I've known about Renee's Kitchenette for years, and I'm sure you have too. I never went that often, maybe once every few years, but lately I've been going a lot. It's like an overlooked wallflower that turns out to have hidden charms. Filipino food can be addictive. I've read an article by a Filipino woman whose yearning for the foods of home is so great that she spends all her savings on plane tickets for Manila. If she'd known about Renee's she could have saved her money.
This tiny but sparkling clean Queens place bills itself as "home of Pampanga's best cuisine." Pampanga is the region of the Philippines that has been devastated by volcanoes. But the crowds of Filipino diners seemed happy enough the first time I went there this year. I ate quite early, so I could see a movie. The place was almost full, though. I ordered a whole Tilapia served with a sweet and sour sauce yummy enough to appeal to those who like sweet and sour but sophisticated enough to appeal to those too sophisticated for sweet and sour. Ginger, spices, just enough sugar so it wont taste too tart. I ate the whole fish, head tail and everything between. It was $9, including a bowl of rice which I doused with a sauce made from rotten fish. (Same sauce as in Vietnam and Thailand and all of south Asia -- and ancient Rome too, for that matter).
The second time I went later. It was jammed, I was lucky to get a table and later had to share it with a Filipino family. I was the only one there not part of a Filipino family... though I was, I guess, when I shared the table. What I got, Sarciadong Tilapia, was one of the best Filipino meals ever. A whole tilapia fish was cooked and topped with diced tomatoes, minced onion and scrambled egg. It was almost literally swimming in a bright red broth made with stock, lots of garlic, and tomatoes. The broth was probably a legacy of the centuries of Spanish rule
I thought about Spain on my third visit. And midway through my delicious plate of Kalderetang Kambing I had a very minor culinary epiphany. For culinary purposes, the Philippines should be considered part of Latin America. The biggest food influence on the Philippines is Spain. My goat stew, with its rich brown sauce, was just like that served in El Castillo de Jagua, a wonderful Dominican restaurant on Rivington in Manhattan. Yes, there are Chinese influences in Filipino cooking, sweet and sour, fried noodles etc, but they are a lot like the stuff served in Chino latino restaurants that cater to a Latin crowd. So on the food map of the world the Philippine Islands lie between Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and maybe that's why they call it the Bermuda Triangle.
Renee's Kitchenette, 69-14 Roosevelt Av, Queens, (718) 476-9002 or 947-0472, closed Tuesday, closes 8:30 PM other days.
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