Bistros typically serve up modest, down-to-earth fare, true, but calling this place a bistro is a bit of a stretch even by the most liberal of definitions. Here, diners step up to a counter and order items from a heating tray, thereby precluding the need for white-shirted servers with the ability to differentiate a California from a Bordeaux cabernet. Semantics aside, this humble little east Orlando eatery offers a little home cooking to the Pinoy populace, and at prices that can’t be beat. For a paltry $6.50, you can fill up on two entrees, a side of rice and a drink, and that includes unlimited trips to the hot sauce bar, where bottles of assorted stingers await.
Filipino dishes are heavy on pork and seafood, and of the eight available choices of mains, the paksiw na bangus, a clear vinegar- based stew of milkfish, bitter melon and eggplant, reeked most of authenticity. Silver-skinned slabs of fish infused with the tart broth were given an added layer of bite with ginger and whole jalapeños. The dish is served at room temperature (not sure if that was intentional or not), but you can almost picture people eating it on the steamy streets of Manila on a hot summer day. Just be wary of the tiny bones in the milkfish.
Thanks to a consommé spiked with outstandingly sour tamarind, pork sinigang won’t help un-pucker your lips, but will provide comfort a la chicken noodle soup (minus the chicken and the noodle). Cabbage and carrots whirl around with boneless pork in the broth; like Thai tom yum, it’s tinged with a little heat.
Chunks of traditional pork adobo, braised and browned with soy sauce, garlic and vinegar, was another entree option. The moist and tender meat had a nice smoky flavor, and a splash of hot sauce (pointed out to us by the owner) went perfectly with the pork. Even filling rounds of fatty lechon kawali, or crispy pork, begged for a dip in the sauce.
Chicken afritada, one of the few dishes not seafood or pork, veers away from vinegar and uses a spicy tomato base instead. Enough chicken and potatoes is ladled onto your plate to feed two; if you can get your hands on the bottle of homemade garlic-chili-vinegar sauce being passed from table to table, grab it and pour away. The mound of lemony rice noodles in the pancit bihon ($6.50) could’ve used more chicken and less noodles, though considering it had to be made from scratch, I wasn’t in a position to complain.
Like everything else here, desserts are made in-house. Sadly, though, bibingka ($2.50), a sweet rice cake, failed to impress. Sapin-sapin ($2.50), a three-layer, tricolored delicacy with a gelatinous consistency, couldn’t garner my full endorsement either.
This “bistro” has found a niche catering to area Filipinos in search of cheap, no-nonsense meals. Like the corrugated tin and yellow paint on the restaurant’s walls, low cost and high quality converge in these self-effacing environs, and that’s enough to warrant a visit.