First Brunch at Maharlika – NYC
Variations on brunch are always welcome in my book, so when I heard
Maharlika — of past Filipino pop-up fame — opened a real restaurant on 1st Avenue, I was pretty stoked. Sizzling sisig for brunch? I’m down. So a few weeks later, I was there bright and early with David in tow.
According to their website though, it’s still a “soft opening” (“we don’t want to be judged too harshly as we are previewing the menu and the space and figuring out what works and what doesn’t”), so I won’t really go into David’s Mango French Toast ($12; pictured above), served with caramelized macapuno (a sweet syrup made from macapuno, a fleshy coconut from the Philippines) and fresh fruit, except to say it wasn’t very hot and I had expected the mango to be cooked down.
Anyhow, no matter, because moments later my Sizzling Sisig w/ Egg ($16) arrived, and it was indeed sizzling in a small cast-iron skillet. On top was a barely cooked egg which the waitress mixed up with the meaty bits at the table. She suggested I dig in after the sisig “stopped talking.” Mine was a chatty fellow.
A bowl of garlic rice also accompanied the sisig, along with several condiments: Maggi sauce, lemon, and a bottle of sukang ilokoof (cane vinegar infused in-house with peppers, garlic, and herbs for three months) which the waitress poured for me into a little saucer. Some people hate condiments at restaurants, but I love all the little jars, squeeze bottles, and shakers of magical stuff. Maggi sauce I added to the already delicious albeit oily garlic fried rice. If you’ve never had it, it’s concentrated umami, a.k.a. MSG, in liquid form. It’s great drizzled on fried rice as a more intense substitute for soy sauce.
To the sisig – a combination of pig ears, snout, cheek, and belly which had been boiled, grilled, and sautéed with onions and garlic before arriving sizzling in a skillet — I added cane vinegar and a squeeze of lemon. The lemon added freshness, but for me, the cane vinegar really made the dish. The acid in the vinegar cut the funkiness of the offal and also added a good dose of sharp heat. A very good dose. If you can’t take spice, drizzle lightly. I poured the entire saucer. I loved it.
As for the sisig itself, I would have liked more ear (I’m an ear fan, and I know, I’m probably in the minority) and some pieces of meat were a bit dry and chewy, but doused in spicy vinegar, it made no difference. For offal and spice lovers, brunch just got better in the East Village.