Wow. Talk about an evening to remember. My first authentic Filipino food experience was undoubtedly the best I'll ever have and I hope you all take the time to wait for a seat at this incredibly intimate restaurant, Bad Saint.
As I walked up to the restaurant, I felt a rush of excitement - there was a tropical feel of an open air restaurant with high ceilings and an open kitchen. The space is SMALL, but comfortable, with sounds of laughter, sizzling woks and giddy anticipation. The smoke from the kitchen and intense aroma of fresh fish and house made XO sauce transported me to an outdoor market kitchen stall in the Philippines, and I felt like I was on vacation.
One fun perk is that diners can easily interact with the chefs on the line, no matter where they are seated. Chef/owner Tom Cunanan had a smile on his face throughout the duration of my visit. A chef's face says it all and Cunanan's mix of intense concentration and genuine happiness is represented on the plates. He's not against taking selfies with patrons or greeting guests as they arrive and leave - he clearly has a passion and is excited to share it with his guests.
Now, about the food. The menu is simple and easy to interpret, with a very good possibility of being able to order the entire thing if you dine in a group of four (the maximum party size the restaurant can accommodate). Each dish is so carefully put together and each component is perfect, with something fun and exciting on every plate - that's where the concentration and happiness meld. Bold spices and flavors make for some unexpected bites that kept me wanting more.
I was happily surprised with some house made shrimp crackers and XO sauce to start, and they sure whet my whistle. Shrimp crackers are one of my favorite snacks and are insanely addictive. They are super crispy and filled with air, causing a sticky sensation when you bite into them. If you think pop rocks are fun, wait until you try these babies. Dunking them in the savory, fishy, spicy XO sauce enhanced the shrimp flavor even more and made each bite a new flavor adventure.
My favorite bite of the night (I think...it's hard to say), were the Lumpiang!! Delicate and crispy cigar-like pork and beef eggrolls. Served piping hot with this insanely spicy/sour/sweet crack sauce that makes your lips pucker, while complementing the subtle filling. Seriously delicious.
Next up, the Ginseng Gulay, green vegetables (like zucchini and long bean), ginger and mung bean sprouts. Quickly sautéed to warm the vegetables through, while retaining their crunch. Topped with fried shallots, it is fresh and delicious, a nice intermission from the spice.
Two more dishes were all I could handle, even in my hangry state: the Tapa and Ukoy.
The Tapa is basically all my favorite things: ginger-y fried rice, dried beef (think thick beef jerky that doesn't give you lockjaw), fresh, cold tomatoes, green salad lightly dressed, and a runny duck egg... I'll give you a minute to let the soak in. It was unique and mouth watering. The mix of textures and temperatures was such a delightful balance that it turned me into an unstoppable hangry hippo until the plate was clean. I think this is my new favorite hangover cure dish.
Finally, the shrimp funnel cake- aka the Ukoy - the show stopper. Super thin shoestrings of sweet potato are fried into nests with fresh cilantro, sweet leeks and head-on freshwater shrimp. This is seriously the most fun finger food I've eaten all year. Sweet, crunchy, shrimp-y, and herbaceous - this is a dish that could lend itself to be super oily, but it was executed expertly. I want to have Ukoy as my movie theater snack from now on - serve this to me at a fair or carnival and I will never leave. I will be back for this.
I highly recommend trying Bad Saint with three of your friends so you can order the whole menu (like the whole fried dorade with lemongrass and tomatoes that I was too stuffed to order). I will certainly be back to try what I missed - including the sticky rice dessert.
The service is absolutely fantastic; my food arrived swiftly without being overwhelming, water was never empty and the cocktail recommendations were right on par with my palette (I got the Manila Sling and the Balisong, by the way). My server was clearly very well versed on the menu, she new exactly what was in each dish and her knowledge was a breath of fresh air upon hearing her answers to my questions - great staff training!
Bad Saint warmed my cold Hangry heart, and I hope you stop by with the same excitement and patience as I had - it's worth it! Check out Room 11 right next door while you wait, it was a wonderful start to my evening!