An authentic meal is not always a satisfying meal.
Barrio Fiesta of Manila offers a large menu of authentic Filipino delicacies served family-style from Kare-Kare (beef, ox-tail, tripe and vegetables in a peanut gravy) to fried bananas with Filipino ice cream. The lively ambience throughout the restaurant and reasonably priced menu has Barrio Fiesta appealing to many different crowds. However, the execution of the food lacks what the menu and environment suggests.
Pancit Malabon, according to the menu explanation, is “a Filipino noodle dish with tidbits of shrimp, pork and squid garnished with peanuts and tofu sauce.” This dish, which is only $14.70, comes on a large plate intended to serve three to four people. Unfortunately, most of the noodles were left on the plate and untouched. It arrived hot and smelling fresh, but the first bite revealed noodles that weren’t cooked through spoiling the whole plate. It was difficult to taste the flavor of the pork or tofu sauce while trying to choke down chewy noodles.
It’s hard to go wrong with an old-time favorite, so an order of Pinakbet for $11.95 seemed like a good choice to allow Barrio Fiesta a chance for redemption from the Pancit Malabon. The Baboy at Hipon Pinakbet consists of mixed vegetables and pieces of pork and shrimp slathered in shrimp sauce. This is a heavy dish, but the flavor is strong. The vegetables offer a unique pairing with the pork and shrimp that brings out the flavor in each individual element, but nothing overpowers any one food component.
A notable flavor in the Pinakbet is what the waiter referred to as bitter melon. The pieces of the bitter melon didn’t taste like a melon at all, but rather a perfectly cooked sweet potato. Overall, the Pinakbet delivered a true traditional Filipino taste.
For $11.95 Barrio Fiesta has a seafood dish that contains mixed seafood in a coconut spicy sauce called Bicol Express. Simply by looking at the dish it is impressive and an obvious delicacy to Filipino cuisine. It comes in a deep, round medal plate displaying exposed mussels sitting in their open shells, cooked shrimp that still have their heads and tails attached and chucks of squid, all soaking a yellow-brown spicy coconut sauce.
All of the seafood was well-cooked, but the spicy coconut sauce turned out to have a disappointing bland flavor lacking any sort of kick. The Bicol Express is very pleasing to the eye, but eating it calls for patience. It requires some work to take the mussels out of their shells and prep the shrimp for eating, but once that is accomplished the Bicol Express is a one of a kind Filipino speciality.
For dessert, the Halo-Halo comes in a tall glass cup layered with mixed fruit, crushed ice, purple Filipino ice cream and topped with a handful of rice crispies for $5.25. It’s difficult to tell the pieces of fruit apart as they don’t contain much tang, but it didn’t really matter because the ice cream was rich and the rice crispies and the layer of ice make for a rare crunchy dessert.
The best dish of the night goes to the fried bananas with ice cream. The bananas, which are sliced into about 10 bite-sized pieces, were served warm and soft on the inside and a crispy golden-brown texture on the outside, making a perfect complement to the smooth ice cream. The simplicity is what makes it delicious. This dish strips the mouth from tasting any of the leftover chewy noodles and leaves an ideal sweet taste for the ride home.