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Magic Wok and Saffron Spot in Artesia (review)

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After hearing raves from elmomonster about Magic Wok in Artesia and being Filipina myself and always looking for great Filipino restaurants to recommend to those who ask me for that info, I decided to make the trek to Artesia to check it out.

Upon entering the restaurant, I already had a good feeling. It was bustling with primarily Filipinos, families, couples, etc and there was also quite a lot of take out going on as well. The interior wasn't fancy. There were plain white walls which had a variety of Filipino decorative items hung on them and the decorative items themselves were made up of either solely or a combination of wood, straw, shells. I was fine with not fancy. After all, I was there for the food.

After having seated, a few of us ordered drinks. One drink was the cantaloupe drink, which basically consists of cantaloupe, water, ice and sugar. I took a sip of it and found it to be over sweetened, not like how my Mom makes it. Generally, it's a much more refreshing drink than that more syrupy version. I had the gulaman and sago drink, which is a flavored iced-drink with agar gelatin and tapioca balls/pearls. Unfortunately, this drink was also too syrupy sweet, but when I let the ice melt and added more water, it was much better. The last drink that ended on the table was a calamansi drink.

For those of you unfamiliar with calamansi, it's a citrus tree native to the Philippines. I think it's also been referred to as a musk lime or a Panama orange depending on whom you talk to. I always have a hard time describing what calamansi tastes like, but I'd say that it's a cross between a mandarin orange and kumquat and maybe, even lemon. It has sour and tangy notes, but there are also some sweet notes present that somehow balance everything out.

For our meal, we ordered quite a few dishes. See below:

1. Sinigang Soup - This type of soup is usually tamarind-based and uses more sour veggies to enhance the tanginess.

- Siningang soup is one of my favorite dishes, so this was already a homerun for me.

2. Garlic Fried Rice

- Nothing really special about this dish. It was tasty, but I would have actually liked garlic pieces mixed in with the rice itself.

3. Paksiw na Lechon - In this dish, the pork is slow-cooked in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, peppercorns, bay leaves, sugar, salt and liver sauce. (Sometimes after a large party, left over lechon, from the remains of the whole roast pig that usually is a welcome guest at large Filipino parties, is cooked the next day with this liver sauce)

- The particular sauce for this dish was actually a little sweeter than I've had in the past, but still full of a lot of different flavor notes from tangy to a little salty to of course, sweet.

4. String beans cooked with tofu, pork and onions.

- This particular dish needed more flavor to it, but at least the beans were still crunchy and not overcooked which is always a good thing.

5. Fried Bangus - This is milkfish that was marinated in vinegar and garlic and than fried to golden goodness.

- Bangus is Tagalog for milkfish, which is quite a bony fish, but the meat is so delicate and moist that I never let a few bones get in my way and when you add the sour notes of the vinegar, this dish really pleased my Filipino palate. Another popular way that you'll see bangus cooked is when it's stuffed with tomatoes, onions and than grilled.

6. Pansit Bihon - Rice noodles stir-fried with vegetables and meat.

- Add a squeeze of lemon and some soy sauce and this dish becomes a tart-salty version of noodles you may never have experienced before.

7. Chicken Adobo - This dish features chicken that is slow-cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, crushed garlic, bay leaf, and black peppercorns.

- This dish was actually close to my Mom's own version of this dish. The chicken is actually fried and the sauce is saucy and great to put over your rice.

What was also nice is that it wasn't greasy. I've had some versions where you can see the oil floating on top of the sauce and also where the chicken was stewed, which isn't too appealing.

Overall, I loved the food at Magic Wok. Of all the Filipino restaurants I've tried so far and believe me, it's not as many as I would have liked, eating at Magic Wok was like eating my Mom's cooking. All the dishes were pretty straightforward. No fusion or experiments with Filipino cuisine, just good Filipino cooking. I would definitely go back and even bring my Mom. I have a feeling that she'd enjoy the food there as well.

To see pics, go to:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/la_addic...

But wait, there's more. A friend of mine at this dinner mentioned an Indian ice cream and snack shop in Little India that was really a great place to check out and given that Little India was just down the road, we decided to make the drive and I'm glad we did.

When you first enter Saffron Spot, you're greeted with a sense of curvy color. The chairs are rounded. The eating area jutting from the walls are rounded and the colors are just bright and cheerful: purple, orange, and yellow. The interior was just was colorful as the array of ice creams for sale.

As for the ice cream flavors, there was everything from mango to pistachio, but there were also more exotic flavors like chikoo, kulfi, saffron and rose. I opted for a double scoop of the chikoo and kulfi. Chikoo is made from an Indian fruit called sapota and when I first took a taste, it kind of reminded of prunes and licorice. I know that sounds weird, but I really liked it. It was just different.

Kulfi is made from cream, milk, and sugar and this ice cream was really dense. It took extra effort to even scoop it into my cup, but once it melted a bit, it was rich and creamy. Apparently, kulfi can be flavored also with mango, saffron, rose, but all they had available was the plain version and I was fine with that.

Someone else got a double scoop of the rose ice cream and the lychee ice cream and I had a little taste of them both and really liked them as well. I really enjoyed these ice creams. What I liked about them was that they weren't too sweet, which American ice cream can sometimes veer too. I also found them to be richer, a little heavier.

Indian ice creams are also similar to Iranian ice creams in that you can get them with faloudeh (which are normally rice or wheat noodles) and also basil seeds. When I first experienced the faloudeh and the basil seeds at Mashti Malone's, I wasn't quite sure if I liked the "eating texture" of them both with ice cream, but I have to say that over time, it has kind of grown on me. It's not something I'd order each and every time, but at least I know that if I want something different, I do indeed have options.

I don't make my way out to Artesia very often, but when I do, a stop at Saffron will definitely be a part of my agenda.

To see pics, go to:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/la_addic...

In general, I had an awesome Sunday. How could you go wrong with delicious home-style Filipino Food and tasty Indian ice cream? You just can't.

Thanks,
Abby

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  1. WOW! Excellent review and photos! I'm glad someone finally tried Magic Wok on my rec. I'm especially stoked that you did, as I can tell you KNOW your Filipino food. I, on the other, do not, and I usually just go with whether I like something or not. Cool that you affirmed that most of the dishes you tried were faithful to traditional Filipino home cooking.

    By the way, I've eaten there multiple times now, and I have to say one of the best dishes they have is one that I've never got a chance to talk about before. If I can recall correctly, it was called Bistek, which is basically thinly sliced steak, sauteed with onions...MAN OH MAN...DEE--LI--CIOUS!

    http://elmomonster.blogspot.com

    1 Reply
    1. re: elmomonster

      The way my mom makes bistek is that she cuts it thinly and marinates it with vinegar, soy sauce and garlic. That marinade actually dries the meat so that when you cook it, it kind of reminds me of jerky. She also will sautee it with onions. It's also one of my favorite dishes and the sabo (or the soupy part) is really good over rice.

      I remember having the same dish at Asian Noodles and was surprised at the thicker cuts of meat that were used and the fact that it was overly salty. The meat was actually pretty tender, but it just wasn't Mom's cooking.

      What's the bistek like at Magic Wok?

    2. Well, actually, it's just like you described it. I remember it being tender, thinly cut, and permeated with that marinade. And the run-off is spectacular on rice.

      http://elmomonster.blogspot.com

      1. Chikoo? A licorice-tasting thing that I haven't heard of? Wow, that's the tip-of-the-day for me! Thanks.

        1. Staff was nice because I pretty much sampled all the flavors. ;p These are the ones that stood out, tried rose (not my cup of tea but that's just me), jackfruit (not bad), lychee (good) but I enjoyed saffron the most.

          1. I wanted to like this place, but I must've had some bad luck last weekend. That placed did me wrong last Saturday afternoon. My food definitely didn't look like the tasty looking stuff in the pic links above. I should've took pics for proof.
            See my post at:
            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/379692

            1. Whoops! Let me be clear. I'm talking about Magic Wok. In my 35 minute wait for my food, I drove around Little India looking for Saffron Spot, but didn't see it.