Expand Your Culinary Horizons
Cuisine House of Asia
10708 98 Street
“Welcome to the Cuisine House of Asia,” our friendly server said as we walked in. “May I get you some tea, coffee, water…?” That was our pleasant introduction to this newly re-opened restaurant featuring Filipino cuisine. Just as in its previous incarnation, the interior is the same: two dining rooms with about fifteen tables each, a stage, and dance floor, with tasteful metal chains for curtains.
The menu had many interesting options, starting with the appetizers. In addition to the traditional calamari, nachos, and chicken wings, there were “grilled pig’s head parts” and “grilled pork face.” The main dish specials (with pictures in the menu) included pig face, knuckles, and pork belly plus spicy chicken and milk fish. Also listed (without pictures) were several beef, pork, chicken, noodle, vegetarian, and fish dishes, with names unknown to me. Thankfully, our server explained what they were and helped us make a selection. Many ingredients rarely appear on Western menus, like pork blood, tongue, and the like. I opted for the Bicol Express, spicy pork meat with coconut milk, and my companion ordered Kare Kare, an oxtail peanut soup. We decided to start with the grilled pork face to find out what it was all about.
The variety of textures in the grilled pork face came from tender meat, tougher grizzle, crunchy fried bits (of skin?), and some soft pieces as well as recognizable onion, garlic, chili, pepper, and egg. It came in a sizzling platter and we had to quick stir in the egg to make sure it got cooked. I can’t say there was a lot of flavour, but there was nothing distasteful about it. Perhaps it could have been spiced up by some of the condiments available: salty shrimp paste, soy sauce, vinegar, salt and pepper, and (oddly) ketchup.
A huge bowl of oxtail soup contained a goodly sized bone with meat, bok choy, green beans, purple Chinese eggplant, and a number of other ingredients that looked like internal organs (which would have been nice to have been listed in the menu). Nevertheless, the soup was hot and fresh. The taste was certainly not spicy (even a bit bland) and the expected peanut taste was muted.
The pork in coconut sauce was, in comparison, a relatively small dish, but certainly adequate for a meal. Combined with fried onions, green beans, and black pepper the pork’s spiciness was not apparent not right away, but shortly after each mouthful. Some rice certainly balanced out the tastes of the meals. (Be careful when ordering. A serving of rice is $3.50 but a bowl of rice is $10.50. Fortunately, our server took care of the confusion.) Appetizers and mains ran in the $12.95-$15.95 range. Tea was complementary.
Overall, the food was fresh and well-prepared. Many of the dishes or ingredients are simply unavailable elsewhere and might stretch a Western palate a bit. Perhaps sharing dishes in a group would provide an opportunity to experience a variety of tastes and textures. It’s worth stepping out and expanding culinary horizons!
John lives in Boyle Street.