Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Finding Filipino: Sunburst Grill

A decade ago—while still in undergrad—I was dating a man who introduced me to the glories of Filipino food. Suddenly, there was crispy pata, kare kare, and dinuguan; chicken adobo and lechon; spaghetti made with banana ketchup, hot dogs, and cheese. These were dishes I'd never tried before, or even heard of. I loved the mix of Spanish and Chinese influences in the cuisine, and whenever I had the good fortune to attend one of RO's family gatherings, I happily filled my plate from steam tray after steam tray of Filipino home cooking.
Now those days are gone, but luckily Filipino food isn't. Near ES's house is Sunburst Grill, a tiny restaurant featuring nearly all of the dishes I so fondly remembered. During lunch a few months ago, we started off immediately with an order of the lumpiang Shanghai, umami-rich, cigar-shaped eggrolls filled with a mixture of pork and shrimp.
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I was curious about the dish of taro leaves and pork stewed in coconut milk from the first time I visited, especially since Sunburst Grill had sold out of it that day. This time, I managed to secure myself a plate, but the musty flavor of the taro leaves took some getting used to and I wasn't sure that chasing down this dish had actually been a successful move. Better was the breakfast, mine featuring three plump links of pork longanisa, a sweet grilled sausage that has always tasted to me like a fresh version of Chinese sausage. The plate came with two fried eggs, a bit of pickled papaya, and a mound of ketchupy, pork-studded java rice.
ES had a bowl of their chicken and noodle soup, a version thankfully nothing like those wan American versions plagued by mushy pasta and pallid meat. No, this featured dark-meat chicken and springy noodles floating in a salty broth imbued with fried shallots and scallions; after one spoonful, I ladled myself a small bowl so that I could keep on enjoying its flavor. In the end, Sunburst Grill's dishes may not be home cooking, but they sure come close.

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