I've always been fond of hole-in-the-wall finds, most especially when they serve simple comfort food at affordable prices. If they do have this formula, expect me to visit it often, bringing in family members and favorite friends. Such is the case of PenPen's Filipino Kitchen. I've seen it evolve through time, from its first location at Tomas Morato back in 2007, to menu changes and introduction of pasta buffets, to what (and where) it is now. It's now a mix of old and new -- old things I love about it (Crispy Liempo!), and new food additions that are equally addictive (Aligue rice! more on that later). This former Tomas Morato resto hops on over to Cubao Expo, and as always, redefines Pinoy comfort food.
A sleeker, hipper PenPen is now located at Cubao Expo, Araneta Center
Black and white Filipino movie posters adorn the resto
If the old look of PenPen's was bright with reds, oranges and yellows, the current interior is still simple, yet decorated with local film posters. I'm sure this is a nod to the local film industry, as owner Ping Medina is not just a restaurateur, but an actor himself (and also the son of veteran actor Pen Medina). It's good also to note that this new location is much roomier, with two floors of space and a higher ceiling. PenPen's still offers their pasta buffets (formerly Pasta! Buffet! Pasta! Tuesdays), now revamped as Pasta All-You-Can Weekends. Pasta sauces here are made from real tomatoes and high-grade extra virgin olive oil, so expect stupendous carbo-loading here every Saturday and Sunday.
Pasta All-You-Can is now available every Saturday and Sunday
Our lunch that day was a bit too much for just a couple of girls -- but then again, we're at PenPen's, where eating heartily (and sharing calories) is a must. Comfort food, indeed. We started off with Smoked Cheese Dynamita (P140), five sticks of 'dynamite' -- deseeded green chili stuffed with melted and smoked cheese, fried lumpia-style. It's appetizing as is, but also served with a mayo dip. If you're afraid of the heat, fret not, these dynamites are tame enough to finish on your own, with just a tiny kick of hotness to tease your palate.
Smoked Cheese Dynamita (P140)
And of course, we had to have the stellar Crispy Liempo (P210), PenPen's pride and joy since day one. It is indeed the perfect pulutan, making a wonderful match to a bottle of ice cold beer. Or two. I prefer the little crisp and salty pieces dunked in the garlicky vinegar, and it even works well with rice!
Crispy Liempo (P210)
A couple of best sellers among their Rice Plates & Bowls are the Bagnet Garlic Rice with Asian Vinaigrette (P180) and the Smoked Tapang Usa & Duck Egg Silog (P210). If a quick, affordable but filling solo meal is what you're looking for, then these two are good pickings. The bagnet rice bowl has over a cup of serving of excellent garlic rice, and the unique taste and texture of the dip -- a tarty, syrupy Asian vinaigrette -- goes well with the slices of pork. The tapang usa rice plate has tender slices of smoked deer meat that were very easy to slice and chew, and the earthiness of its smoked meat was pleasing to my tastebuds. I favor this dish over the bagnet one because of the duck egg that comes with it. I love the richness of duck egg -- as a child, I would always request my mom to bring home and cook me some when she visits our province. It's down-home comfort food for me.
Bagnet Garlic Rice with Asian Vinaigrette (P180)
Smoked Tapang Usa & Duck Egg Silog (P210)
When our table's order of Three-Cheese Baked Bangus Belly (P148) arrived, I got excited. This dish combines everything I like -- the fatty, gelatinous milkfish belly, topped with cheese (make that three kinds, please). People probably order this because it's fish and by default it means less richer than most of the items at PenPen's. But we're not fooling anyone here -- it may be baked but it's lusciously coated with cheese. Leave your calorie counter outside, and check in that adventurous foodie in you -- a bite of this rich and tender cheesy fish is definitely worth it.
Three-Cheese Baked Bangus Belly (P148)
Aside from Crispy Liempo, there are new thrilling heart-stoppers at PenPen's, my most favorite would have to be their two dishes serving the deadly and oh-so-delicious crab fat. Fat is flavor, and you will get a ton of that with Pinggoy's Pasta Aligue (P175) and Talangkanin (Aligue Rice good for 3, P185).
Pinggoy's Pasta Aligue (P175)
The lighter of the two dishes is obviously the pasta dish, since the aligue rice is rice fried in crab fat and then topped with more crab fat (whew!). And mind you, this is not just your run of the mill bottled aligue that they plopped on top of the pasta and rice. This is Ping Medina's signature aligue sauce, made with secret ingredients which I wish weren't so secret. In my humble opinion, he has quite perfected the aligue sauce, balancing the fatty goodness with a cut of tangy and salty here and there. I had a lot of rice than what I needed that day, thanks to the gloriously thick and aromatic red-orange sauce. Maybe I can convince Ping to bottle it up for Christmas gift giving!
Talangkanin (Aligue Rice good for 3, P185)
While the dessert line-up of PenPen's surely piqued my interest (Casoy-Quezo-Macapuno Ice Cream & Corn Coffee Cake (P110), or Leche Flan Tsokolate-E (P70), anyone?), we were stuffed to the brim with our heavy lunch. Also, with copious amounts of hot water in attempts of washing everything down -- the aligue, most especially. It was food coma at its finest! So, better save those dessert items for next time. And definitely, there will be a next time, and more PenPen's visits to come.