If you’ve never experienced the bold, pungent flavors of Filipino food, Bistro Luneta in San Mateo is a great place to get an introduction to this under-appreciated cuisine.
With Spanish, Chinese, and Malaysian influences, the cuisine is a harmony of salty, tangy, sweet, and savory. Husband-and-wife proprietors Jon and Janet Guanzon, along with Executive Chef Emmanuel Santos have given a modern interpretation to the cuisine.
Standouts on the menu include Tokwa’t Baboy, an appetizer of grilled pork slivers crowned with crusted, fried tofu that’s lightly crisp on the outside and amazingly custardy on the inside. Even tofu haters won’t be able to stop eating this dish.
Eskalops Adobo bring perfectly seared scallops together with meaty, caramelized portobello, all in a deeply flavored adobo sauce. The Crispy Pata, a staple on Filipino menus, gets the star treatment here. A pork leg is cooked till the meat is fork-tender, then deep-fried until the skin is a crackling shell that you’ll need a sharp knife to break through.
The Guanzons host winery dinners at the restaurant regularly. In the near future, they also hope to invite other Filipino-American chefs from around the Bay Area to come cook on special guest-chef nights.
In Palo Alto, Proprietor-chef John Le Hung of Three Seasons restaurant in downtown, has revamped his nearby former iTapas & Wine Bar, 445 Emerson St.; (650) 325-4400. It has been renamed Bistro D’Asie with a new concept. After one too many confused customers walked through the doors of iTapas expecting Spanish tapas, rather than Asian/International ones, he decided to craft a different menu.
Some of the favorites from iTapas are still on the menu. But new dishes also have been added, including more large plate offerings. The food — with French, Vietnamese, Spanish, Japanese, and Southeast Asian influences — is meant to be shared, family-style. The restaurant features more than 40 house cocktails at the very reasonable price of $5 to $7. Live jazz plays every Wednesday night, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., making it a fun, hip place to meet friends to unwind after work.
Don’t miss the grilled pork baby back ribs — cooked the way Asians love, not so fall-off-the-bone, but with a little more chewy bite. They’re finger-licking good. The standard Shaking Beef gets a new twist here with tender lamb instead (Lamb “Luc Lac”). It’s a zippy dish with just the right amount of heat and citrus, and delightful crunch from the accompanying green papaya salad.