There was a Washington Post article recently talking about the advent of Filipino food becoming a thing in the Washington, DC area. It's always a little bit surreal thinking of the food that you grew up with as being a thing. To me, it seemed like it was always around but it existed in little mom and pop shops where the cooking was closer to home made than professional. That's not a bad thing. The drawback in that is that you'll never be satisfied with anything but your mother's homemade cooking.
To me, in order for Filipino food to be successful as a restaurant, it had to be less homey, feel somewhat familiar, but also feel a little like maybe it wasn't made by your mother since why would you want to eat any other type of Filipino food? The sense that Filipino cuisine was starting to become mainstream started for me at places like Maharlika and Talde. Not only did they make Filipino food in an "elevated" way but they also made it cool. This wave now seems like it's moving to DC. I wasn't too swept up but my parents were curious enough to jump in. We did Cathal Armstrong's tasting menu at Restaurant Eve and maybe that's my next article. But, the next place we tried was Purple Patch mainly because it's wasn't full out Filipino and offered other choices. Heck, I just liked there was a burger on the menu.
Purple Patch is located in Columbia Heights (I think) neighborhood of DC. It's in a neighborhood that the gentrification of 14th and U has yet to touch and so makes it feel more chic and less contrived. The atmosphere is warm and more American than Filipino. The menu is wonderfully eclectic though not yet quite cohesive. It's admirable that the owners want a menu of all food that they like eating, not just Filipino staples but I think they have a tighter, more blended story to tell than where the current menu is now. To be fair, they only opened in March so the restaurant probably has some growing pains to go through.
We were a bit full when we arrived so we ordered the lumpia (you always order lumpia), the pork bbq on skewers, lechon kawali, pork sinigang, and guinataan....um...shrimp and kale. We shared everything in the truest of all Filipino traditions. I knew we were in trouble with the lumpia, pork bbq, and sinigang since they were all favorites of our family (Dad especially loves the sinigang) and these are dishes that our family has been making for decades. I'm not saying these dishes can't be good but you can't ever beat familiarity.
The lumpia is rolled by the owners mother and sent overnight from Texas. For those who don't know, lumpia are little finger sized deep fried spring rolls of goodness. It's probably the dish most Americans can identify as Filipino food. The filling can vary and Purple Patch uses pork and beef. My mom uses pork, beef and shrimp. There are assorted veggies, mushrooms etc...but it's mostly the protein that provides the flavor. We were, of course, looking for the shrimp flavor in the lumpia so it was a little different but it's hard not to like lumpia done right and this was definitely done right. The wrapper was lighter and more tasteful than we were used to and this revelation to the owner provided us a good surprise at the end of the night. More on that later.
Next up was the bbq pork on the skewer, probably the most common of Filipino bbq dishes. It's chunks of pork marinated and cooked on a grill. This time, the flavor was what we expected. The pork was delicious and moist. Grilled perfectly. The chunks of pork on the skewer seemed a tad bigger than I was used to and we all agreed that maybe the meat needed some more time in the marinade so that it could really soak through the larger chunks.
Lechon Kawali is the type of dish that Filipinos dream about. True lechon is from a pig roasted on a spit in someone's backyard. When you don't have the space or the pig, you use skin on pork belly that's usually been boiled (usually in garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, water and sometimes soy sauce) and then air dried overnight. It's deep fried and served piping hot. You want the skin to be crispy but not tough. The meat to be juicy and full of fat (yes...yes you do). This version hit all the right notes and satisfied our Filipino cravings. The only thing I would say is that I'm not sure if any flavor was imbued in the pork during the boiling process but it's something that I felt I didn't taste.
The pork sinigang was spot on. They should never change a thing. Sinigang is a sour pork stew (yeah lots of pig that day) that has a ton of sour notes due to lemon or kalamansi. Purple Patch serves it with potatoes and long beans. My Dad beamed when he ate it and since he's the expert in the family then this dish gets the highest marks. I know I said in order for Filipino food to succeed, it had to be different. But, it should also bring you back home since home is so far away especially for my parents. This dish did that for Dad and this alone was worth the whole meal.
Guinataan is something I'm not familiar with since my Mom never made it growing up. I'm sorry she never did. The dish was sauteed shrimp and kale (though I don't think the kale was sauteed) in a primarily coconut broth. The sweetness of the shrimp and the richness of the coconut worked really well. The flavors were what you expected and that expectation was delicious. I would prefer less kale and and a thicker broth but that's just quibbling.
While we enjoyed the meal, that wasn't the best part of the experience....wait, we had dessert. We ordered Turon which are deep friend plaintains in a crispy wrapper served with ice cream. The plaintains should be sprinkled with sugar and ripe. They were neither. It wasn't the greatest thing but we were told desserts come from elsewhere. Maybe they should start making them in-house.
Where was I?
Oh, the best part of the experience was the owner, Patrice. She came to our table after the meal and started to talk about how much the restaurant meant to her and her family (including her Mom who rolls thousands of lumpia rolls for her every week still). She explained how she wanted to make Filipino food that would make any Filipino proud (she does) and also served food that she and her family love to eat. She asked about the food and admitted that she can't possibly compete with a Filipino mother's food (smart and culturally aware). When we mentioned how good her lumpia wrapper was, she went back to the kitchen and gave my mom a whole package of wrappers. She even sat down and talked to us at our table like you would at any kitchen table in any Filipino household. We talked Pacquiao, rolling lumpia, ingredients, and her long journey to open her own restaurant and how proud her Mom was. Hospitality like this is worth it's weight in gold. I think the kitchen is still trying to figure itself out but Patrice is a force that will keep you coming back for more because of her dedication and sincerity.
When she gave my Mom the wrappers, all she asked for was a review of some sort. I haven't written a review in over two years and yes, this probably a little wordy (what? two years! I have a lot to say) but I think worth it, in order to describe how great the experience was. Patrice, I need your email address if you read this. I know we promised a review because of the wrappers but truth is, I probably would've written one anyway.
P.S. I may re-think this picture thing slightly. If anyone wants to send me some, I wouldn't turn them down...
3155 Mount Pleasant Street, Washington, DC 20010, 202.299.0022, www.purplepatchdc.com