Our party of 14 had a delightful evening plowing through Tito Rad’s menu of tasty Filipino food. One of these years Filipino cooking may take its rightful place in the pantheon of widely-admired Asian cuisines. Tito Rad’s makes an auspicious start in that direction. Filipino food is on the hearty side, not especially cosmetic in appearance or arrangement, but almost everything is a flavor explosion.
We started with three appetizers: Sizzling Sisig (diced pork belly marinated and grilled), Lumpaing Shanghai (spring rolls with vegetables, pork, and shrimp), and Fresh Lumpia (flour tortillas filled with chicken and vegetables in peanut sauce). These all were delectable and disappeared in a flash.
The first main dish was Humba, a braised upper shank of pork served on the bone, in a sweet sauce balanced by vinegar, seasoned black beans, star anise, and a light touch of chili peppers. It was tender and tasty although the seasonings somewhat overpowered the meat flavor. Reaching out to the extremities of the animal, the food got even more rewarding. Crispy Pata is made from a small whole leg (usually the front leg) of a very young pig, simmered until tender and then fried until crispy. It runs from the lower shoulder to the foot (they cut the toes). All of which, at up to 3-5 lbs., is too large for a single serving, so a restaurant will serve you some part of this. It is served with a soy-garlic-vinegar dip. Fortunately, it is blessed with a stupendous amount of nourishing cholesterol, making it irresistible. Tito Rad’s was as good as I’ve found anywhere. Expanding on this theme, Lechon Kawali (fried pork belly) was very, very flavorful and similarly nutritious.
Chicken Curry came in a mild curry and coconut-milk sauce and was delicious. Manok Sa Gata, chicken cooked in coconut milk and ginger was good. Tito Rad’s knew how to grill a fish perfectly, well-browned on the outside but not overcooked inside. Escabeche was a delicious lighter dish, with sweet and sour tilapia fillet, red & green bell peppers, and ginger. Because many of the vegetable items on the menu included meat or fish, we asked for a vegetarian dish of mixed vegetables. Out came a nice mix of green beans, eggplant, okra, squash, and bell peppers. At this point someone went back to the appetizer menu and ordered Bean Sprout Fritters, battered and fried with shrimp and vegetables and served with a vinegar-garlic dip. It disappeared so fast, it seemed to vaporize before our eyes.
The most amazing flavor was found in Palabok, a noodle dish topped by a sauce described as small shrimps, bacon, crushed pork rinds, and hard-boiled eggs. I’m guessing that tiny dried shrimps, fermented shrimp paste, smoked fish flakes, and fish sauce, might have been among the other ingredients. All the elements were used with a light touch, making the flavor seem satisfyingly mysterious, but not overly assertive.
Dessert for most of us was Leche Flan, far sweeter than it needed to be.
The setting at Tito Rad’s is simple, with no luxury or artifice; it is a basic working-class restaurant with plain formica tables covered with white butcher paper. They do provide cloth napkins. Prices for the mains are mostly $8-$9. They do not sell alcohol. Our dinner check for 14 persons including a 20% tip was $229, or $16.36 per person. Service was very friendly and helpful but sometimes spotty -- refilling water glasses was not attended to. Our enthusiasm kept growing as the evening progressed and we were delighted by the range of flavors. It was like being in a home kitchen.
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