Mama Rosa

836 Middle River Rd
Baltimore, MD  21220
Mama Rosa Rotisserie on Urbanspoon

It was Mother's Day weekend this past weekend along with what seemed like a million (okay three) girls' lacrosse games that my nieces played in.  My mom wanted to go eat at a Filipino restaurant for Mother's Day and my oldest niece happened to have a game up in the Fallston area on Saturday which is only a short hop from Middle River and Mama Rosa (officially Mama Rosa Rotisserie & Grill) which was recommended to us by a family friend who also used to work there.

Filipino food is tough for me to write about and evaluate for two reasons.  The first is that I've always thought Filipino food to be very subjective in flavors and the flavors you're always looking for are the ones you grew up with.  In other words, no one beats mom's cooking.  I've never tasted the same Filipino dish twice and found them to be identical in flavor.  The second reason is that I don't really know what any of these dishes are called since growing up they were just identified based on their protein or it was said in tagalog which I've since forgotten.  The latter problem is easily solved with Google and I can only preface the rest of this review with my first reason.  So, consider that your grain of salt.

The first thing I should tell you about Filipino food is that it's not for the faint of heart.  There's a lot of fatty meats and bold, savory flavors.  There isn't a ton of spiciness but there's a boatload of comfort and warmth. Mama Rosa had several individual dishes on their menu board (oh did I mention it was fast food-ish in the way you point at stuff behind a glass and they'll give you a bowl of it) including some sizzling plates but since there were eight of us, we ordered a bunch of things in bulk and ate them family style.  One of the things I want to come back for are the breakfast dishes which looked just like the regular dishes but with a fried egg on top.  If you've never had a fried egg on top of white rice (which is essential in every Filipino meal) then you need to go out right now and try it.

Since it was a rotisserie and grill we started off with some lechon kalawi and lechon manok.  Lechon kalawi are strips of pork belly with the skin fried crispy and the meat and fat dripping with juices.  This version was deep fried in a fryer which made the skin particularly crispy.   I did like the additional crispiness to the skin but I prefer my lechon kalawi a bit more juicy and fatty which was muted when you cook it in the fryer.  When you do try the lechon kalawi make sure you use the dipping sauce made from garlic, liver paste, soy and pepper.  It's like richness on top of fat on top of richness.  The lechon manok is chicken similar to what you would find in a Peruvian chicken joint.  It's slow cooked in the rotisserie for hours and rubbed with some garlic and butter.  The chicken at Mama Rosa's evoked memories of the chicken you'd find sold on the roadsides in the Filipino countryside.  The skin on the chicken was crispy and the meat was moist and juicy.  

For the rest of our main dishes, we also ordered plates of pancit malabon, chicken adobo, dinuguan, chayote with chicken strips and a heaping plate of steamed white rice.  I'll start with the dinuguan also know as blood stew, pork blood stew in this case.  Well...then...that's about all I have to write about it.  I tasted it once when I was very young and I've never had it again.    Chicken adobo is chicken marinated in garlic, vinegar, soy sauce and peppercorns and then cooked down so the marinate becomes a rich sauce which provides a rich, tangy and tart flavor.  This one included some red peppers and I would have preferred a more pronounced garlic flavor.  The chayote was thrown in for free, which was so nice of them, and I had never had it before but the description of chayote's being a pear squash is both apt in appearance and flavor.  Pancit malabon are thick rice noodles with boiled egg slices, shrimp, and seasoned with annatto, fish sauce, soy sauce and shrimp sauce and I'm pretty this version included some kalamansi squeezed over it.  Pancit malabon has this sweet acidic tartness that hints of lemon/lime (from the kalamansi) and sweetness from the annatto and shrimp.  It has a little bit of an off-putting almost powdery texture that seems to come from the eggs and noodles.

For desserts, we shared in some puto and halo halo.  Puto is a sticky rice cake that's heavily sugared.  It has a nice chew texture and are shaped into small petite cakes that kind of resemble a little cornbread muffin.  I could probably eat about a dozen at a time.  Halo Halo is shaved ice packed with a ton of fruit juices, coconut shavings, evaporated milk and topped with ube (Purple Yam) ice cream.  It's a simple, cool, and refreshing mixture of vibrant, sweet flavors not to mention that it was placed in a huge 32 oz cup which was the biggest halo halo I'd ever seen before.  The ube ice cream was something I've never had before and almost had a sweet potato-like flavor.  Just a refreshing and light dessert to help balance all the heavy proteins from the meal.

I admit that I'll never like someone else's Filipino cooking over my mom's since her flavors remind me of my childhood and remind me of home.  This is probably why I tend to not go to very many Filipino restaurants, not that there are a only ton of them out there.  But, if I were to go visit one, there are a few that make my list.  Grill 21 in NYC, some closed resto in Soho, and now Mama Rosa's.  Mama Rosa's certainly stays true to it's Filipino roots and doesn't Americanize the flavors to appeal to a wider audience.  It's a little bit off the beaten path in Middle River but well worth the trip if you're looking for an authentic Filipino experience.


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