Balangay restaurant evaluate: Bold Philippine cooking in a pop-up5 min read
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Regardless of the motivation, Villarias’s ancestor and the remainder of the crew stumbled on a pristine shoreline, the northeastern coast of Palawan, a protracted, slender strip of land that appears prefer it’s attempting to flee the remainder of the Philippine archipelago. The realm had every thing the lads desired: low-lying tracts, excellent for rising rice, coconuts and different crops; plentiful marine life for fishing; and virgin forests for wooden. The lads finally settled the land and referred to as it residence. In 1951, their burgeoning group could be formally acknowledged because the municipality of Roxas, Villarias’s hometown.
On his cellphone, Villarias, 36, has a photograph of the decision that established a everlasting marker devoted to the pioneers who “displayed their selfless dedication, perseverance and diligence” in making Roxas what it’s immediately. He despatched me a replica. The primary of the “seven courageous males” talked about within the doc is his great-grandfather: Benito Cardejon.
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When he began his personal journey, a pop-up restaurant inside Bullfrog Bagels on H Road NE in Washington, Villarias named it Balangay, for the kind of boat that his great-grandfather used to navigate the tough seas between Cagayancillo and Roxas. The chef had by no means met Cardejon, however the elder was, in keeping with one official supply, a ship maker by commerce. Cardejon would have used the out there assets — perhaps the exhausting wooden of a doongon or barayong tree, which craftsmen lower underneath moonlit skies — to construct seaworthy vessels that might carry items between islands. And even open up new worlds.
The symbolic, if not literal, connections between Cardejon and his great-grandson usually are not troublesome to see: As a chef, Villarias additionally works together with his arms. He makes use of the out there assets — the components sourced for his kitchen — to construct dishes that carry the flavors, the reminiscences and the historical past of the Philippines straight to American diners. They’re additionally dishes that, based mostly on my tastings, will take him locations. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that Villarias’s nickname is “Wing,” as if he had been predestined to take flight.
Balangay remains to be a piece in progress, as each pop-up is, however even in its stumbling youth, you’ll be able to see the place Villarias’s restaurant may discover itself in the future on the continuum of Philippine cooking within the District, slotted someplace nearer to the chef-driven finesse of Dangerous Saint than to the artful comforts of the Recreation. There may be ambition to the chef’s cooking, the sort of fearless ambition that the poet Robert Browning as soon as advocated, wherein your attain all the time stays tantalizingly past your grasp. You may inform that Villarias has educated in some disciplined kitchens. These embody Maketto underneath Erik Bruner-Yang and the now-closed Bibiana, as soon as a part of Ashok Bajaj’s constellation of eating places.
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Villarias’s bistek Tagalog is an efficient place to start out. He takes the island commonplace, mainly a Philippine tackle steak and onions, and stretches it nearly past recognition. His slab of fork-tender brief rib is paired with caramelized pearl onions, pickled crimson chiles and a soy-coconut discount, the latter a sauce that leans into candy, milky flavors extracted from these dry drupes so prevalent round his hometown. The dish eats like a Philippine reconsideration of beef Bourguignon.
The hen inasal is one thing particular, too, although it’s saucier than those chances are you’ll be conversant in: you realize, a marinated fowl whose canary-yellow pores and skin has been branded with the grates of a scorching grill. Villarias’s gravy — a chunky combination of coconut milk, garlic, lemongrass and extra — turns this Philippine grilled hen right into a smothered one. The fried hen wings, virtually caramelized with adobo sauce and garnished with fried garlic and onions, are dressed up pub meals, camera-ready for the promenade.
Villarias takes an enlightened method to menu growth. Practically half the dishes are what the chef calls “vegan pleasant” and what I name scrumptious underneath any identify. The plate merely known as “inexperienced beans” is ridiculously undersold: It’s an umami-rich mixture of greens, some fried, some glazed and one able to detonate upon contact. The puso ng saging, a reputation that interprets into “coronary heart of a banana,” is a plate of sauteed banana blossoms, roasted king mushrooms, soy-glazed tofu and extra, all lounging in a aromatic coconut milk discount, as soon as colourful and ominous. The dish seems to be a surprisingly “meaty” preparation, slightly candy and slightly savory.
One night through the Fourth of July weekend, a buddy and I sat at a two-top by the entrance home windows at Bullfrog, seemingly the primary clients of the evening for Balangay. It was almost 8 p.m. on Saturday. The bartender and a server had been singing alongside to T.I. and Woman Gaga on the sound system, joyful of their work. The kitchen, in the meantime, was lacking some beats. My kinilaw, a salmon and mango ceviche, became a fruit salad when it arrived with out the fish. My buddy’s tofu inasal was lacking at the very least a few garnishes, together with its toasted cashews, depriving the dish of its counterbalance of crunch.
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I ought to level out that Villarias had taken day without work that vacation weekend, which signifies simply how necessary his presence is to Balangay’s success — and, maybe, how he nonetheless must develop into the coaching and administration aspect of operating a kitchen. But Villarias might not have a lot time to tighten his methods, at the very least as a pop-up at Bullfrog Bagels.
Jeremiah Cohen, the founding father of Bullfrog, tells me that whereas he’s loved internet hosting Balangay and sees no motive to finish the pop-up, the way forward for this relationship is out of his arms. The proprietor of the constructing, Cohen says, is planning to renovate it quickly. Development might start in six months. Or 9 months. And even later. The timetable isn’t but clear.
What’s clear, nonetheless, is that Villarias has intelligent concepts and the chops to tug them off. He shouldn’t discover himself adrift now that he has charted a course for Balangay, one which guarantees loads of good issues.
1341 H St. NE, inside Bullfrog Bagels; balangaydc.com.
Hours: 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Nearest Metro: Union Station, with a couple of 1-mile journey to the pop-up.
Costs: $8 to $26 for all gadgets on the menu.