I was interested to hear about a brand new Filipino place in Ballston, especially since the unfortunate closing of Bistro 7107 in Crystal City, which was a good place to know about.
I was expecting to support a fledgling place struggling to find customers, but I walked into a large jam-packed restaurant hopping with servers, fancifully plated food, and an expansive and popular bar.
How did all these people here about a restaurant that didn't even have a sign yet?
Apparently arlingtonNOW.com has a huge following for restaurant openings. Before a first review can even be posted, social media does its trick.
I hit the bar, the only opening for a seat, and sat next to someone who told me of the arlingtonNOW connection. Her prediction is that the place will be deserted in a month after the initial curiosity dies down. That's the way these things go....
I was there with one purpose in mind: to order the Bicol Express, a pork belly dish uncommonly found on menus, named after the train ride from Manila to Legazpi City in the Bicol region, known for its spicy cuisine.
Unfortunately, this dish suffered badly in comparison to a special I had at Purple Patch in DC. Here it was strips of lean pork swimming in a bland pink coconut milk sauce. The pink I imagine comes from a puree of chili peppers thrown into the mix, but no food should be this color, and it was barely hot. In comparison, the version at Purple Patch had small morsels of fatty pork and a bunch of fresh chopped peppers with a rich sauce barely clinging to the meat with the tang of fermented shrimp paste to give it some extra kick.
The folks here seem real nice and are certainly trying hard. The menu is exciting, and I will consider going back. Maybe craft cocktails can see them through, but I hope to find some better food.