There's a long-running thread on the Seattle portion of food-lover gathering board Chowhound entitled, "Is Filipino Food Embarrassing?" The thread asks why, with so many Filipinos in town, there are so few restaurants serving the cuisine. Of those that do, even fewer serve anything as good as my co-worker's pancit brought to potlucks, or the lumpia my childhood friend's mom made. Irbille Edibles, a pop-up restaurant run in Olivar by Olivar sous-chef Irbille Donia, doesn't try to make those classics live up to a local Filipino family's standard, but instead takes the food in a different direction, crossing it with fresh, local ingredients, offering a slower-paced introduction to Filipino food.
Unfortunately, most of the food at Irbille Edibles left me craving just a bit more of the Filipino flavor. Kamatis, a tomato salad, was, but for the 'crispy silver fish,' not too different from one you'd see on any local menu. Large heirloom tomatoes were sweet and the crunch from the tiny fish was a lovely contrast in texture, but the sherry vinegar mentioned on the menu was difficult to find. Overly vinegar-y is a common complaint from first-time tasters of Filipino food, and it seemed that the chef was trying to avoid that in this menu. For shame, since many of the dishes were spot on, other than the lack of acid.
The scallop dish that came out next and the chicken from the main dish had something in common: the meats were perfectly executed. Both were cooked to exactly where you'd want them: tender, soft, but with a strong exterior to hold them together. The afritada sauce on the chicken stood out with excellent flavor, bringing together the finely diced braised potatoes and the fava beans. The chef and his staff showed clearly throughout the meal that they have excellent technique. Plates were beautiful, highlighting the knife skills of a serious professional.
The best dish of the night, the one that finally got a little sour into a dish, was the steak. Of course the grilled flatiron itself was great, but it was the salad of green beans and tomatoes on top where the toyomansi (calamansi lime juice with soy sauce) finally brought the magic flavors together, offering a dish that walked across cultures and found that spot that can appeal to all. It was this last dish that finally got me thinking there was a place for elevated Filipino cuisine in this city.
Irbille Edibles is the last Monday of each month, at Olivar. The next one will be August 27th.