D.C.’s hottest eth­nic food trend has din­ers lin­ing up to dig in.

Where Washington - - CONTENTS - By Amy Ali­pio

D.C.’s hottest eth­nic food trend has din­ers lin­ing up to dig in.

THE WORD SPREAD QUICKLY through the foodie grapevine: Bad Saint—a snug 24-seat restau­rant in D.C.’s Columbia Heights neigh­bor­hood—was very, very good. But it didn’t take reser­va­tions. The line out­side started form­ing at 4:30 p.m., an hour be­fore the place opened for din­ner. That still didn’t guar­an­tee get­ting a seat. Then Bon Ap­petit named Bad Saint the #2 Best New Restau­rant in the U. S. for 2016. Now, get­ting in re­quires an epic wait and the kind of lo­gis­ti­cal plan­ning wor­thy of Navy SEAL Team Six.

So what are the dishes send­ing Bad Saint fans to foodie heaven? Try sini­gang stew, pancit noo­dles, chicken adobo and ukoy frit­ters—mouth-wa­ter­ers you might not have heard of, un­less you’re a Filipino.

Fol­low that sa­vory aroma of fried gar­lic, and it’ll lead you to other D.C.-area restau­rants mak­ing their mark with Filipino fare. Think Pur­ple Patch, in Mount Pleas­ant; Bistro 7107, in Ar­ling­ton; and Tim­pla, a popup sup­per club. Filipino dishes also ap­pear on not- ex­clu­sively-Filipino menus at such places as TenPenh Tysons and Cathal Arm­strong’s forth­com­ing Kaliwa in South­west.

“It’s such an ex­cit­ing time for the Filipino food scene in D.C., mainly be­cause peo­ple are so much more sup­port­ive and will­ing to taste our food,” says Rita Ca­cas, who or­ga­nized a Philip­pine food sym­po­sium at the coun­try’s em­bassy last fall.

“We grew up with only a hand­ful of cafe­te­ria-style ‘ turo-turo’ shops, and even fewer full-ser­vice Filipino restau­rants,” says Ka­t­rina Villav­i­cen­cio, a co-founder of Tim­pla sup­per club. One of these early pi­o­neers was the now- closed, white-linen Manila Restau­rant, lo­cated in Ge­orge­town, where for­mer Philip­pine First Lady Imelda Mar­cos sang at a 1991 pri­vate din­ner hosted in her honor. “Pre­vi­ous generations paved the way. New generations are will­ing to take big­ger risks,” says Villav­i­cen­cio.

Started by four Filipino-Amer­i­can mil­len­ni­als who met at a fam­ily party, Tim­pla din­ners take place in lo­ca­tions through­out D.C. The in­ti­mate gath­er­ings of about 10 to 15 peo­ple fea­ture a five- course menu of Filipino dishes up­dated with con­tem­po­rary tech­niques. At one re­cent din­ner, Tim­pla chefs trans­formed ba­lut— the in­fa­mous street food con­sist­ing of a nearly fully de­vel­oped duck em­bryo boiled and served in its shell—into the more palat­able-sounding “potato es­puma cooked in duck stock and topped with crispy duck skin.”

“Our din­ners re­veal what D.C. is like, be­cause they take place in houses through­out the city and are hosted by lo­cals,” says Villav­i­cen­cio. “You’ll get a peek into the un­der­ground din­ing scene and be in the com­pany of res­i­dents of all dif­fer­ent back­grounds, oc­cu­pa­tions and in­ter­ests.”

Pur­ple Patch is less un­der­ground than Tim­pla and ac­com­mo­dates more din­ers than Bad Saint. Co- owner Pa­trice Cleary grew up in Mas­sachusetts learn­ing how to cook Filipino dishes from her mother. When Cleary opened her restau­rant in 2015, her mom’s home cook­ing served as inspiration. Cus­tomer fa­vorites in­clude Mama Alice’s lumpia (fried spring rolls) and sisig (mar­i­nated pork belly and shoul­der served on a siz­zling plat­ter with bird’s eye chili, onion and a raw egg).

“Our food rep­re­sents his­tory and cul­ture that has been shared through generations. What we are able to do now is show­case more of our cui­sine, which maybe we were more ap­pre­hen­sive about when we first started,” Cleary says.

Re­al­tor Manny Ta­gle also wanted to fea­ture tra­di­tional Filipino fare in an up­scale way when he opened Crys­tal City’s Bistro 7107—named af­ter the num­ber of is­lands that make up the Philip­pines—in 2013. Serv­ing Philip­pine fla­vors “with a twist,” the bistro fea­tures dishes such as crispy pata (pork leg), kare kare (ox­tail in a peanut sauce) and pancit (a rice noo­dle dish).

How do D.C.’s Filipino restau­rants com­pare with those in other U. S. cities? “It’s about on par with New York and the West Coast,” says James Beard Award-win­ning food writer Todd Kli­man, “al­though Bad Saint may be the best of the bunch.”

Whether Filipino food is a flash in the pan or a lasting ad­di­tion to the city’s restau­rant land­scape re­mains to be seen. But Pur­ple Patch’s Cleary has no doubt: “We are def­i­nitely here to stay.”

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