Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Now Serving! Maharlika-Tasty Filipino Brunch in the East Village


I recently had the pleasure to sit in at Maharlika's pop up brunch restaurant where they're serving up traditional Filipino breakfast dishes and twists on Brunch cocktails til the end of March. I was in heaven as my table was filled with practically the whole menu of savory deliciousness that would prove nostalgic to any Filipino who has lost contact with their native cuisine. From the Sisig(pig parts served sizzling on a cast iron skillet topped with 2 eggs sunny up to the tradition Tocilog(Cured pork with Garlic fried rice and 2 eggs and everything in between. Mmmmmm.

Although the concept of a Filipino restaurant isn't new to New York, I feel that the Nicole Ponseca, a former Ad agency executive and Enzo Lim a famed NYC bartender and musician are taking a fresh approach in presenting a taste of the food of 7107 islands that make up the Philippine archipelago.

I had a chance to talk with them briefly in between a packed house of guests and heres what they had to say:

Boulevardist(B): Where were you both born and where did you grow up?
Enzo: Metro Manila
Nicole: I was born in Philadelphia and raised in California... I also spent time in the Philippines studying the food.

(B): Why Maharlika as a name?
Enzo:It conveys a rich sense of history. In one sense it refers to nobility -- a warrior noble class to be respected and loved. But it also generates a sense of nationalism.

(B):What inspired you to do this?
I was working in advertising and occasionally would have to wine and dine my clients. Eventually, the conversation came up about filipino food and where we could go to get some. To be honest, i didn't want to take them to turo turo(filipino fast food) or go to Queens....the offerings at the time didn't showcase the food in a way that could compete with other non-filipino restaurants (e.g. service, presentation, ambiance, wine list, cocktail list, etc.). I started telling myself...I can do this..." so i started working two jobs concurrent with my day job so i could learn the business....hosting, serving, bartending, running, bussing, managing....not sleeping.

(B): What culinary message are you voicing in your concept?
Enzo: We want to take a modern, studied spin on classics. As with the food, so in cocktails. Basically, it's important to show people that they are already somewhat familiar with this food / drink. Everybody's got that one Filipino friend, right?

Nicole: in one word: pride. I want to educate on our history and culture through food. Why is Vietnam and Thailand a common travel destination and not the Philippines? I think its due in part to food....so when you are introduced to goi cuon or pad thai, you start getting curious about the country and culture...well, if you cannot afford the pricey ticket to the Philippines, perhaps you can afford a more accessible dinner amongst 5 friends...and then you might be more curious about the country and the culture...and maybe then people might be more interested in visiting the country....

(B): Why pop-up?
Nicole: I saw the success of Egg, and its history of popping up at Sparkys years ago. For us, it became a recession-based solution to getting a business off the ground. We are helping our host restaurant pay the bills and they are helping us get the dream materialized. I wish i could say i had some genius master plan about popping up, but it was all about preparation and being in the right place in the right time....i guess kinda like the book Outliers....

(B): Since this has proven a success whats your next steps?
Nicole: i'm so entirely grateful for the websites, bloggers, facebook, the reservations and walk ins every weekend. on our first week, we looked at each other and only had 4 tables...i was like "uh...dear god...please send people"...then by the third week, we had reservations booked over a week in advance! Next steps: keep improving and exploring opportunities to share the food.

I was surprised by a plate of Balut. Its a delicacy in the Philippines not for the weak stomach but for the culinary challenger as it was featured on fear-factor. I took the Challenge. For more info click Balut.

As they search for a more permanent space to hang up their decorative wooden fork and spoon, I look forward to their goal of Maharlika becoming a benchmark in furthering the niche of Filipino food in the culinary world.

Maharlika Pop-up is open Saturdays and Sundays for Brunch only through the end of March.

351 E. 12th St. (off 1st Ave.)

For info and reservations click: Maharlika NYC or email info@maharlikanyc.com

(I had to book mine a week in advance so don't wait)

At your Service,

The Boulevardist

All mouthwatering photos courtesy of +Snowflake Photography

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