In April Cecille Piros decided to open Bistro Manila with her son, Ryan Piros, the Assistant Director of Communications for the County of Maui, and her husband Ray. She wanted to “show that Filipino food is more than pork and peas and pancit,” she said. She has been a Filipino business woman and mover and shaker in the Maui community since 1983, and continues to also run her travel agency that specializes in trips to the Philippines.
One of my favorite things about Filipino food is that they unabashedly use all parts of the animal in their cuisine. I don’t condone the fact that many Americans turn up their noses at eating offal (entrails). If we are going to slaughter animals for food, then we should eat it all–a concept the Filipino culture has more than embraced. Their delicacies and special celebratory dishes contain these oft-forgotten delicate cuts of meats.
Bistro Manila is what I would consider a more upscale Filipino cuisine, but you’re still going to get all the great dishes of the Philippines, though with some fusion-type twists and extravagant presentations. Chef Richard Cablayan hesitated at first when I asked him what was in the meaty Sisig that comes sizzling on a hot cast iron platter lined with wood to your table. After I told him it was delicious and he could see that we devoured every scrumptious morsel he opened up a bit.
“Made with pork face,” he said. “All the parts, ears, cheeks, everything.”
The dish lights up their dining room with sizzle and a baconesque smell. The marinated meat is chopped small, sauteed crisp with plenty of flavor and then served with a raw egg over the top that cooks at the table. You squeeze citrus over the whole bit and then dig in. After I started eating I noticed that the next five tables had ordered the same thing. Sisig is irresistible here and is especially delicious served with a beer, so bring your own suds if you like it that way–Bistro Manila is BYOB.
One of Cecille’s favorite dishes is herb-crusted Bangus. This is milkfish, served with a whole fish filleted, split open and then coated with bread crumbs and herbs. The Kalamansi Soy Beurre Blanc makes this dish, with its tangy and savory flavor poured over the flakey fish. The Bangus is a favorite in the Philippines, where they have been farming this fish for more than 800 years.
My friend and colleague Ynez requested the Palabok noodle. “This dish is hard to make,” she said. “It takes so many steps and is one of my favorites.”
Palabok is a rice noodle topped with shrimp fried in wrappers, bits of chicharon (fried pork skin), smoked fish flakes, bagoong (shrimp paste), quartered hard boiled eggs and lime. Once again you squeeze citrus all over it before you take a bite. The noodles are a league ahead of Pancit, mainly because so many flavors and textures work together.
The Kare Kare is the dish my friend Christina chose, a family specialty for her. In the Kare Kare, a creamy peanut sauce gravy livens up tender braised oxtail chunks and steamed veggies. We also tried Inihaw (barbecue pork sticks), in which delicious lean flesh was marinated in banana ketchup, brown sugar and soy sauce. “Inihaw is a form of street food in the Filipines, but here at Bistro Manila it has transformed into an entree,” said Ryan. You can get Inihaw with chicken, beef or pork, but all are served with tomato, green onion and a truffle oil dipping sauce.
The desserts are every bit as fantastic and exotic as the entrees. I had never had Halo Halo before; consider it the Pinoy version of shave ice, though with far more texture than the island-style counterpart, as it includes mixed toppings like melon, bright green palm nuts, avocado and beans. Top it off with a milky leche flan sauce and scoop of ube, macapuno or mango ice cream, and you have one of the most joyful looking foods of all time that is just as much fun to eat. The other desserts like the cinnamon banana Lumpia and chocolate Cassava Bibingka were more grown up but just as good.
(check out this NY Times article on NY Halo Halo)
The menu at Bistro Manila covers all the basics and then some in Pinoy cuisine. The sense of adventure I felt from exploring the menu was priceless. They are open from Monday to Saturday from 10:30am to 8:30pm. They also have a catering menu and will deliver free for take out orders of $50 or more in the Kahului/Wailuku area. Bistro Manila is located at Hana Highway and Wakea Street in Kahului, next to the Singer Sewing Center and across from Hamai Appliance, which was once Maui’s Dee-Lites Bakery before it moved into Happy Valley.
230 Hana Hwy Suite 2, Kahului, HI 96732
About Jen Russo
I write lifestyle and culinary columns for MauiTime. I love being a Maui girl and adore my big family. Dedicated food taster, blogger, internet fanatic, and Maui and Hawaii specialist.