MAHARLIKA: a Taste of NYC in LA

When it was first announced that the genius minds from Maharlika NYC and Jeepney Filipino Gastro Pub would be crossing the country to spread the good news on Filipino food here in Los Angeles, my initial reaction was to hop on that ticket ASAP! This magical collaboration was one of passion between Marian Bacol-Uba of Culinary Escorts, Nicole Ponseca of Maharlika NYC and, the forever champion, Chris Oh of Seoul Sausage and Escala K-Town.
News spread fast as the last pre-sale tickets of the event sold out within the first week of mention. LA foodies couldn’t resist the notion of modern Filipino food coming to visit because there is honestly a lack of a strong Filipino food presence here in LA. I’m just being real. Filipinos have an outnumbering population in Los Angeles and California, but it’s been an inconsistent fact that there is no great modern restaurant present as well. YES there is Filipino food here in California but its not exactly found as exciting as your typical five star restaurant. We need a classy, sit-down-and-order, food-pornography worthy resto amidst all the cafeteria style, lola’s B-grade eatery. (No offense, Lola.) Ask any white person or non-filipino person about Adobo or chocolate meat and they’ll tell you its great, but the time they did enjoy it was at their token-filipino friend’s little sister’s debut. Or they’re used to seeing it hidden in white styrofoam take-out boxes. When people rate Filipino food less than 5 stars on Yelp for reasons like “It didn’t look tasty” or “It was too greasy.” we Filipinos can only agree with a silent “YES. But it’s SO good though!!!”
See, we Filipinos KNOW our food is the best despite the carb, salt, and grease overload. But does the rest of the world know? We need to change this. We need a modernized and excellent presence of Adobo, Kare Kare, and Pancit and we need it NOW. Filipinos need not be feeling “hiya” and should be more showy and prideful of their food. Filipinos need to grow more balls and not just share their culture one baon at a time but internationally with five-star restaurants. *Bangs fist on table*
Luckily, we have a few game-changers in the filipino food world shifting minds one impressed taste bud at a time. And they’re not changing the art of the sisig or lechon completely, they’re just revamping and reconstructing the face of it from lola’s rice and “laman” food plops in styrofoam containers so many Filipino Americans are accustomed to. One star revolutionary is an inspiring female from New York City. Enter Nicole Ponseca – founder of Maharlika NYC and Jeepney NYC. She is passionate about contemporary presentations of the tapsilogs and transforming it hand-in-hand with American classics like benedicts and waffles. What happens when you get the sexy flavors of Filipino favorites incorporated with brunch dishes? Well a cute half-filipino food baby of course! Dishes like the Eggs Imelda, Flip’D Chicken and Ube Waffles, and the Sizzling Sisig have reintroduced themselves as a new definitive edge of Filipino thanks to Nicole, Maharlika NYC and Jeepney.
On June 7, I was able to catch the encore event of the Maharlika and Escala collaboration pop-up and I was so inspired to see this presentation solidify in the bustling heart of one of LA’s foodie cities. I arrived there 20 minutes before the 11am opening and I was able to observe how the team hustled and made sure every single detail was ready to impress the oncoming and hungry crowd. Nicole, such a spearhead and boss lady, reviewed the details of the Sunday Brunch menu with the team making sure each server knew the ingredients and dishes like it was their own lovechild. She quizzed them as a group and received correct responses in an almost military fashion. She made no room for second-guessing as she knew the attendees would be inquisitive. Marian, had asked me to deliver a group order of coffee as not just an energy booster for the day, but as liquid recovery from the successful Kamayan dinner of the night before. It was a big weekend for everyone involved.
Once the tables had been set, the menu reviewed, the bar reorganized, and the chefs prepped, the team all held hands for a prayer. It was lovely to be see and the growing crowd outside EsCala witness through the large panes a glimpse of the kind of dedication and passion that the team members share for the sake of honoring their food. When the doors opened, Nicole greeted the members of the growing line and introduced their entrance into the beautifully decorated interior of Escala.
The crowd filled the restaurant fast as the reserved guests were seated and the incoming guests were huddled around the bar. I was able to squeeze my arm in between my seated bar friends to order the brunch special calamansi mimosa and Maharlika’s funky rendition of the Bloody Mary. It tasted new but all too familiar at the same time as the components were Jufran Banana Ketchup and Maggi. I liked it and drank it down as a fast as I would typically at Sunday brunch nonetheless. And the calamansi mimosa was refreshing perfection during that warm 90 degree day in Los Angeles.
When we finally received our beautifully presented filipino dishes and our iPhones were finally back in our pockets, we dug in with no shame. Hardly no conversation ensued as out mouths were busily receiving and engulf-err- indulging the forkfuls of sisig, and ube waffes glazed with caramelized macapuno, calamansi hollandaise, and tapsilog. The crunch of the fried chicken was perfected by a modern chef but the flavors as familiar as my mom would make it. The Sisig was undoubtedly the best I have ever had because the crunch of the pork and the addition of the raw egg. Perfect. In 10 minutes, the food was gone. There was satisfied silence and a hidden smile being cleaned by napkins found on each of my tablemates. We were full. We were happy and we were proud. This was how Filipino food should be now: deliciously familiar but fearlessly modern.

Culver City Farmers Market

“Look! A G.L.P.!”
“Good looking potato?” I joked.
Although the farmers market was filled with lovely displays of harvest, I knew this starchy root wasn’t exactly what he was verbally pointing to. Mario and I started an inside joke when he moved to Beverlywood. It’s the in-between nook of Beverly Hills and Westwood; and the people reflect the two-city hybrid well. Energetic like Westwood. Bougie like Beverly hills. Actors. Celebrities. Industry peeps. You know, L.A. people. We say “GLP” whenever we are out in Beverly Hills eating Go Greek yogurt and see a tall, clear skinned, Dior shade hidden character. So gorgeous that we can only guess – celebrity? Of course we can’t say celebrity out loud and neither will Good Looking Person be appropriate. So, GLP fits best. The scene can get really histerical between us like when we’re eating at a Chipotle and I slip out “GLP!” with a smile, followed by a point to the left with my eyes. Or when we’re shopping for Cookie Butter at Trader Joes down La Cienega and I brush shoulders with a tanned and tall character, wearing shades indoors. “GLP!” I think and note the appearance for later report. We’re just excited that we’re surrounded by such beautiful people. Thats all.
If good looking people live in West Los Angeles then Farmers Markets are their watering holes. Whether you’re buying rabbit and sunflowers from Santa Monica Farmers Market on a _____ or Culver City Farmers Market on a ______, you’re bound to see a GLP. And if you’re lucky, that GLP might even be a celebrity… and you’ll drop your cool and faint!
But if you can see past the people and focus on the produce, you may be more surprised. There are hidden gems to be found at the Farmers Market and I’m glad I was able to take my camera with me (Like a typical L.A. food blogger) to capture some of Culver City’s finest!

RECIPE: Adulterated Banana Bread



Adulterated Banana Bread

with cinnamon bacon bits and maple syrup
When you’re cleaning out your fridge because its the end of the week and you know your budget consciousness simply won’t allow you to do groceries on a Thursday night, you get a little creative in the kitchen. Heck, for my side, you get a little desperate. This is an example of how clearing out your kitchen can evoke an inner baking wizard.
My roomies and I go through the community bananas like a family of monkeys. However, some weeks we end up leaving ugly bananas hanging there to brown. At the apartment we toss them in the freezer because, well, what else do you do to bananas when they’re borderline baby food?
This recipe calls for ugly bananas. All uglies are welcome! And when I say ugly, I mean fugly. The bananas I used were so ugly they were defrosted and lumpy. DON’T toss them! They’re the sweetest gems waiting to be used. Ugly black bananas are packed with so much flavor, you won’t want to waste the wealth of natural sweetness these have to offer. Ugly is goooood!
3 ugly black bananas
3 eggs
1 cup tapioca flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tbsp nutmeg
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
5 slices of bacon
2 tbsp date sugar
3x9x3 loaf pan or a rectangular loaf kind.
Mixing bowl
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan with a dab of coconut oil.
In a mixing bowl, mash together 3 ugly black bananas, eggs, coconut oil, and vanilla extract. Do not over-mash, leaving chunks of bananas would be best. In a separate bowl mix together the tapioca flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts and salt. Incorporate into the bowl of your wet ingredients for about 1 minute of stirring. Do not over mix. Pour mixture into the loaf pan. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until the center of the loaf yields a clean toothpick test.
As for the cinnamon bacon bits, take the slices of bacon and chop them into bits. Cook them over medium high heat on a nonstick frying pan until most of the fat has been rendered and the bits have slightly crisped and turned their auburn color. Add the date sugar and the cinnamon powder. Stir until incorporated which takes about another 2 minutes.
To serve, take the bacon bits and pour and spread throughout the surface of the loaf (bacon grease and all!). Drizzle maple syrup to your desire. The texture of this recipe is similar to french toast. The loaf has a bounce to it because of the tapioca flour which is different from your typical banana loaf. A texture much appreciated with the crunch of the bacon bits! This banana loaf is adulterated as paleo can get. With the addition to maple syrup and bacon, its a quintessential paleo breakfast! Give this recipe a try when you have a collection of black bananas stacking up. Enjoy!

RECIPE: Eggs in Clouds


Eggs in clouds may seem as etherial to make as they appear but they are easy to produce if you have a mixer and an oven. If you have special guests over for brunch, these are sure to charm and are as inexpensive to make as scrambled eggs. Believe me when I say that these are SO easy to make! Let me know how you enjoy them!

+ Stand mixer or handheld mixer
+ Baking sheet
+ Parchment paper
+ Four eggs
+ 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
+ coarse sea salt
+ pepper
Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks making sure not to add any egg yolks to the whites. Whisk the whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. Dollop the mixture into four nests on your parchment paper lined baking sheet. Sprinkle cracked pepper and coarse sea salt. Take a spoon and make a dent in the center of the nest. Bake at 450 degrees F for 3 minutes. Add the yolk to the center and bake until desired yolk consistency or until the nests turn a golden brown. Deceivingly simple and elegant! Enjoy!