Editor’s Note: As we announced last week, CL has a new food team in place: Restaurant Critic Jon Palmer Claridge and Assistant Editor Arielle Stevenson. They’re from two different worlds, culinarily speaking: Jon has a taste for haute cuisine, while Arielle goes for hole-in-the-wall, preferably cheapo-ethno-delicious. But they’re both adventurous souls. So, in tune with our World’s Fare theme, we decided it would be fun if they traveled outside their respective comfort zones, with each other as guide, and wrote about their experiences. Jon introduced Arielle to the tasting (aka degustation) menu at SideBern’s, arguably Tampa’s best restaurant; Arielle took Jon to Tindahang Pinoy, a Filipino grocery and restaurant in Pinellas Park.
Here's Jon's take on Tindahang Pinoy.
Arielle enticed me to lunch at Pinellas Park’s Tindahang Pinoy Philippine Grocer with her promise of deep-fried fat. And after our blowout dinner at SideBern’s the previous night, we both enthusiastically agreed on at least one thing: “Fat tastes good.”
If the tasting menu at SideBern’s is a symphony in six movements, lunch here is more bebop at a secret jazz club. You pass the seemingly infinite number of noodle packages (bihon, misua, lug-lug), turn left at the canned sardine collection and just as you pass the unique frozen foods, two wooden tables come into view at the very back of the store. I’m disappointed, since Arielle informs me that they must have upgraded from the old plastic furniture that was part of the charm.
I’m here, however, for continuous learning — which is a great strategy when it comes to food. It’s an ongoing process; you can’t just cram for this test, and as long as your heart keeps beating, there is no final exam. We are born as omnivores, you know. Excluding foods from our diet is a learned activity. Of course, we all have a different palate. But new tastes and cuisines bring good things to life.
Last night’s dinner was about finesse with matching wines, plus attentive service in an elegant setting. Today’s lunch is all comfort food, in a practical and friendly environment. We order three dishes from the menu of made-to-order dishes and choose our drink selections from the adjacent cooler. I have my first taste of “young coconut juice” from an extra tall can; Arielle assures me that it is “three times as hydrating as water,” but I’m underwhelmed. Must be an acquired taste. The “grass jelly drink” is like a flat coconut-flavored soda with small chunks of Gummi bears throughout. My omnivore street cred is at risk.
Fortunately, our three delicious dishes arrive. It’s pure home cooking — if you’ve got a Filipino “lola” (granny). Both the chicken adobo and pork menudo are essentially stews served with jasmine rice. The tender chunks of braised meats peek out from their flavorful sauces: peppery adobo with hints of bay and garlic, and tomato-laced menudo hooking up with carrot and potato chunks plus a surprising hint of sweet raisin. Following along with our “tasty fat” theme is lechon kawali — crispy, golden, deep-fried, fat-laden pork belly. The juxtaposition of food with available condiments adds layers of flavor: mild Mang Tomas All Purpose Sauce, a squeeze bottle of vinegar with peppers that is surprisingly gentle, and, my favorite, tangy banana ketchup.
I am a happy man, but Arielle reminds me that halo-halo is necessary to complete our meal. Think sweet and savory parfait in a large Styrofoam cup with a bright red straw. Shaved ice is layered with mung beans, purple yam, evaporated milk, and jackfruit, then topped with vanilla ice cream and pinipig — a striking neon green, pounded, young glutinous rice flake. Since “halò” is Tagalog for mix, we stir and sample. The combo is another acquired taste/texture… but one I’m glad I had. Tindahang Pinoy is an auspicious beginning for a committed omnivore’s journey around the Bay.
Next week, I’ll make a passionate plea for you to join me on this quest. Stay tuned…
Its amazing, how peple if we ca call it people, dedicate themself to write such…
saigon deli is the best one!
Here is a link to the new shot menu! Go grab some! http://bit.ly/16A7PlK
Not one for beer, I'll vouch for Eric the cook. I tend to get the…