Bayan Cafe… Filipino Food Worth Breaking the Rules For
When I started this blog a little less than a year ago, I quickly set up boundaries that defined exactly where a “Midtown Lunch” could be. We’ve only got an hour for lunch (and some of us less), so there had to be a border. 8th Ave. on the West, 3rd Ave. on the East. Central Park to the North, and 32nd St. to the south. The south part was pushing it a little, but I was biased by my love of Koreatown. The whole point of doing this is to give me an excuse to stuff my face every day at lunch… how could I leave out Koreatown?
There have been many temptations to cross those imaginary lines. Thai food on 9th Ave. has been recommended to me often, and people seem to love the falafel at Azuri Cafe, which requires you to trek almost all the way to 10th Ave! I thought I was going to crack for the new Bahn Mi place on 2nd Ave., but luckily they charge way too much for what I’ve heard are pretty mediocre sandwiches, making it a little easier to skip (I still may end up trying it, we’ll see). It’s been tough, but I have managed to hold it together.
Well, I finally met my match. A few weeks ago, I received an email tip about something that I just could not ignore. A place that embodies everything a Midtown Lunch should be (under $10, unique and adventurous), while combining the qualities of two of my favorite cuisines (Latin & Asian). And they’ve got a lunch special to boot. Readers of Midtown Lunch… I give you… BAYAN CAFE. Filipino Food in Midtown. That’s right. Filipino. What’s Filipino Food? I’m not exactly sure. But it’s freaking good. So what if it’s East of 3rd Ave. What’s an extra 15 feet for something that exists nowhere else in Midtown? And for that, I will now break my self imposed, meaningless to everyone but my feeble brain, Midtown Lunch boundaries.
What they got, photos and the +/- after the jump…
I guess I sort of know what Filipino food is. It’s food from the Phillipines. I’ve only had it once before (at a street fair in Hell’s Kitchen), and what I had was awesome. The food is a mix of ingredients from all sorts of different cuisines, including fish sauce, soy sauce, curry, and adobo (the Spanish spice mixture). The end result is something not quite Asian, not quite Spanish- but a delicious combination of the two.
Bayan has got a full menu, but ordering from it will cost you well over $10. The lunch special is the way to go. $6.95 gets you rice and a choice of any two entrees from the steam table. Every day they have different dishes for you to choose from. The lunch special sign says “For a Limited Time”, but what they really mean is “Available Until the Food Runs Out”. The first time I went, I made the mistake of showing up at 1:45, and got the dregs.
One piece of adobo chicken, a pork chop, and some veggies with a peanut sauce poured over the top. Despite being the left over bits and pieces, it was all pretty delicious. The Chicken Adobo was fall off the bone tender, and the pork chop was nice and crispy. I really liked having it with the peanut sauce covered veggies, which provided a sweet counterpart to the saltiness of the other two dishes. The second time I went back, I made sure to get there a little after Noon, and got my pick:
Eggplant (in what I think is some sort of Coconut Milk based sauce)
Pork with Shrimp Paste
I had already had the chicken adobo, so I decided to skip the pork adobo (they have one or the other every single day) and go with the pork with shrimp paste, and the curry chicken. Both were tasty, but incredibly greasy. The chicken was once again fall off the bone tender, but the curry was not as flavorful as either a Thai or Indian Curry. I probably wouldn’t get it again. The pork with shrimp paste was really good, but probably not for everyone. Shrimp paste has a very strong flavor, very similar to fish sauce used in Southest Asian cuisine, and can be an acquired taste. But if you are into it, you will definitely like this dish.
When I finished, the guy behind the counter “guilted” me into buying one of these fried, spring roll looking things that was clearly a dessert (and by “guilted” I mean, gave me the strength to silence the voice inside myself that constantly reminds me I’m a total fatso). It turned out to be a plantain that had been wrapped in a spring roll skin with jackfruit and deep fried, then covered in syrup. If I even need to say that this thing tasted good, then quite frankly- you don’t know me at all.
Despite the glazed spring roll of delicious death, I surprisingly liked my first lunch (the dregs), better than the second lunch (the one where I had my pick). It may have also helped that they gave us a little taste of three items, instead of two- and the adobo is clearly the signature dish. The second lunch showed me that ordering is very important, and that depending on what dishes they have that day, you can have a great meal, or just a decent meal. A lot of the choices are super greasy (isn’t everything good?), and not everyone is going to like every single dish (pig knuckles, anyone?)- but if you choose right, you just may end up getting one of the best Midtown Lunches you’ve ever had.
- Half Asian, Half Spanish. Two of my favorites!
- I love variety. The lunch special is only $7, and you get two dishes with rice.
- Try to get one sweet, one salty if you can. Ideally something covered in peanut sauce (like the veggies I got), to go with one of the adobo dishes.
- The meats are all fall off the bone tender
- Um… where else are you going to get Filipino Food in Midtown?
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place will say)
- Everything is pretty greasy/oily
- Since Filipino food is not as well known as other ethnic foods, it may take some trial and error to figure out the dishes you like the best
- The curry isn’t as flavorful as Thai or Indian curry
- Too much fatty meat!
- For stewed meats with rice, I’d prefer to eat at Sophie’s Cuban or Margon
Bayan Cafe, 212 E. 45th St. (Just East of 3rd Ave.), 212-450-8260