Hapa SF's Pulutan Pop-Up: Filipino with a California Twist
Something extraordinary happened Saturday night on 24th Street. At La Victoria, Hapa SF's William Pilz took a dozen Filipino dishes and translated them into Northern California's culinary vernacular.
John Birdsall Sinigang: The tamarind-spiked vegetable broth was unexpectedly flowery.
It was billed as a pulutan pop-up, pulutan being the Philippines' class of beer-sopping snacks and nibbles, the small plates called izakaya dishes in Japan, though in the Philippines the approach is more humble, more barrio than bar. Pilz, a talented chef who took modern Filipino mobile earlier this spring when he rolled out Hapa SF, crossed genres and achieved a notable breakthrough.
Take his kinilaw ($10), a sort of crudo of Alaskan halibut, given a brief layover in citrus marinade. Pilz threaded fuschia bits of Frog Hollow pluots throughout. Bright, slightly tannic, and jammy: The outlines were unmistakably Filipino, the taste a distilled shot of Bay Area culinary ethos.
Nearly every dish contained some glint of recognition, the Filipino repertoire of dishes set off with elements that rooted them here. Pilz's take on the lividly garlicky sausages called longaniza? Delicate pork meatballs ("naked," i.e. without casings, $6), set on silken yellow tomato sauce. In Pilz's hands, shrimp-dotted Sinigang ― tamarind-spiked broth ($5) ― blossomed into a gorgeously flowery perfume floating above a shivering acidty. Pilz says the vegetable broth (something he learned to make from Manresa's David Kinch) bears the shadow of star anise.
John Birdsall Kinilaw of Alaskan halibut with pluots and citrus marinade.
The pulutan weren't all delicate. Sisig (braised pork shoulder and other parts from a Long and Bailey farm pig, $8) shows up as taco filling at Hapa SF. On Saturday, Pilz piled it on rice. It was perfect: tender and chewy, a snarl of soy and lime and fresh chiles. Likewise Pilz's chicken adobo (made with leg-and-thigh joints sourced from Field to Family in Petaluma, $8) used a chef's technique to tweak a homely set piece so it had unexpected finesse, crisp skin and lithe flesh.
La Victoria's Jaime Maldonado organized the pop-up into three seatings. We showed at 7, part of a packed room of diners both Asian and not. Honestly? It was one of the most exciting meals we've had all year.