Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Sunday Eatin' Part 2: Max's of Manila

Jim had a "family thing" to go to, and because his family is a little weirded out by his gay friends, Gil and I were not invited (Jimbo's very irritated about this, actually). So Gil and I headed out towards LA to see what kind of trouble we could stir up. After the, ahem, proper stirring, we headed back to his place in Fontana, where I was parked.

It had been a while since brunch at the Castaway, and I started asking if we could stop somewhere for food. Gil, who is of Filipino ancestry, and I started talking about Filipino food, and so the light bulb went off in my head. "Hey, any good Filipino places around?"

Now Gil reminded me that Filipinos, who are uber-Catholic, would be extremely unlikely to open a restaurant on Easter Sunday of all days! But we decided to try and find one anyway. Gil drove me to the heart of Filipino Southern California - West Covina (How do I keep winding up here?).

We got to Manila Way, a short street with a large shopping complex on either side of it, and each caters to the local Filipino community. His jaw dropped (a difficult thing for the rarely perturbable Gil) when he saw that one restaurant very familiar to him was indeed open - the Manila-based chain of family-style restaurants called Max's.

Max's of Manila actually got its start with a crispy chicken recipe in Quezon City after World War II, and has since ballooned to 100 locations in the Philippines. It also has five locations in California and one in Hawaii. And the West Covina location was open until 9 pm today. Most of the American locations have a mostly-Filipino clientele. Occasionally, you'll see a white, black or Hispanic customer wander, but usually he or she is brought in by a Filipino friend. This was the case with me.

The waitress got our orders and Gil gave me a little insight into what he liked, and what his family (who live in Oklahoma) usually orders when he takes them there. I'm not unfamiliar with Filipino food, but let's just say I'm not an expert in it either, so the help was definitely needed. Gil told me it's kind of a mixture of American, Spanish, Chinese and indigenous foods, all congealing into one, big Filipino entity. While we perused the menu, Gil recommended the crispy chicken, the classic Max's dish. I wasn't in a chicken mood, though, so I asked about other things - a strange thing for a white guy or any non-Filipino to do in Max's, seeing as how fried chicken (which is more just coated in spices and fried, without any breading like we love in the US) is the most familiar to American palates. Their chicken comes with a healthy (and I mean healthy) dose of rice.

Before she came back, we had settled on the lumpiang shanghai - or Shanghai eggrolls. Gil got the crispy chicken, and I had settled on the sizzling boneless bangus (or milkfish, but it was only mostly boneless), with a side order of garlic fried rice - just fried white rice, but instead of eggs and veggies (like in Chinese fried rice) you put in garlic, lots of garlic. Why have I never seen this deliciousness anywhere before? The waitress, who was ridiculously helpful, assumed correctly that I really had no idea what half the stuff on the menu was. She seemed surprised when I ordered the milkfish - I guess most non-Filipinos order the chicken and leave it at that. Since they were closing the kitchen she asked for our dessert orders. Gil got the flan and I got a dulce de leche drink with a dollop of avocado ice cream.

I simply loved everything I ate, except for the dulce de leche drink, though the avocado ice cream was heavenly. Gil tells me his Mexican friends retch when he mentions the mere concept of avocado in an ice cream, which is not how it is used in Mexico or the US, as a fruit. In fact, Filipinos have lots of ice cream flavors that we would find odd, such as red bean, purple yam, and the dreaded corn and cheese. But our desserts are too damn sweet for them. This was reflected in the flan, which was not nearly as sweet as the flan I have had in so many Mexican restaurants.

As for the main course (yes, we did eat those first), Gil loved his chicken. I tried a small piece, and I must have gotten a tough part. But I take his word, everybody loves this chicken. My bangus was broiled and in a sea of some kind of gravy, with sliced chilis and spring onion bits on top. It tasted all charcoal-y and was just scrumptious. The waitress commented on how I must have really liked the fish, because there was hardly anything left of it save the blackened head and tail. The lumpiang were also tasty, though I struggled to eat many more of them with all the food in me from the day's travels.

All this was about $35. With a $5 tip, we left, full off the only Filipino food available in Southern California on Easter Sunday night.


jmc said...

I bought a pint of corn ice cream at Whole Foods a couple of months ago. WF also had flan-flavored ice cream by the same company (Azul Halapa? Talapa?). Turned out to be quite tasty -- not too sweet and very flavorful; it reminded me of the first ear of silver queen corn in the summer. The texture was a little bit mealy, though, maybe from the ground corn? Still looking for avo ice cream, which sounds magnificent.

Y'know, on vacation in Hawaii, I tried a shaved ice with some sort of sweet beans at bottom of the bowl. It was different, but quite good.

Baltimore Snacker said...

JMC: I'm guessing you are in the DC area, so finding avocado ice cream should not be difficult. I know of a few likely places to find it by College Park, especially one international grocer where I bought some fish sauces years before you could find it in, say, Giant, and loooong before WF was in our area.

If you were in the Baltimore area, however, your best bet would be the Korean supermarket on Rolling Road and Rte. 40, Han-Ah Reum. They might have avocado ice cream. Apart from that, any well-stocked Filipino grocery may have it. The problem is I only know of one Filipino grocery in Baltimore, and it's pretty damn small.

jmc said...

I live in Baltimore but work in DC; I'm more likely to be Catonsville than College Park. I forgot about Han-Ah Reum. I always get distracted by the produce and canned goods, and seldom make it to the freezer section. Thanks for the suggestion!

Fairfax said...

I had avacado ice cream at Brasserie Tartin during the feb. restaurant week. it was excellent.
H-A-R is now H-Mart (how horrible is that?)

Baltimore Snacker said...

JMC: You're welcome for the advice. Fairfax: Yeah, H-Mart doesn't have the nice ring to it. Silliness.