"Okay, I think we have enough pork."
What. What did she say? When I showed Francine the list of dishes we wanted to order during our dinner at Engeline's Restaurant, I didn't expect her to put a stop to our pork fest. If anything, I thought she'd say something like, "Oh, you forgot about [insert awesome pork dish here], ADD IT TO THE LIST." But as the omnivorous Filipino at our dinner party, she was more familiar with the dangers of overdosing on Filipino meat dishes than the rest of us. Apparently, Filipinos are prone to hyperuricemia and gout. Whooops.
It was a good thing Francine gave us a limit to our order though since we ended up with enough food to feed everyone—Diana, Olia, John, Claire, Veronica, Francine, and me—to 125% stomach capacity. There were few leftovers. Witness the carnage.
Under Francine's suggestion, we started with sizzling sisig, little cubes of pork belly and crunchy bits of pig ear marinated in lemon and hot pepper, mixed with diced onion and scallion, served on a hot plate with a raw egg that cooks as you mix everything together.
Squeeze on the lemon, break up the yolk, and everyone agreed that you end up with one of the best hash-y things ever, with egg-bound pork-n-onion gobs in every bite. Francine said it's usually eaten with beer as a snack, like peanuts or pretzels. Screw peanuts; sizzling sisig is way better. Except I'd rather eat it with a mound of rice than a bottle of beer.
I ordered the pritong lumpia thinking that it was a vegetarian-friendly egg roll for our resident vegetarian Claire, but despite the lack of meat mentioned on the menu, there was meat hidden within the shredded vegetables. ...As Claire discovered when she bit into one. Oops. Overall, not that special.
But the lumpiang Shanghai was a different matter, and the form in which "egg roll" reached its full potential. The miniature size increased the fried-crust-to-filling ratio, and the filling consisted of more meat—ground pork and shrimp—than vegetables. More light, crunchy crust and meat in every bite = more in my belly. I ordered three plates not knowing that there were ten rolls to an order (or five rolls for each of the meat eaters), but what initially appeared to be an overabundance of lumpia turned out to be just right—at the end of the meal, only two or three rolls remained. Eating them was as easy as tearing through a bag of potato chips.
The sinigang na bangus (sour milkfish soup) consisted of tamarind broth filled with chunks of milkfish (watch out for the bones), tomatoes, green beans, onions, green chile pepper, and other stuff I probably couldn't recognize. Altogether, it made for a flavorful, lightly sour soup that I'd happily eat with spoonfuls of rice.
In her New York Times review, Ligaya Mishan called Engeline's chicken adobo "the finest rendition of the Philippines’ national dish I’ve ever had." Not having anything to compare the soy sauce, vinegar, peppercorn, garlic, and bay leaf-marinaded chicken to since I've rarely eaten chicken adobo in my life, I'd say...it was good, although not in an, "OH MY GOD MUST EAT MORE," way. The chicken drumsticks were almost fall-off-the-bone tender, and the seasoning tasted balanced in a way that I interpreted as, "I have no idea what individual flavors went into this, but they combined to form something new and tasty, so who gives a poop." The main reason I don't remember much about this dish may be because I only hate one little nubbin, saving most of my stomach space for the pork.
SWEET BABY JESUS, CRISPY PATA, aka HONKIN' HUGE DEEP-FRIED PORK KNUCKLE-LEG-THING, aka BIG CHUNK OF PORK THAT IS MOSTLY CRISPY SKIN with a sub-layer of CREAMY FAT but UNDER THE CRISPY SKIN/CREAMY FAT LAYER is A TENDER MEAT CHUNK LAYER and in conclusion EVERYONE'S A WINNER.
How does it attain the marriage of crispiness and moistness? The pork chunk is first boiled to tenderize the meat, and then deep fried to give it the crackly skin. There are some other steps in between, but if you're really curious, that's what Google is for.
The awesomeness of crispy pata reminds me of the awesomeness of a perfect French baguette. What's magical about a baguette? The stiff golden crust that shatters when you break into it, revealing its belly of soft, chewy, gluten-y innards. The skin of crispy pata also does that "magical shattering" thingy, but then there's also that sweet sublayer of fat. And the meat. And then, after you suck down the skin-fat-meat trio, perhaps dipped in the accompanying spicy vinegar sauce, there's the part where you eyes glaze over and you mumble, "Uuughhmmmyeaaerhuuhh, or some other variation of gustatory satisfaction.
Claire ordered the vegetarian-friendly tortang talong, eggplant omelet. It came with a dish of ketchup, but no one used it. Methinks she gave it the thumbs up.
We were surprised by how much we ate. Which was a lot, as evidenced by our empty plates. And even though we could've stopped there (or, you know, 20 minutes earlier), we kept going.
...Because the meal ain't over until you pile some dessert onto the pool of semi-digested meats and carbs and vegetables sloshing around in your stomach. We split three halo-halos between the seven of us, but we didn't even need that many. Easy to say, a glass of crushed ice on top of jelly bits, fat white beans, purple yam, and chunks of something plantain-y topped with a dense square of flan all drizzled in milk is pretty filling.
I don't understand why halo halo commonly comes in such tall glasses; that makes mixing everything together a bitch. But by using the "lift, dip, and swish spoon around glass, then repeat 20 times" technique, we ended up with vessels full of slushy fruity milky goo. Unfortunately, since it seemed to only containe milk and not condensed milk, it didn't taste sweet enough, and when slushy fruit milky goo isn't sweet, it's just not that enjoyable.
I would've been better off sticking with a generous slab of leche flan like Diana ended up getting after trying the halo-halo, her favorite part of which was...the flan topping.
Right before leaving the restaurant, Diana and Olia bought some goodies from the bakery case filled with cakes, cookies, meringues, and other sweet doughy things, an opportunity I passed up due to the beached whale sensation emanating from my midsection. It's nearly impossible for me to plan for future eating when I'm afraid of dying within the next hour due to intestinal combustion. As usual, I didn't die (how do I keep dodging these bullets?), and I missed out on ube-flavored treats. Next time...next time.
5828 Roosevelt Ave
Woodside, NY 11377