Pampanguena Cafe Restaurant Gaithersburg Maryland

The Examiner Review
October 20, 2008, 2:49 am
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Washington DC – The Examiner

Get your fill of Filipino at Pampanguena

By: Alexandra Greeley

To anyone curious about Filipino cooking, the Washington area has not, until now, offered many restaurant options to explore the cuisine. All that is about to change with the recently opened Pampanguena Café in Rockville. Quite by surprise, this enterprise, which has replaced a Vietnamese restaurant, looks like it is going to make headlines and succeed where its predecessor failed.

Huge portions of food served from the cafeteria line or prepared by special order and very low prices are a few reasons why. And, for most of us, an entirely new eating experience. How many Washington, after all, know or can pronounce such exotic sounding dishes as rellenong ampalaya ($4, stuffed bitter melon), pancit palabok ($5.50, sautéed egg noodles with pork, shrimp and green onions), or the tongue-twister kaderetang kambing ($9.99, goat meat stewed with tomato sauce).

For the uninitiated, Filipino cooking is mix of Chinese, Spanish and Malaysian, with some overtones of Indian and American seasonings and ingredients. While the dishes may sound very exotic, the flavors are comfortably familiar and few dishes are spiked with anything remotely resembling Thai Chilli. Because of this, it would not surprise anybody if Filipino food becomes of D.C.’s next culinary superstars, replacing the flashier Thai-Indian-Middle Eastern-Vietnamese feeding frenzies.

We managed to settle on the goat stew (a special order at $9.99), rice, chicken adobo and pork stew. The latter two, as are most items on the buffet, were priced at two entrees, $5.99. The goat stew is always a special order apparently, and if you like the pungency of goat meat, the stew is great bet, just slightly spiced and very rich.

Not every dish listed on their menu appears on the steam table, and if you want something special- such as those dishes listed on the board behind the cashier register- you’ll need to order them separately. You’ll find two lists there: one called “entrees” and one called “specials.” The prices are comparable.

Save room for the dessert cart, where you’ll find the Filipino-iced classic, halo-halo. Ideal for summer and for an afternoon tea break at any time- and also for dessert, obviously- this iced treat yields to none for its inherent texture and taste combinations: a mound of shaved ice buries such exotic bits of fruit as jackfruit, toddy palm, papaya, bananas and beans. Milk and sugar add texture and flavor; and if you order the “special” halo-halo ($4.50), you’ll receive a scoop of brilliantly lavender ice cream as the garnish.