Thursday, February 19, 2004
When my Filipino co-worker Marlene told me that she eats lunch at least once a week at the newly opened Lola’s Kusina, I knew I would have to try it.
The restaurant’s hot table with 20 steaming entrees appears daunting at first, but the chef quickly explains the various delicacies. Choosing among Lola’s many offerings is a first-class problem.
Owner Brian Folkner, whose Filipino wife Marissa introduced him to the cuisine, says they make all their dishes fresh every day at 11am, with new batches cooked up every two hours after that. We chose the two-item combination plate ($4.69), which comes with either rice or pancit, Filipino rice noodles. My husband Laurent ordered coconut juice ($1), and I had a chocolate energy drink called Milo (75 cents). Our daughter ordered a la carte: two lumpia, or Filipino egg rolls (60 cents each) and one entrée with rice ($1.99). We used the Filipino “turo-turo” method, loosely translated as “point-point,” to order our food.
My two entrees were salted pork cooked with shrimp paste and kare-kare, beef and tripe in a peanut butter sauce. The shrimp paste called bagoong, made from salted and fermented shrimp, gave my pork a sweetish taste. I almost thought the dish contained coconut milk due to the salty/sweet flavor, but it is actually made by sautéing garlic, onion, tomatoes, and pork. Water gets added to this and is allowed to simmer. The bagoong goes in at the end of the cooking process. This dish made me feel I was eating on a tropical island like the ones in the large photos that decorate the sparkling clean restaurant.
I liked the kare-kare a little less, but that is because I did not know how to season it. I was expecting the peanut sauce to be hot and spicy like Thai peanut sauces. I had forgotten that Filipino food, unlike its Southeast Asian cousins, features mild flavors. A quick look in Reynaldo Alejandro’s The Philippine Cookbook reveals that diners usually add bagoong to this dish at the table. That would no doubt add a sweet, salty tang to the spongy tripe and beef served over green beans and boiled eggplant.
My husband and daughter both selected adobo, the national dish of the Philippines. Adobo refers to a method of cooking with soy sauce, white vinegar, garlic, and peppercorns. The vinegar mellows as it cooks and helps preserve food in a tropical climate. The chicken and ingredients boil together, but then the chicken is usually broiled while the sauce gets reduced before being added back to the chicken. In Lola’s version of this dish there remains a slight tang of vinegar along with a sweet taste, which makes me suspect that some sugar goes into the preparation.
Diners skeptical about trying Filipino food would probably like the mechado, or beef stew, that Laurent ordered as his second entree. Basically this is boiled beef with tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes that have been cooked with soy sauce and seasoned with garlic. There’s just enough salt in the dish to bring out the full flavors of the meat and vegetables.
Those new to Filipino cuisine would probably like the pancit (rice noodles) that Laurent chose instead of rice to accompany his order. Boiled pork gets simmered with the noodles, along with shrimp, scallions, and whatever vegetable the chef might like to add that day. The savory, slick noodles are like an entrée by themselves.
Our daughter’s long, thin lumpia egg rolls came stuffed with ground beef, carrots, corn, and peas. Since my daughter does not care for these vegetables, she did not like the lumpia even though she ate them to be polite. Folkner suggested that on her next visit she try the Shanghai lumpia ($1.50 each) made with ground pork, as these contain no vegetables that a child might dislike.
Our daughter liked the homemade leche flan ($2.50) better than her veggies. Lola’s thick flan is homemade and exudes a delicious juice that tempts you to ask for a spoon to get every last drop. Laurent ordered this as well and declared it too rich to eat at one sitting. It went into a take-home container for midnight snacking.
I ordered maja blanca ($2.50), which does not appear on the menu. It certainly pays to ask, “What desserts do you have today?” in a place like Lola’s where things are being freshly made throughout the day. Lola’s version of maja blanca turned out to be a thick, coconut pudding cake made with sweet corn. The corn gave the dessert texture. I thought that putting veggies in pudding form might get our daughter to eat some of them. This was another dessert that got taken home for midnight snacking.
Lola’s features a special “seafood day” on Fridays, but Folkner is quick to point out that the restaurant serves seafood daily. Seniors receive a 10 percent discount on their food every day. That’s a nice gesture, but a visit to Lola’s will hardly break your piggy bank; the three of us ate for $25.
Such a deal. Such a meal.
265-J Reservation Rd., Marina
Open daily 11am-8pm; Fri-Sat until 9pm; Sun until 7pm.