Meditations

Fine Filipino Fare…Finally


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Ask someone what Filipino cuisine is and you’re as likely to get a blank stare as the easy answer of “adobo” (the national dish of the Philippines). But the last time I ate real Filipino food I enjoyed pig’s blood stew and a seafood dish with a black squid ink sauce. Perhaps not well suited for the squeamish diner, but truly inspired if you’re on the hunt for bold, balanced flavours – especially if you enjoy meat. And it’s no secret that I enjoy meat!

There is a large Filipino community in Vancouver, but it has long bothered me that there are so few Filipino restaurants – especially considering how many fine Asian restaurants there are in Vancouver. Sure, there’s Josephine’s on Main, Pin Pin on Fraser, Galing Galing on Broadway and a few markets and small diners along Fraser, but no real sit down restaurants worthy of mention. At least none that I was aware of – until now.

Rekados, which means ingredients in Tagalog, is tucked in a quirky little strip mall on Main Street just north of King Edward and stands out in this neighbourhood filled with good eats. Being a rather regular visitor to the area, I watched with interest as the location was renovated – especially when I noticed the signs on the door claiming it was the future home of a Filipino fine dining restaurant.

Often the best “ethnic” food is found in slightly sketchy mom & pop joints with little ambiance and virtually no flair at all. So when a new Asian restaurant opens with modern interior design complete with dark bamboo tables, leather chairs and wonderful lighting, you can imagine my suspicion. Owned by husband and wife team Charlie and Pinky Dizon and their partner Larry Elima, Rekados is the real deal: a warm, comfortable, contemporary sit down restaurant with authentic and delicious Filipino food.

For appetizers we tried the “Lumpia Shanghai” spring rolls, which Andrea eyed suspiciously as she described the way her mom prepared the traditional dish. This deep fried version had many of the same classic ingredients such as shredded pork, shitake mushrooms, celery, carrots and sweet chili-plum sauce and was a wonderful start to the meal.

After tearing through Filipino steamed pork buns called “Siopao Asado”, we were surprised and delighted by a steaming plate of pig’s ear called “Sizzling Sisig”. I can’t find the words to describe the flavour expect savoury, chewy and spicy. Apparently this dish is a delicacy in the Philippines and the finely chopped pig’s ear is cooked three times before being tossed with scallions, sweet red onions, hot chilies and soy sauce. You must try this dish.

When asked, our friendly waiter suggested we try his favourite dish, a Filipino style beef short rib. And he was right – this is a special beef rib. Marinated in honey, calamansi, garlic and soy, these have been grilled and served with a dipping sauce that compliments the slightly charred meat.

Of course we had to order the “Adobe Special”, but the plate presented to us was not the version we were used to. It was better! The boneless chicken and pork had been marinated and grilled before being braised slowly in soy sauce, garlic, green chili and then laced with an unexpected ingredient – coconut milk. The coconut milk brought the rich sauce together in a way that added a slightly sweet complexity to what is normally a simple, if not salty, sauce. It was absolutely killer over steamed rice.

Our final dish was “Bulalo Hot Pot” simmered slowly over an open flame at our table. The delicate broth was gently flavoured with vinegar and had generous portions of stewed beef shank and tendons snuggled alongside leeks, bokchoy and cabbage. This is the kind of fare that warms your bones on a chilly winter day.

The drink list at Rekados is tons of fun and jam packed with Filipino inspired flavours, both in refreshing non-alcoholic slush drinks and a martini list that rivals some high end bars. I completely enjoyed my slush drink made with the tiny Phillipine citrus fruit calamansi and honey.

There’s something distinctly posh about the presentations that matches Rekados’ modern decor. This is arguably not the most accurate re-creation of dining in Manilla or Cebu, but it will certainly appeal to the rather spoiled Vancouver restaurant crowd. And the prices won’t offend either. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Rekados is good value. Four of us ate until we were comfortably full for a whopping $60 (sans alcohol or dessert). You tell me where else you can find this calibre of food for $15 a head?

Rekados is a fun place for a dining adventure. The restaurant is comfortable, the food is excellent and the service is classic Filipino – friendly and helpful. Now if they’d only add some pork blood stew and squid ink sauces to the menu, they’d have it all.

Rekados is located 4063 Main Street in Vancouver; (604) 873-3133, www.rekados.com

UPDATE: Rekado’s has closed.

Rekados on Urbanspoon

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