Kaikaina Filipino Cuisine-Watsonville (long)
This is my FIRST lengthy review I’ve submitted to the boards so bear with me. I want to make a disclaimer that this is more of a review of reaction rather than your traditional food review. Oh sure there is a brief review of what we ate but I will mainly discuss our service experience of which truly defines the food and even sets the mood and tone of the overall experience of an allegedly fine dining establishment.
Kakaina Fil Cuisine (located in the Orchard Supply Hardware shopping complex) occupies the ill-fated locations of Romeo’s, Thai Basil and Thai Chili respectively. The owner (by the way dressed in a red t-shirt and jeans as was the servers) of Kakaina strongly boasted his restaurant, and I quote literally, is the “...first and only fine dining establishment serving fine Filipino cuisine.” Now mind you I have eaten my share of great Filipino food, and my conclusion is that Filipino food is extremely generous and filling, home-style cooking that brings a wonderfully exotic and unique meaning to “Mmmm”
This is NOT the case of Kakaina. Upon a Tuesday early evening arrival just before 5:00pm the pleasantly decorated place was a ghost town. A far cry from the two weeks prior where a server informed us the place was packed. The owner, who lords over the front sits glued in front of a large screen TV and laptop; till a customer beckons the doorway. This is when he jumps into action. With the “hyperocity” of a midway carny, he kept emphasizing the place as serving fine Filipino cuisine over and over, even to the point of putting his mantra on a large grand opening banner that adorns the front of the restaurant. He also said that everything is served ala carte and each plate generously serves 2 to 3 people. I hesisted and wanted to further discuss whether I wanted to eat here, but my dining companion was dead set sold by the proprietors claims. When I surrendered to the decision, the owner then “rushed” us into the barren dining room where he brusquely grabbed a couple menu’s and shoved them in front of a server and literally commanded her to not take but, and I quote, “...get our order.”
Wow, I thought. This guy’s pretty crass as well as a huckster. At this point I was feeling “used.” Well here’s the part you’ve all been waiting for - the food. Kakaina has a pretty large yet confusing menu of traditional Filipino food as well as a strange mélange of Spanish, Mexican, and Mediterranean food. It’s almost like it can’t make up which side of the river to be on. The server was actually no help and admitted since she wasn’t Filipino she couldn’t describe anything to us. She did however assure us the food was “homemade”. We opted to strangely start of with an appetizer of calamari fritos ($5.95) that were marble-sized pieces of occasional tender, mostly overcooked, as well as clumps of fried batter all with an after taste of old oil. The traditional dish of Pork Adobo ($9.95) had a pleasant flavored sauce, but noticed that out of the nine small 2” x 1” pieces of tough overcooked pork was half fat. In fairness, while it’s a tradition to cook adobo with the fat intact, and I like my marbling like next person, but this was just plain gross. They could have least doubled the portion to offset the meat-to-fat ratio to make it more worth the price tag. The plate comes with a slice of tomato, two cucumber slices, and a few shreds of grated carrots. I guess this is where the “fine dining” comes into play. A side dish of rice ($1.50) enough for two is the traditional accompaniment to adobo. Now pancit is one of my favorite Filipino dishes, but Kakaina's Pancit Bihon ($6.95) is not one of them. The dish was an overcooked mound of gooey cellophane noodles, vegetables, and petite pieces of chicken and pork. And surprise, there were only three small prawns deftly buried underneath. We had only water and the bill total with tax and tip was $30.00
Now my “Watsonvillan” is going to come out. We like substantial volume as well as value to our meals. Kakaina better drop the “fine cuisine” attitude and go back to the true roots of home-style Filipino cooking. IMHO, a cloth napkin folded in half with a twist doesn’t make for a fine restaurant. Add to that the owner did not ONCE come back into the dining room and ask how the food was. Service was spotty, and when the bill did come, the server never bothered to come back for it. And at 6:00pm, with only four more people to serve, she was hardly under pressure.
When we walked out, the owner actually took time away from his TV to ask nonchalantly how the food tasted. Since I was bothered by the whole dining dismay, my dining companion chimed in unenthusiastically, “... it was....ummm...fine...” The owner then just turned away non-grata back to watching TV. Sheesh, or is that tres sheesh to you!
Kakaina Fil Cuisine
1983 Main Street
** There are NO lunch specials, standard menu applies for both lunch and dinner. Appetizers range from $5.95 to $6.95. Entrees start at $9.95 to $15.95. Small selection of beer and wine.
7:00 - 9:00am Breakfast
10:00am - 2:00pm Lunch
5:00-10:00pm Dinner (till 10:30pm weekends)
Oh I was really hoping someone would try this place and report back, and you did an immensely great job so thank you many times. What a disappointment! I agree Pinoy food is by its nature usually only good if the restaurant's aim is for a home-cooked, cooked with care kind of food. Half-fat pork adobo is not cooked with care, nor is goooey pancit bihon. And combine that with the not just rude but weird service! It's too bad they have completely missed the mark in making this "fine dining pinoy". Besides I don't know how the owner could think any of those dishes serves 2-3 people. Maybe only if the people were having a very light merienda.
As far as I know, NO. At least not a substantial one like the Mexican or Japanese community.
There is this little store on one of the main drags (I think it's Lake), has two letters in the name like L & H, something like that. It's a tiny, cramped market w/ some Asian goods and a steam counter that's small w/ maybe 5 or 6 Filipino food choices. I went over a year ago to check it out, but wasn't that excited about it so didn't buy anything. The food didn't look all that fresh and seemed to mimic Chinese take-out. I believe the owners were Filipino though...
Thanks to homeboy3 for being a chowpioneer on this one and writing such a fine report. Sort of breaks my heart since we could use a good ethnic restaurant and something different than the Mexican places in Watsonville. Sounds like they are desperate for business, so I hope they can get their act together.