It’s hard not to be leery of restaurants that try to please too many palates.
When dishes as disparate as bibimbap, goat curry and wild boar pizza pop up on a menu that’s supposed to have a distinct Filipino bent, you get the distinct feeling that something’s got to give. Korean and Filipino dishes, after all, can be complex undertakings.
At Purple Yam, the new Filipino/pan-Asian restaurant in Ditmas Park by Chef Romy Dorotan (who shuttered his well-regarded Cendrillon in Manhattan earlier this year), the menu is that varied. But there’s a lot to like about Dorotan’s food so far.
Well, as long as you stick to the Filipino dishes.
For starters, let’s talk pork.
Pork is to Filipino food what har gow is to dimsum. If a dimsum restaurant can’t execute har gow, the shrimp dumplings that are the hallmark of the meal, well, then it’s just not worth eating there.
Dorotan, however, does a lovely job with his — tocino, a sugary, salty cured meat with a touch of anise flavor, appears in the form of sliders ($6 for two). Packed in a purple yam bun and served with pickled persimmon, the tocino was just delicious.
As well-thought out as the combination was, however, we couldn’t help but feel that the tocino was so flavorful it would have been just perfect served on its own. The trimmings were nice, but utterly superfluous.
Next up, we had another Filipino staple — lumpia, a large summer roll featuring sauteed cabbage, leeks and mushrooms in a soft rice crepe and drizzled with peanut and tamarind sauce ($7).
Now, here’s where our meal got a little hairy.
A few minutes after we’d ordered, our waitress informed us that we might have to wait a while for our food — because of computer problems, she couldn’t punch our orders into the system to alert the kitchen.
Bear in mind, this is not a big restaurant. It would have taken the waitress not even a minute to walk over from the computer to the kitchen in order to tell them what we’d ordered.
This, however, did not happen. And we ended up waiting.
A wild boar pizza ($13), ordered as an entree, appeared before some appetizers, taking up precious space on a tiny table and causing some discomfort. Does the person start on his entree? Wait for others’ food to show up? Just how long would the rest of the food take to show up?
Finally, we all just dug in to what turned out to be a rather flavorless pizza.
The goat curry ($12) was a little tastier — but as an entree, it’s on the small side and may leave you wanting more.
The $17 oxtail kare kare, where the meat is braised in peanut sauce and served with fermented shrimp paste, had a little more heft. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t knock your socks off either. (The same could also be said of the $12 bibimbap, a Korean dish of rice tossed with mushrooms, spinach, squash and gingko nuts.)
What did knock your socks off was the adobo, a stew of pork or chicken braised in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and pepper that just so happens to be one of my absolute favorite dishes. (Purple Yam’s $16 chicken adobo is pictured at the very top of this post.)
This dish alone is worth trekking out to Purple Yam any night of the week for — the chicken was tender and the gravy had the perfect balance of soy sauce, vinegar and garlic.
Similarly, we had no complaints about the $12 pancit bihon, Filipino rice noodles tossed with chicken, pork and vegetables. It’s far from a fancy dish but its simple flavors will remind you of very good home cooking.
Just when we thought we were almost done eating, an $8 dish of ukoy/vegetable shrimp fritters showed up. They may look like mutated alien spawn but trust me, they’re good — especially if you like crunchy, fried anything.
In the sweets department, Purple Yam has a good selection.
The pandan taste in this dessert, however, was disappointingly dog-whistle faint. If what you’re expecting is just a regular flan, however, this is not bad.
The ice-creams ($2 a scoop), however, were fantastic — the coffee was lovely but the purple yam was out of this world.
If they sold this by the pint, they’d have lines out the door.
And finally, we had the dessert that sent my Filipino-American friend into a rhapsody — champorrado ($6), a sweet, creamy and chocolatey rice pudding, topped with coffee ice-cream.
As my friend shoveled spoonful after spoonful into his mouth, he paused only to share his memories of eating his mom’s version of this dessert as a child.
“This is bringing me back,” was the refrain.
As uneven as our meal had been, there had been high notes — mostly Filipino.
And at the end of the day, when food is able to conjure warm thoughts of childhood and Mom’s desserts — well, there can’t be much higher praise than that, really.
Purple Yam, 1314 Cortelyou Rd (between Rugby & Argyle), Brooklyn, Tel.: 718.940.8188, www.cendrillon.com