Brunch. Sizzlin' Sisig and -Silogs.
Executive Sous Chef Mike Morales re-fired our sisig as he saw it hit our table not as sizzle-y and just-crisped as he wanted. The man knows his sisig. We could tell this was going to be good.
There it was, sisig (pronounced SEE-sig). Pork cheek, tripe (stomach), dressed with a citrus foie gras gravy (an upscale stand-in for the original recipe's creamy binding agent, brain or mayonnaise), shisto peppers for a bit o' KICK, all on a sizzling cast-iron skillet topped with a raw egg. Only things missing were the ears, but that's ok. I ordered a 312 because beer is what pulutan is made for.
The dish's humble history is an apt metaphor for where I think Filipino cuisine shines the brightest: using everything; wasting nothing, not even opportunity, to make something magical.
Sisig is on the Filipino American History Month brunch menu at Sunda, the 'New Asian' restaurant in Chicago's well-heeled River North neighborhood. Sunda is the open secret Filipino restaurant smack-dab in one of the city's most popular destinations for upscale dining and nightlife.
Before Sunda owner, Rockit Productions CEO, Windy City Live entertainment contributor and White House appointee Billy Dec invited this blog to sample the restaurant's Filipino American History Month menu, I'll admit -- I hadn't thought of Sunda as a Filipino restaurant. That was even after I attended a very successful fundraiser towards Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts last year. Clearly they have a number of Filipino dishes on their regular menu. Maybe it was the gorgeous expansive sushi bar upfront, maybe because the interiors are absent a giant fork and spoon, I really don't know. It's not a turo-turo buffet. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
But after eating dish after completely-nailed-that Filipino dish from Sunda's regular menu and from the Filipino American History Month menu, after feeling the warmth of their hospitality, after meeting the back-of-house team headed by Executive Chef Jess DeGuzman and Executive Sous Chef Mike Morales (both Pinoy) and their many Pinoy and Pinoy-at-heart talent, I will never make that mistake again. Sunda is just the 'New Asian' we were waiting for.
-Silogs: Tosilog, Longsilog, Spamsilog. Yes, SPAM.
As it was the late brunch hour, we also tried the -Silogs on Sunda's regular East Meets West brunch menu. -Silogs (pronounced SEE-luhgz) are the Brangelina of Filipino culinary breakfast. -Silog is a suffix for a portmanteau for the elements of a combination breakfast or brunch platter. The prefix added to -silog notes the meat accompanying the dish.
For example! Tosilog is tocino (pan-fried, anise-marinated pork fatback), sinanag (garlic fried rice) and itlog (egg). Tocino, sinanag, itlog becomes tosilog. Longsilog features longganisa, a sweet, spicy sausage.
Spamsilog features the iconoclastic, highly divisive and canned meat product, SPAM. Courtesy of friend, food journalist and podcaster Monica Eng of Chicago Public Radio's (WBEZ 91.5FM) Chewing the Fat, we recently were reminded of how SPAM is much reviled by foodies who rail against the industrial food complex. Of course, Spam has come to taste like savory survival to Filipino food lovers. Explains Sherina Ong on the Pilipino American Unity for Progress blog, "After the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the American soldiers stationed there were able to give their surplus food rations to fleeing Filipinos who were forced to abandon their homes, and thus the SPAM sensation began."
One amazing riff Chef Morales did on sinanag was the CRAB FAT RICE. Stained orange with the crab fat, which is actually the roe or eggs of a lady crab, and laced with the ribbons of tender crab meat, I became an instant addict, forsaking the garlic rice. And that says a lot, if you know me.
With more Pinoy hospitality, even though we were already stuffed with three -silogs and sisig, Chef Morales also brought out the "Sunda Sundae" AKA the best halo-halo outside of the Philippines. Still ate the whole halo-halo.