renee's Kitchenette, 69-14 Roosevelt Av, Queens, (718) 476-9002 or 947-0472, closed Tuesday, closes 8:30 PM other days.

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  1. I'm glad you posted this review. Soon after it reopened, I visited this restaurant twice. Once I order the Beef Kaldereta (beef stew) and Bihon Guisado
    (noodle dish) to go. Both were just fair. Went a second time and dined in. Ordered the Seafood Kare Kare. AWFUL. However, I will try it one more time and will order one of your recommendations. My only previous experience is IHAWAN around the corner. I always order the BBQ and it's always very good. I undertstand they have a Buffet on the 2nd floor at Rene's.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Mike V

      Choosing your meal destination is a heavy responsibility. If I have a bad dinner, my day seems wasted. So I hope it works out. I think you wont go wrong with the Sarsiadong or Sweet and sour Tilapia. I'm surprised the seafood kare kare was no good. Kara kare is a rich, complex sauce. Cendrillon has it on their menu (havent tried it, it's $18). And I don't think Renee's would blow it. But I guess they did. I've eaten at Ihawan and didnt like it nearly as much. I had the sizzling sisig, a mixture of pig heart and ears. It was a lot like things served in the American south.

      1. re: Brian S

        That's what makes the food world go 'round.

        I love Renee's Seafood Kare Kare. I consider it their signature dish. But what do I know? I love their Dinuguan too. I'm not a fan of any Filipino BBQ -- it's too sweet for me. My wife loves it though. Renee's is moister than any of the others in Woodside. And their Mixed Grill (pork, chicken, longanisa and pork belly) for $7.00 is an incredible value.

        I'd stay away from Renee's buffet though. I tried it and it was nothing special. With their low prices, you can order 3 or 4 dishes of the regular menu and get just as much food, cooked to order.

        1. re: el jefe

          Some Kare-kare recipes use a fermented shrimp paste that is common throughout southeast Asia, especially among the Perinakan (Chinese in Malaya). Either you love it (I do) or you think it is the most disgusting thing you ever tasted.

          1. re: Brian S

            Renee's serves the shrimp paste on the side so you can omit it if you want.

    2. I returned and ordered the Goat Stew based on your recommendation. It was fantastic. Lots of tender goat meat with an incredible rich dark brown sauce. Next visit it will be the Sarsiadong Tilapia. I'm so glad that I didn't give up on this restaurant based on two disappointing meals. Thanks

      3 Replies
      1. re: Mike V

        I am REALLY glad you liked it. I will try to return to try the seafood kare-kare, to see if you went on a bad day or if it is consistently bad.

        1. re: Brian S

          Brian, there was a lot of something in the Seafood Kare Kare that I had never seen before. It didn't seem like fish but it could have been jellyfish (is this possible?). The menu states mixed squid, shrimp & mussels. I know what squid looks like and it wasn't squid. The squid in this dish are very large circles which were tough to eat. Shrimp were in the shell which was annoying. Mussels had very little meat inside. Sorry, but this dish is not for me. I know that the Chinese eat jellyfish.

          1. re: Mike V

            I've tried seafood kare-kare. It seems like a fairly new invention. The traditional kare-kare is made of oxtail, and sometimes mixed with the chuck. I like that one better. The shrimp paste isn't too bad taken with the vegetables.With the beef, the shrimp interferes.

            The seafood version might be a spin on Italian marinara---transformed into some Malay thing (the peanut sauce). I've also tried a chicken version (stay away from this: it's insipid) and a pork version (too greasy: the belly is used).

            The jelly-like thing? If a cook is meticulous with squid, all its insides get scooped out. Sometimes, that jelly-like thing is not taken out. I find it unpleasant when the jelly appears in any of those squid-based dishes. I've always wondered whether it was squid guts or squid fat. Gross.

      2. My family and I have frequented this place ever since we moved to the States in 1994 - I remember it used to be a pretty small tight shack. Now, it has 2 floors of dining space - what hasn't changed though, is the quality of the food - still as good as ever - it's the closest to Filipino homecooking one can get to here in NYC in my opinion. Most of the food is artery-clogging (well I would say almost all Filipino food is), but that's why they're so damn good!

        My favorite dishes there - kare-kare, sinigang na baboy, kaldereta, sizzling bulalo steak, lechon kawali, arroz caldo

        2 Replies
        1. re: toujourspretamanger

          I'm really glad to have my opinion confirmed. This is my first post on Chowhound so I have a special affection for it.

          Bastide Restaurant
          8475 Melrose Place, West Hollywood, CA 90069

          1. re: Brian S

            Brian, my first-born will officially be named after you as thanks for introducing me to Renee's. Finally a place to get my kalderetang kambing fix! You made my weekend!