Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Isla Buffet

Not for nothing are Filipino restaurants beloved of the low end theorist. Organ meats and exotic fruit drinks? Check. Cross-cultural confusion? How ‘bout adobo, lumpia shanghai and pancit canton rubbing shoulders. Bulk options for the community? You can probably fill your bathtub with $50 worth of pancit.

So I was excited when my Filipino friend May offered to take a party out for a traditional fish breakfast at Isla (formerly Toto’s Lechon Manok) at 4420 Eagle Rock Blvd. Breakfast is served weekends only as a $5.95 buffet – hooray for America! – and runs 8am til 10:30. I’d advise getting there early, not because it’s busy but because critical fried items are best fresh. Such as bangus, the lovable milkfish which is crisp and fishy, served in chunks including heads. I once went to a street fair where a Filipino comedian proclaimed “Pinoys, we got a lot of pride! We got pride lumpia, pride chicharron, pride bangus...”.

The heart of the steam table at Isla is the meatprefix-silog meal, where –silog is an abbreviation for eggs and rice. Hence bansilog = bangus, eggs, rice; tapsilog = beef tapa (dried ~ carne seca); and longsilog = longanisa sausage (the darker brown-red kind is the better of the two varieties).

Being a somewhat deluxe buffet there are other meat choices such as chicken and pork tocino, good examples of the Filipino sweet tooth that even extends to the amusingly toothsome fast food chain Jollibee. The longanisa is considerably sweeter than that you’ll find in Central American eateries. Other fine additions to the –silog basics are diced pig ears and eggplant, sticky black glutinous rice, addictively gingery congee and smoked and dried versions of the small tinapa fish. These are strong like mackerel, don’t miss the smoked one! Vinegar goes well with the bangus and tinapa. Another tasty condiment is the fried shrimp paste whose name escapes me. It lacks the deep funk of Malay belacan but is delicious in its own way. Unfortunately dessert is not included so you’ll have to pay extra for halo-halo, the godmother of shaved ice treats. Luckily it’s full of calories, I’m always reminded how at home they call taro/ube the Tongan steroid, despite the fact that its effect on one’s waistline is surely stoichiometric rather than catalytic.

2 Comments:

Blogger purediva said...

Hey Simon - Great piece on the filipino place. As a filipina-american, I was pretty impressed with your acumen for my people's food--put me to shame! Keep the intelligence on the good cheap eats coming. My BF and I are both serious foodies and just moved here from Chicago.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Andrei said...

Simon, it's good I stumbled upon your "Isla Buffet" entry. I was seriously thinking that Americans have no flexibility in taste after reading Pamie's blog entry.

Visit my blog once in a while.

10:05 AM  

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