Friday, January 28, 2011

let's do brunch: maharlika

I first heard the term "pop-up restaurant" from what I consider the most awesome reality series on TV: Top Chef. A little more than a week ago, Top Chef All Stars had its restaurant wars. For this episode, they brought in a guest judge who knows what it's like to pull together a renegade restaurant for a brief culinary fling: Chef Ludo Lefebvre. Chef Ludo is the man behind LudoBites, an establishment that has been popping-up in various locations with different concepts for a few months at a time, effectively stringing along Los Angeles' food enthusiasts.

It thought it very cool, then, that just as most foodies had this popular concept on the brain, a pop-up restaurant with a Filipino bent cropped up in my neck of the woods. Maharlika has brought a Filipino take to Manhattan brunch in its temporary digs at Cafe Leon. The venture is the brainchild of Nicole Ponseca (GM at Juliette) and Enzo Lim (head barkeep at Minetta Tavern), and has chef Miguel Trinidad putting a New York spin on Filipino breakfast classics (and vice versa).

Brunch in New York is like a sacred ritual, with groggy urbanites braving sleet and snow for a much-needed noontime pick-me-up after a night of partying. I was hurting from an evening of far too many lychee martinis and would not have gotten up from bed if I had not been lured with the promise of arroz caldo. This was the best hangover cure on the planet:
Arroz caldo ($7) is a garlic-flavored rice porridge with a hearty portion of sliced chicken. Maharlika's version is jazzed up with a little bit of saffron and tastes like home. My cousin Melissa went for the classic Filipino breakfast of tocilog, a place of cured pork, fried egg and rice. I was intrigued and insanely jealous of our friend Chini's order, the Eggs Imelda ($11), which puts a Filipino spin on Eggs Benedict by substituting pan de sal for English muffins and prawns for the ham. It also comes with kamote fries, laing (taro root leaves, coconut milk, shrimp paste and chilies) and calamansi-spiked hollandaise sauce.
I am dying to come back and try the Eggs Benigno, a genius Filipino take on Eggs Benedict that involves that canned mystery meat that we love with a passion called Spam. I am also hoping to be ready for cocktails the next time around as there are some intriguing ones on the menu: particularly the Bloody Mary flavored with good old patis (fish sauce).

There are plans to make Maharlika a proper brick-and-mortar spot and I pray that it will happen. So many people in New York are curious about Filipino cuisine and I feel that this is one good way to slowly ease people into eating our type of food. The restaurant has been packed for the last two weekends so reservations are highly recommended. I for one am looking to cure (or create) a few more hangovers at Maharlika!

Maharlika is located at 351 East 12th Street, between First and Second Avenues.
Email or text 917-710-5457 for reservations.

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