REVIEW w/ pics: Softer Flavors and Prettier Filipino Food at Jeepney Asian Grill
Last year, I went to my first and so far, only tweatup with Filipino twitterers who I only knew before via scrolling text on my screen. Of course, what better way to break bread than over a late lunch at a Filipino restaurant called Jeepney Asian Grill in Cerritos. Jeepney, by the way, refers to the very colorfully painted modes of public transportation that you'd see in the Philippines. Basically, jeepneys are like buses with a lot of bling. See example below.
At this late lunch, I met up with @Limer35 on his own, @carolineadobo, @malou_nievera and @nerissas with their families as well as a couple of other Filipino food lovers who are Chowhounders, but are not into the whole social media scene. We started off with a round of Filipino beverages with me opting for a Calamansi drink. Calamansi is a small kumquat-shaped fruit with flesh that is sour but with a peel that's a little sweet. It's a citrus that's used in Filipino cooking as well as a condiment for Filipino dishes. Sometimes calamansi drinks can have a little too much sugar to counteract the fruit's tartness, but this one had a nice balance of sweet and sour.
After drinks came appetizers. Of course, everyone is familiar with lumpia which are eggrolls filled with ground pork and vegetables served with sweet chili sauce. The lumpia had a nice golden crispness to its wrapper and the filling was tasty.
Our second appetizer was Okoy. Interestingly enough, the first time I ever had Okoy was at the soft opening of Jeepney Asian Grill that I went to around February 2009. I enjoyed it then and I enjoyed it again a year later. Okoy are basically shrimp and vegetables fried together and at Jeepney Asian Grill, they were served with a special ginger-garlic sauce.
Soon main entrees started hitting our table with the first one being Stir Fried Pancit Canton which were sauteed egg noodles topped with vegetables and crispy pork. One interesting thing about Jeepney Asian Grill to me is how they add crispy pork to dishes that in my experience doesn't usually have that as an ingredient. When my Mom makes this dish, the pork is stir-fried with the vegetables and noodles and not deep-fried. Considering that I'm more of a rice noodle person myself, this pancit canton was fine, although I just picked at the pork more than anything else.
Afterwards came the Pansit Luglug made of rice noodles, topped with shrimp, eggs, napa cabbage in a special shrimp sauce, sprinkled with crunchy chicharron (crispy pig skin). I was a little thrown at first by this noodle dish. It had all the same ingredients of a dish that I know of as Pansit Palabok, so I didn't understand the name change. Later on, I found out that the difference is that the Pansit Luglug uses a thicker rice noodle, almost like the noodles used in udon soup. I think the flavors were all there although the shrimp sauce could have been stronger in taste, and I also didn't care for that thicker rice noodle. Pansis Palabok all the way for me.
Next came the Sinigang Soup, which is a sour soup with a broth that is usually tamarind-based. Ingredients included spinach, tomato, onions, eggplant, shrimp and salmon. This is was the first time I had Sinigang with peppers, so it had a nice heat to it that I really enjoyed. By the way, if you'd like to learn more about Sinigang, click the link below:
While we were enjoying the Sinigang, two sizzling plates came out. I've definitely had my share of firsts at Jeepney Asian Grills so far and more arrived in the shape of a Sizzling Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce) and Paolo's Sizzling Beef Steak aka Bistek (beef with onions cooked in 100% olive oil). I've never seen either the Adobo or Bistek served this way before. When I asked about both these dishes, I was told that they just wanted to do something fun and different as opposed to how they are usually traditionally served. I think the Adobo was more successful than the Bistek, which I thought was too greasy.
Both chicken satay and pork barbecue skewers came our way next. The chicken satay was forgettable, but the pork barbecue skewers were pretty good and had a nice char and caramelization to the meat. Oh, why the satay? Confusingly, they also had some Thai dishes on the menu.
Seafood came in the form of Boneless Baby Bangus which is milkfish marinated in garlic, vinegar and spices. and served with 2 eggs and garlic rice. The fish had a pretty presentation to it that I've never seen before when it came to bangus. This particular dish is actually more like a Filipino breakfast and would be referred to as Bangsilog.
When it comes to Filipino Breakfast, it's all about the silog. Basically, a silog is a combination of garlic-fried rice ("sinangag"), and fried egg ("itlog") plus your choice of a sweet or salty meat, all on one plate. The names of the breakfast dishes themselves are determined by which protein you pick for your silog plate. The Bangsilog is so named because Bang represents Bangus, which is the name of the fish. As for this Bangsilog dish, although there wasn't enough garlic in the rice, this is one dish I could have eaten morning, noon or night.
Still 4 more savory dishes to go and next was the Pinakbet which was a blend of vegetables (long beans, okra, eggplant and squash) sauteed in shrimp paste, topped with lechon kawali (crispy pork). Again with the crispy pork. Not that I minded, but this is the first time I've had Pinakbet with crispy pork. Although the vegetables tasted fresh and still had a nice crispness to them, I was disappointed in the sauce. It didn't have enough of that shrimp paste flavor that I look for in Pinakbet.
Another first for me was the Tilapia with Aligue which were tilapia filets topped with a thick sauce of crab paste (aligue) in tomatoes and onions served with rice. By first,I'm referring to the Aligue. I never even heard of it and when I asked what it was exactly, all the answer I really got was that it was a crab paste. Anyway, with a little research, I found out that aligue is a Fatty Preserved Crab Roe from an article on the Serious Eats blog (http://www.seriouseats.com/2008/04/gr...)
Quoting the article, "Tiny, freshwater crabs—each barely two inches across—are soused with water, sprinkled with Kosher salt, and stuck live in the fridge. Hours later, they’re skillfully pressed and prodded to extract a grainy, coral paste." As for how it tasted, it had a oceany-pungent flavor to it that I enjoyed especially when eaten with the mildly tasting Tilapia and a spoonful of rice at the same time. It's not something I could necessarily eat a lot of because a little goes a long way, but I enjoyed what I did have.
Second to last before desserts was the Kare Kare. Kare Kare is oxtail and tripe in peanut sauce with steamed vegetables (bok choy, eggplant, long beans) served with bagoong (shrimp paste) and rice. This is the kind of dish that no matter how many restaurants I've tried it at, my Mom's version will always be the best. Having said that, Jeepney Asian Grill's version was still very good.
The last savory dish was the Adobo Flakes which were shredded and fried pork adobo served with eggs and garlic rice. This was only my second time having this same kind dish. My first experience of it was at Gerry's Grill, a Filipino restaurant down the street from Jeepney, although it was called Adobo Shreds at Gerry's. Just like at Gerry's, the Adobo Flakes were chewy and reminded me of jerky and it was still something I liked.
Now it's time for dessert. One thing that makes Jeepney Asian Grill stand out from other Filipino restaurants is that they serve gelato from a Filipino company called Cara Mia Gelateria and of course, some of the flavors are Filipino-inspired. While they had mainstream flavors like vanilla, chocolate, mocha and strawberry, their arsenal also included Ube (purple yam), Mais Con Queso (cheese with corn), Buco (young coconut), Sans Rival (meringue with cashew nuts) and Mango. All the ice creams had a nice creamy texture to them and I'd go in just for a scoop of the Mais Con Queso.
Our last dessert was the Banana Tempura with Vanilla Ice Cream which are basically banana fritters drizzled with butterscotch sauce. If you come into Jeepney Asian Grill, you definitely have to order these bananas. They were so addicting. I was hard-pressed to share.
As a treat, @carolineadobo who is also the blogger/creator for When Adobo Met Feijoada brought us each a box of polverone, a Filipino milk candy, in flavors I've never had before. They included Green Tea, Ube, Strawberry and Blueberry along with a couple of traditional ones. They were definitely delicious.
To end, based on a couple of meals at Jeepney Asian Grill, I wouldn't consider it a place that serves home-style Filipino food like you'd find at Magic Wok. That's evident when it came to the Sizzling Adobo and Sizzling Bistek that I talked about earlier. There's also more care into the food presentation than I've seen at other Filipino restaurants in the past like with the arched shape of the bangus or the Adobo Flakes that were put inside a pastry "bowl." I also noticed that some of the flavors were toned down a bit like with the Pinakbet and the Pansis Luglug.
Is it bad that Jeepney Asian Grill takes a softer and prettier approach to Filipino food? For some, the answer is Yes, but for me, I think Jeepney Asian Grill is a good gateway for the Filipino food novice. It's like an introduction to a new person. After a few times hanging out with them, you might want to get to know that person and may even consider them a friend one day. So you try a few dishes and if you find yourself liking them, you may be curious enough to try more traditionally cooked dishes. While Jeepney Asian Grill didn't remind me of my Mom's cooking, I still enjoyed most of the food and I wouldn't turn down an invitation to go back. And even better? I was able to meet face to face with other Filipinos who were also food lovers. How cool is that?
Jeepney Asian Grill
11900 S St, Ste 101
Cerritos, CA 90703
Jeepney Asian Grill
11900 South St Ste 119, Cerritos, CA 90703
Years ago, there was a place on 6th street, in the shadow of the Ambassador Hotel (RIP), called Jeepney Grill. It was a Jonathan Gold pick, featured in his Counter Intelligence book. Anyway, it was Filpino BBQ, mostly various meat on skewers. Delicious and affordable. Sadly, it went out of business probably about 10 years ago. Do you know (or does anyone else) whether this place in Cerritos is related? Just a similar concept?