Fil-Am Star stuns

Filipino food is probably one of the least known Asian cuisines. While one can easily find Chinese, Japanese, Korean and even Vietnamese pho houses, the Philippines remain sadly underrepresented. The Fil-Am Star Cafe and Bakery (www.filamstarcafe.com) finally fills that gap with its down-to-earth dishes and welcoming atmosphere.

Whenever I go to the Star Cafe, I feel like I’m at home. The owners really try to get to know you and will eagerly recommend their favorite dishes. Don’t be shy to wander around the restaurant and check out the baked goods they have for sale; they’ll be more than happy to translate Tagalog phrases or introduce their favorite snacks. Dishes are typically served family style, each person sharing large banana leaf covered plates and a big bowl of rice.

The food clearly showcases the distinct cultural background that shaped the Philippines, especially with its prominent use of pan frying and grilling techniques. Their skewers of pork BBQ (7.99) and pan fried cured pork, called tocino, (7.99) highlight the best use of those skills. As part of a reflection of the Philippines’ island culture, seafood features heavily on the menu and is often paired with a tangy vinegar sauce. The sinigang na hipon, tamarind soup with shrimp, (10.99) and inihaw na pusit, grilled squid (10.99), offer prime examples of how salty seafood is matched with sour tastes. My favorite seafood dish has to be the relyenong bangus (13.99) where the normally bony milkfish is stuffed with a delicious vegetable mix that complements the fried fish perfectly.

If you’re lucky and follow the specials menu closely, you may be able to catch some famous Filipino lechon. The national dish of the Philippines, lechon is made by roasting and basting a whole suckling pig for several hours. The final dish offers a wonderful combination of juicy meat and crispy skin. The Star Cafe usually serves lechon on holiday weekends, but if you miss the big lechon day, they will usually serve leftovers as lechon paksiw (13.99).

If you still have room after such filling entrees, try some halo-halo, a great blend of shaved ice, ice cream, fresh fruit and sweet beans (5.99). Also be sure to pick up some ensaymada on your way out. These addictive small pastries are made soft with cheese and made sweet with ube, a purple yam similar to taro. Overall, the Fil-Am Star Cafe offers a great introduction to Filipino cuisine. Its simple decor and friendly owners create a domestic, Mom-and-Pop atmosphere that’ll make you feel at home with the new dishes.