103 1st Ave (between 6th and 7th streets)
New York, NY 10003
I love Filipino food. I didn’t really discover this until Jeepney (sister to Maharlika) popped up in my neighborhood and I got to try some excellent Bicol Express (slow roasted pork shoulder in coconut milk). I haven’t blogged Jeepney yet because I never have my camera when I go, but I definitely need to soon. It embodies everything I know about Filipino culture: fun, familial, loud, and delicious. Ugly Kitchen is another Filipino restaurant in the East Village that my friend L.B. is involved with (and even worked in the kitchen!). It embodies the same kind of vibe as Jeepney’s but is a bit more affordable (mains are $10-$15 whereas at Jeepney where they are $15-$20).
Y.N. asked for the most popular dish on the menu: The Ugly Grilled Chicken ($14), which consists of two pieces of fire grilled chicken with a Korean fusion marinade and a side salad and rice. As simple as this sounds, it tasted pretty damn delicious. The chicken was flavorful, had a strong charred flavor, and was fairly tender. As the chicken cooled down, it got less tender (so eat quickly!), but was still tasty. Great home cookin’ for when you don’t want to take out the grill (or don’t have one because you live in NYC).
L.B. got the Sizzling Sisig ($13), which consists of spicy minced pork belly, liver, pork cheek, all sautéed together in onions and soy sauce with an egg on top. The waiter cuts the pieces up on the sizzling stone plate when the dish is brought over. The bite size pieces are fatty, and super fragrant. It’s a classic Filipino dish that I haven’t quite learned to love just yet but can see why it is Filipino comfort food.
I got the Adobo Chicken, a specialty of the week that the waiter suggested. Despite the fact that mine looks the least interesting, it was, in my opinion, the best. Adobo Chicken is also a classic Filipino comfort dish, usually made with vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce marinated overnight. Kind of similar to Sichuan Twice Cooked Pork Belly, the chicken is first boiled and then sauteed. The result is a super tender meat that also has the fragrant flavor of being browned with onions and garlic. Not sure how Ugly Kitchen makes this, but I imagine it is something similar. Delicious.
We also shared two Ice Turons ($6 each), each including a scoop of ice cream and freshly made banana fritters. We had taro ice cream and cheese ice cream (!). The cheese ice cream was DELICIOUS. I need to ask Aris again where he gets this stuff (they import their ice creams from the Philippines I believe). Actually forget it, I’ll just come back and order it. The cheese flavor is a uniquely Asian kind of flavor. In China, we have sweet cheese crackers that taste similar. It’s creamy, a little coconutty, and, well, cheesy.
Here’s Chef Aris Tuazon with the lovely L.B. Aris literally welcomed us with open arms when we came in, showering us with endless attention (and shots). I know it wasn’t only because we were L.B.’s guests because he seemed to have his way around the restaurant with everyone. He really brought the life to this restaurant, making every diner feel like family.
It was so familial that at one point, I swear the whole restaurant had stood up to cheer me on as I conquered my greatest food hurdle: the Balut. Balut is a fertilized duck egg that contains a duck embryo that is boiled and eaten with just a sprinkle of salt. I am generally pretty adventurous and will try anything once. Balut has always been something I never thought I could stomach, but the damn crowd was so excited for me that I didn’t want to let them down! Legitimately, at one point, the entirety of the restaurant had stood up and was clapping in unison for me to go for it. I watched my friendly neighbor peel the balut, not really comprehending that I would soon be eating it.
I’m sorry for the graphic photos, but I want you to experience it exactly as I had.
Not really sure what the split is between the yolk and the embryo, but I had the entire embryo and part of the yolk.
That’s me being awkward about being fed this one thing I said I would probably never try in my life. Okay, truth be told, I can actually see why balut is considered a delicacy. I actually enjoyed it after I forced my mind to forget what I was eating. To explain what it tastes like, let me ask you a question. Do you like wings? BBQ wings or buffalo wings? Are you the type that eats just the main parts of meat and tosses the rest of the messy bone? Or are you the type to gnaw at the bone and finish up all the bits of meat stuck to the bone, cartilage and such included? If you are the latter, like me, then you’ll come around to liking balut, because that’s what balut tastes like exactly. It has a very umami kind of flavor, almost like “essence” of duck. And if you’re curious, yes, I ate the beak. It was crunchy.
After our meal, we got to check out the kitchen. I love looking at where the magic all happens at restaurants. Realizing that every single dish comes from that one stove is always somewhat of a humbling experience.
Overall, I had an amazing experience at Ugly Kitchen. It offers great comfort food, totally reasonable prices, and a super lively environment. It’s also located such that it would be a great place to have dinner and start your drinks before a night out in East Village or LES. Can’t wait to go back to try some of their other dishes! Particularly eyeing the taro leaves in coconut milk , crispy fried pork hock and knuckle, and the dumplings with cheese, tomatoes, and chimichurri.