New Filipino restaurant: Pistahan
From the NY Times:
A Serving of Kalderetang, and a Guy to Explain It
Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times
By FLORENCE FABRICANT
Published: April 18, 2007
Pistahan, 229 First Avenue (14th Street), is a friendly newcomer to a part of town that already has a few examples of its Filipino cuisine, a blend of Latino and Southeast Asian. This spot, whose name means festival, has a counter crammed with dishes like kalderetang, beef stewed in brown sauce, and binagoongan, vegetables in a thick sauce. All are sold to go, around $5 a pint, or to eat at a few cafe tables.
The owners, including Rodil Santos, will patiently explain the dishes, but some need no introduction, like lechón, roast pork with a tangy sauce. A separate counter is filled with desserts like flan and cassava cake: (212) 228-9000.
113 Ludlow St, 2nd Fl, New York 10002
Btwn Delancey & Rivington St
(It's more Thai and Filipino tapas style stuff than real Filipino food)
45 Mercer St, New York 10013
Btwn Broome & Grand St
47 7th Ave, New York 10014
Btwn Bleecker & Morton St
214 1st Ave, New York 10009
Btwn 12th & 13th St
171 1st Ave, New York 10003
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346 E 21st St, New York 10010
Btwn 1st & 2nd Ave
There are places in Spanish Harlem that serve Puerto Rican versions of this. Also in the Bronx, and here's one just discovered (South American) in Queens. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/403131 There used to be a little Filipino place in Queens that would provide lechons for catered parties, but it closed.
Visiting Pistahan for lunch yesterday, I was greeted by the owner (seated below right, second picture) and we spoke a bit about Filipino restaurants in the area. Although the NYT review mentioned a counter with prepared dishes, it appears that's been removed and food is now cooked to order.
For some chowfolk, their "reference" Filipino dish might be Pork or Chicken Adobo but, for me, it's Dinuguan (pork blood stew, see third picture), i.e. I think if a restaurant can get it right, then most other dishes should be okay. Pistahan's version is very good-- you can "shred" that pepper to taste and the dish is good for two. The owner explained that it's difficult to please everyone with this dish depending mostly, he says, on the amount of vinegar. That said I've had this dish on most Filipino restaurants (except Bayan Cafe and Cendrillon) and think it's proabably the best version, at least, in Manhattan.
A couple in the table beside me were having Crispy Pata. I asked if I could take a picture before they dug in and they agreed (picture 4).
Thumbs up for Pistahan!
After this meat-heavy weekend, I dragged my office chow-buddy Xianjin to Pistahan for a fish-only lunch today. We had the Inihaw na Bangus (grilled boneless Milkfish with tomatoes) and Inihaw na Tilapia (grilled Tilapia) both wrapped in banana leaves.
The milkfish was excellent but the Tilapia, wow, this was a dish to transport its eater. Buttery fresh, the banana leaf does a great job to keep the flesh from drying out and retains its flavor. Highly recommended!
During the past few months, I've gone back to Pistahan a few times but every time was a disappointment. I've held back writing about this because the first few occasions I dined there, it was always a great experience. By now, I know what makes the restaurant such a letdown. In short-- if Rodil (the owner, see picture above) isn't cooking, fuggedaboudit.
Here's what happened to me twice, with that favorite dish, Tilapia wrapped in banana leaf (and both times Rodil wasn't there): one time the fish came wrapped in cabbage! I looked at the waitress to see if this was some kinda joke, then pointed it out to her. Her reply, sorry, we ran out of banana leaves. I said, "you should've mentioned that before I ordered." She gave a couldn't care less kinda shrug.
A few weeks later, I ordered the same thing-- this time the Tilapia came wrapped with banana leaves but it was wrapped the same way you'd wrap a piece of spam with a slice of bread, in other words, the cook (who was the same from last time and is, I believe, a partner in the restaurant), has absolutely no idea why the fish has to be wrapped completely in the first place. My heart sunk. This was truly low and I must say, it pains me the same way it used to hurt whenever I visited the (now closed) Krystal's in the same street and see Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling all year round. C'mon folks, get your act together. You're not in that shabby carinderia in Paco for Christ's sake. End of rant.
Well almost. Last week I returned yet again to give Pistahan a last chance. Went with a couple lunch buddies, I had "bulalo" (or osso buco, if you will), my buddies had cardboard cut into swordfish shapes. So consider this a goodbye, Pistahan, I had high hopes for you.
And for the record, I am Filipino.