Glendale’s Five Seasons Restaurant has a Special Take on the Venerable Pancit Malabon
In an increasingly competitive restaurant industry one of the ingredients in a restaurant’s viability and longevity is innovation. Innovation helps a restaurant to be noticed in a sea of competing, and often, cookie-cutter dining establishments. In an era where McDonalds has lost its primacy in the hamburger arena, and where Kentucky Fried Chicken has to compete with a slew of wannabe fried chicken places, innovation has become a key to a restaurant’s enduring success.
Savvy restaurants owners, Filipinos included, have learned the value of innovating on their standard fare in order to stand out from the rest, and success is often gained by tweaking their standard fare like pancit (noodle) dishes and familiar Filipino classics like dinuguan, bulalo, and Pancit Malabon/luglug. Years ago, the innovative owners of the Manila Sunset restaurant chain opened Jeepney Grill in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles, on 6th St. corner Alexandria.
One of their entrees’ that stood out from the rest is the bulalo (boiled soup bones with marrow and tendon). Their version of bulalo had sesame seeds, julienned carrots and bok choy. The carrots and the bok choy were not a surprise, but the sesame seeds were. It was the most innovative take on that Batangas-invented slow-cooked meat entrée. More recently, Goldilocks also introduced their dinuguan (pork blood stew) with crunchy pieces of lechon (roast pig), and that innovation caught me with a pleasant surprise. The crunchy pork pieces introduced a new texture to an otherwise bland, dark-colored viand. Today, I discovered that another trendy restaurant in Glendale, the Five Seasons Restaurant, had added calamari to the Pancit Malabon/luglug, and that novel idea resulted in a sensational version of a very popular snack that was invented in the fishing town of Malabon, a suburb north of Manila. More recently, while having a meeting at Kapistahan Grill on Temple St., the editorial board of PinoyWatchDog.com was treated to a pancit guisado that executive editor, Al Aquino, ordered. The pancit guisado arrived with slices of lechon kawali on top. It has since been a favorite of PWD editors.
When I was in college and living in Caloocan City, we used to eat the original Pancit Malabon/luglug in a quaint little restaurant along the EDSA at Monumento, and I remember eating this delicacy festooned not only with shrimps but also squids, and garnished with crumbled smoked fish (tinapa) and powdered chicharon (fried pork rinds). Well, Five Seasons’ take on Pancit Malabon/luglug goes a step further. Cook Rinzell Alim, “Bok” to his co-workers, serves the popular noodle snack with a sprinkling of calamari (battered fried squids). “It adds a contrasting texture to the slightly chewy noodles,” notes Carlo Sillona, PWD’s Advertising Manager. My first mouthful of Five Seasons’ Pancit Malabon turned me into a convert.
I will not boggle your mind regarding the other ingredients that go into this noodle dish. I would say, though, that a $10 per order serving will be enough to satisfy the cravings of three adults. That comes to about $3.30 per person. “The servings are ample,” attests Martin Ordono, a Five Seasons manager.
Rinzell is very proud of his tweaked version of another Pinoy classic. Bok’s culinary innovations extend beyond this emerging Five Seasons offering. He is also responsible for cooking the equally popular mami noodles soups, all other variations of Pancit, including miki-bihon, guisado, canton and sotanghon. With obvious pride in his noodle soups, “Bok” tells me that it takes 24 hours of boiling pork legs and chicken neck bones to come up with the stock that goes with every serving of the restaurant’s variety of the restaurant’s noodle soups. But the 15-year veteran cook, who had stints in the kitchens of other leading Filipino restaurants in San Francisco, is never impatient. Born in Tondo and raised in Pasay City, Bok’s culinary journey has brought him from nondescript eateries in Manila to the Pinoy Restaurants in the Bay Area, picking up cooking skills along the way. A few years ago, Bok found himself in Los Angeles, working at the pantry of a well-known Filipino restaurant, and eventually finding a job as one of the cooks at Five Seasons Restaurant. He is one of the three Pinoy cooks at Five Seasons, each specializing on cooking this restaurant’s outstanding and best-selling entrees. These include Kalderetang Kambing, Kilawin Kambing, and kikiam, a Chinese sausage variety.
If you want to have a taste of Bok’s Pancit Malabon/luglug, visit Five Seasons Restaurant at 1428 East Colorado Blvd., Glendale, CA 91205. Or call tel. no. (818) 548-4277, and ask for their special Pancit Malabon/luglug. One important tip to remember, though, have them pack the calamari separately if you are going to take them out to prevent it from getting soggy.—Rene Villaroman