Asian Delight

Via Montebello, 66, Lazio, Rome, Italy. Tel: (06) 3249217715

While enjoying all of the freshly made Italian cuisine, by the fifth day of our Roman adventure, we – well, I, at least – began craving something different on our palates and by different, as an Asian and lifelong rice-eater, I mean rice and some kind of ulam (Tagalog for dish); something from home, like Adobo or Afritada, on top of steamed white rice or some deep-fried fish (the saltier the better, of course) served with sinangag (garlic fried rice).

So, to that end, I jumped online and searched for the nearest Asian restaurant. Originally, I searched for a Chinese spot; not craving for Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian and not even thinking a Filipino joint would be anywhere nearby. I found several but, to be honest, I wasn’t sure, even with Google Maps, if they were easy to get to from our hotel. More importantly, I also had no way of knowing if the 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 star reviews some of these restaurants got were accurate or not. I was raised in Hong Kong. Gastronomically, that’s a blessing and a curse. Having lived in there for sixteen years and eaten some of the best Chinese food in the world, I’ve become a bit of a Chinese food snob. Sorry.

Anyway, back to the restaurant at hand.

Among the search results, there was a restaurant called Asian Delight. It got excellent reviews and was billed as “home cooking Filipino food.” That settled it. My wife and I widened our eyes and said, “Let’s go!” So, we put on our shoes and, with our son in tow, left the hotel and hailed a taxi. We told the driver “Via Montebello, sessantasei.” In minutes we were there and discovered that Asian Delight is actually only a few blocks and one roundabout from where we were staying, Hotel Quirinale on Via Nazionale. We hadn’t yet been in this neighborhood on this trip but our excitement levels escalated and we knew we were in for a treat when we saw a small Filipino flag flying at the eatery’s door.

Asian Delight is a small place with seven or eight booths lining the side walls and a small counter in the middle of the room. At the counter, are three stools probably for the solo diners. Directly opposite the door, sat Chris, a Filipino from Samar who has been living in Italy for six years. His Italian has a Filipino accent to it and his English has what almost amounts to a Portuguese one. (Is that what happens when Tagalog marries Italian? Hmm.) And Chris’s Italian sounds, well, Italian like how one of my ex-girlfriend’s father sounded when he and his sister talked in their native tongue at holiday meals.

Enticing customers like a carnival barker at the town fair (think Gordon McCrae in Carousel), Chris is as much entertainer as he is proprietor. He runs Asian Delight with his Kuya (Tagalog word for ‘older brother’) Betts in the kitchen and another cook, who in uncanny fashion resembles Manny Pacquiao, the boxing champ, congressman, and hero of The Philippines. Ironically and iconically, there is a large sketch print of Pacquiao on one of the side walls overlooking a corner booth.

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Manny Pacquiao watches over the diners at Asian Delight

The menu at Asian Delight offers Chinese dishes and, of course, Filipino ones. We treated ourselves to some of the Filipino food and, to my son’s delight, there’s an entire section in the menu devoted to ‘egg rice.’ These are silog options; dishes like Tapsilog, Bangsilog, Ribsilog and, of course, his favourite, Longsilog. Basically, these are dishes made up of garlic fried rice (sinangag, hence the si), fried sunny side up egg (itlog means egg in Tagalog, hence the log) and some kind of meat. Tapsilog is beef tapa with garlic friend rice and fried egg. Bangsilog is the same but with fried bangus (white fish). Longsilog uses Filipino sausage called longanisa. The sinangag at Asian Delight is a little different than how I’ve had it at other restaurants. Most places and houesholds will fry chopped garlic and mix it into the rice in the frying pan. Some places will crown a lump of white rice with fried garlic. At others, the rice is browned in the frying process with browned garlic mixed in. At Asian Delight, it’s slightly browned with garlic mixed in but there are also slivers of sliced or ripped scrambled egg. This deviation from how sinangag is usually made was not an unpleasant twist.

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Longanisa at Asian Delight, Rome, Italy

As for the Longsilog itself, Rome must have the brightest gold-coloured egg yolks around. Cooked perfectly with the yolk covered by a white sheen without being cooked solid, the egg oozed into the rice as my son sliced the egg and mixed the two together. It made me imagine what Filipino risotto might be like. The longanisa was sweet – a little too sweet than I’ve ever had – but it was softly cooked and offered a nice cut and blend with the saltiness of the rice and egg. The sausage was also skinless. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen skinless Filipino sausage but it was the first time I’ve tasted skinless Filipino sausage. To my son’s pleasure, it beats out the usual skinned sweet longanisa we eat in the US.

We also ordered a plate of Pork Dumplings.

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Pork Dumplings with  a dish of hot sauce

They were tasty and didn’t make or break the meal but they weren’t anything that knocked our socks off. They were a basic meat dumpling like the kind you can find in the freezer section of your local Asian grocery store. I wouldn’t order them again but, if someone did, I wouldn’t turn them away and I’d even have one or two bites.

For the rest of the meal, we ordered Pork Sinigang (Tamarind Stew) (pictured below, left) and Lechon Kawali (deep fried pork belly) (pictured below, right). Before we go on, you should know that Filipinos like their dips and sauces. There’s toyo (soy sauce) with or without chili; suka (vinegar), with or without chili peppers; bagoong, a fish or shrimp paste; and Mang Tomas, a condiment often used for lechon (roasted pig) and other grilled or barbecued meats. I guess it could be considered a kind of Filipino barbecue sauce or meat-based mayonnaise of sorts. And then there’s patis, a fish sauce that is used in many different kinds of Asian cooking from Filipino to Thai to Vietnamese to Indonesian. Often used in the cooking, patis is also used as a dip or condiment however in most restaurants it’s not readily available to the customer. At Asian Delight, though, Chris gladly brought out a small dish of patis for my wife when she asked for it. As for how the two dishes tasted – delicious. Part of their tastiness might have been due to the my palate’s need for different stimulation than what I’d been getting. The sinigang and lechon kawali  weren’t any better – and they certainly weren’t worse – than any I’d had before but they were spot on and tasted just like home. The sinigang had a nice bite to it thanks to the green chili that was added, something that is common with this dish but not something we always do at home. The lechon kawali was tender and the pig skin crispy without being burnt or overdone.

During our meal, thanks to all the sharing we were doing (a normal part of our meals, as a family, and among Filipinos), my son’s two longanisa turned into one so we ordered a side dish of longanisa so he could round up and balance his ‘Filipino egg risotto’ with the meat. The side order came with three sausages on a plate which I thought was generous. Comparing it to our dining experiences in the US, we got one more sausage than we’d get, say, a our local diner if we’d ordered a side dish of a regular pork breakfast sausage.

To round out my meal, I ordered a beer. Asian Delight offers San Miguel and Red Horse, two staple brews from The Philippines.

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Red Horse Beer, one of the staple brews from The Philippines

It’d been ages since I’d had a ‘San Mig’ so, naturally, I ordered one. Unfortunately, they were out of it so I settled for a Red Horse, which didn’t disappoint. For those of you who haven’t tried it, it’s akin to Heineken or Tsingtao.

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My wife, giving a thumbs up to the beer and to Asian Delight

At the end of the meal, we promised Chris that we’d return and we did, the following night, after our excursion to Venice. Asian Delight closes at 10pm and we got there at 9:45pm. There were two customers left who were paying and Chris and company were starting to clean up and shut down. We were able to get an order to go and he threw in a free order of white rice. My wife ordered Pancit Canton Bihon, which is a Filipino-style Lo Mein with added rice or vermicelli noodles to the lo mein noodles. My son ordered Longsilog again and I went with the day’s special and one of my all-time favorite Filipino dishes, Kalderatang Kambing (Filipino goat stew).

There are other dishes on their menu, of course – Sisig, Adobo, Halo Halo, Leche Flan, Dinaguan and others – that we didn’t get to try but one doesn’t go to Rome to try Filipino food, after all. You can, though, bet your last Euro that the next time we’re in Rome (and we will be back because my son threw in only one coin into The Fountain of Trevi which, according to legend, means we’ll return) and we’re craving a different taste to our palates a trip to Asian Delight will be added to our itinerary.

Asian Delight’s name is spot on. The food definitely satisfied the change my taste buds needed and it did so at a reasonable price. The meal we had was around 30 Euros (about US$37), which is about the same we’d pay for the same meal at Pandan in Bloomfield, New Jersey. In addition to the tastiness of the food and the charm from our host, Chris, Asian Delight triggered memories, as food does, of summers in Manila and family meals in Hong Kong. The emotional and psychological warmth was more than welcomed and a pleasant surprise to our impromptu Filipino dinner. Being there, I was also offered the opportunity to speak a fifth language on our vacation and practice my Tagalog, which is functional but far from good. (In and around our trip, I’d already had the chances to speak English (which I speak fluently), Italian, French and Spanish – none of which I speak fluently but can manage in small doses and in a pinch.)

Chris was a joy to meet, as well, and the coziness of the place offers a certain intimacy, without ignoring personal boundaries, that made me feel like we – the various customers, even though we had our own meals and conversations, were all together enjoying the deliciousness of the natural fusion that is Filipino food and the happy, welcoming charm that is the Filipino spirit. So, for anyone who needs a change of pace from the deliciousness of Italian cuisine but, especially, for my fellow Filipinos, do pay Asian Delight a visit if you find yourself in Rome. You won’t be disappointed. Oh, and say “hi” to Chris for me.

Rating: 1 1/2 bites

0 bites = Don’t bother. I suffered for you.
1/2 bite = I enjoyed it enough – I had to eat something, after all – but I wouldn’t recommend it.
1 bite = Good. I’d have it again but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.
1 1/2 bites = Very good/super tasty. I’m definitely going back and I’m bringing friends. If I weren’t married, it’s somewhere I’d take a first date to. That’s how good it is.
2 bites = Unique, I’ve never had (and probably won’t ever have) better than this, this is what I’d want if I were going to be executed and I could have whatever I wanted for my last meal, Epicurean Orgasm!

 

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Serafina

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Serafina
210 West 55th
New York, New York

For many of you reading, you’re probably out and about more than I am (I’m a self-proclaimed homebody but I do enjoy getting out once in a while) so you may already know about the wonder that is Serafina in New York City. Located on the upper edge of the theatre district, Serafina is a casual Italian restaurant that offers a mellow atmosphere with quick and friendly service, perfect for a pre-show meal.

I was in the city with my wife for a matinee of Matthew Bourne’s original adaptation of Sleeping Beauty at City Center and we wanted to grab lunch before the 1:30pm curtain. On the way there, on the NJ Transit, we looked up nearby restaurants and Serafina grabbed our gastronomic attention. We called to make a reservation but, since it was early on a Sunday and we were only a party for two, we were told that a reservation wasn’t needed. So, upon getting off the train, we transferred onto the 1 and ventured uptown from Penn Station.

Getting there at about noon, we had our choice of regular menu options and their Sunday brunch. We didn’t opt for the brunch, although the Poached Eggs with spinach and prosciutto, Pancakes with strawberries, maple syrup and Nutella, and the Three Salmon Benedict did tempt us. We did, though, enjoy a Mimosa (me) and a Bellini (my wife). For our meal, we passed on starters, not because nothing sounded good, but because we were pressed for time. On a future visit, I promise to try either the il Sashimi Di Tonno (finely sliced sushi-grade tuna and avocado, served with their special dipping sauce) or the Il Tartare Di Serafina (tuna and salmon, served with a touch of peanut oil). Instead, what we had were the Jumbo Shrimp Al Cognac (jumbo shrimp sautéed in cognac, served with saffron rice) (pictured above) and Spaghetti All’aragosta (spaghetti with a half lobster in a spicy tomato sauce). Yes, folks, you did just read “half lobster.”

Both dishes were sublime. With the Jumbo Shrimp Al Cognac, they weren’t lying. The shrimp were large, about 2″ to 2 12″ through the centre of their curved ends and the straight tall was another inch or more. Additionally, the shrimp weren’t skinny by any means, offering generous amounts of meat throughout each bite. The cognac sauce was thick, without being starchy, and blended nicely with the saffron rice which, in turn, had a stickiness to it that gave it a risotto quality. Naturally, the saffron gave a nice kick, without being overwhelming, but there was an additional kind of spicy taste – lemongrass, perhaps – that pulled all the flavours together. I may be wrong in suggesting lemongrass but whatever it is the chefs put in this dish, keep doing it.

With my wife’s dish, the Spaghetti All’aragosta, the tomato sauce was spicy, this time I think with a cilantro dominance, but again, not overwhelming. It neither drowned the taste of the fresh tomatoes nor did it burn our palates in a way that would prevent us from tasting anything else. The spaghetti itself was a little stiff for my taste but not to the point of ruining the dish. And, this could even have been a one off. The generosity of the lobster, however, as much as the balance of the flavours was remarkable. In similar dishes in other restaurants, the lobster is typically finely broken up or chopped. It might even be blended into the sauce. Here, it’s not hidden and it is truly a half lobster with chunks of meat from the claws in the sauce and draped over the pasta. It made me think of a traditional Spaghetti with Meatballs dish but instead of meatballs we got chunks of lobster. And, because the lobster comes the way it does, the dish allows the person eating it the choice of how he or she wants to enjoy the shellfish – eating it as chunks or breaking it up into small pieces him or herself.

For afters, my wife and I shared a Tiramisu. It was good, nothing exceptional or unique from others I’ve had but the important thing is that I wasn’t disappointed by it or longing for another establishment’s version. There are other offerings on their dessert menu but, being a Tiramisu aficionado, searching for the perfect one, we went with this traditional Italian treat. Next time, I’ll give Le Crepes Alla Gelato Nutella (crepes served with grand marnier, a touch of tangerine, vanilla ice cream and raspberry) or the Nutella soufflé, Il Soufflé Di Cioccolato Allo Nutella.

The only thing that was a negative, if I can even call it that, about our experience at Serafina was the close proximity of the tables. Being we were just two, we got seated in one of those two-person tables where one side is against a wall and the seats are like a bench and the facing person is in a chair. Granted, it was relatively early and not crowded and we were seated immediately next to two former college roommates, one of whom was visiting New York for work, but I could hear every word of their conversation and it wasn’t like they were talking loudly. That’s how close we were. As a writer, though, I’ll confess that I eavesdropped a little to see if there was anything in their conversation I could use in a future novel.

Other than this, although table proximity is hardly a detractor if the food is good and it’s something New Yorkers are used to and accept anyway, I highly recommend Serafina. It’s a place you can go for a full meal, and not feel like you were overcharged and under served, for drinks (yes, it has it’s own bar) after a show, or for a happy hour cocktail before your evening’s main event. It’s a place where you can take your spouse of significant other and a place where you can take that special someone on a first or second date without looking like you’re trying too hard and without breaking the bank. More than that, it’s a place where the food is good and the atmosphere easy. If you go, I promise you won’t be disappointed.