For awhile now, I’ve been hearing about a Filipino restaurant in Artesia that’s supposed to be pretty good. Finally, I decided that I had to investigate. So let’s focus on the highs and lows of the 16 dishes that my dining group and I shared at Gerry’s Grill, which is a restaurant chain that started in the Philippines and is now starting to gather steam in Southern California.
The first dish to arrive was the Kilawin Tuna, which is similar to a Tuna Ceviche. This is the first time I’ve ever seen any type of Kilawin dish on a restaurant menu. It brings me back to the days when my Dad was still alive and would bring his catch back from his fishing trips. The fish was either smoked or made into Kilawin by marinating the fish overnight with vinegar, red onions, chili peppers, garlic and kalamansi juice. His recipe was very similar to what we had at Gerry’s Grill, but like any kind of “home cooking”, Kilawin recipes vary and in some instances cooked pork is used in place of fish. Gerry Grill’s version was actually pretty good, although I don’t think it had kalamansi juice, which would have added some lovely tart citrus notes.
Next up was the Adobo Shreds, which were shreds of pork adobo fried crisp. This must be a restaurant specialty because this is the first time I’ve ever had this item. It reminded me of jerky and being a jerky lover, I enjoy every chewy bit. Instead of steamed white rice, we went for Garlic Fried Rice, 5 large scoops of rice on a plate topped with fried garlic. Nothing else to it, but I did think it needed more garlic.
Pinakbet hit the table next and this restaurant version was sauteed in garlic with a touch of shrimp paste, at least that’s how it was written in their menu. There wasn’t enough variety in vegetables and not having enough shrimp paste was disappointing. My mom’s pinkabet is chock full of squash, green beans, okra and more plus you can actually see little bits of shrimp paste dotting the surface of the veggies and more important, you could taste all that salt- shrimpy goodness. That’s what pinakbet should be like.
Our next dish was Kare-Kare, which is a stew of oxtail and vegetables in a peanut butter sauce. It’s best eaten over rice with bagoong (shrimp paste) smeared on both meat and veggies. Although the sauce was a little thicker than I would have liked, this Kare-Kare was pretty tasty.
Unfortunately, the Adobong Spinach, which was spinach and shrimp cooked in adobo sauce was something I wouldn’t order again. The adobo sauce was really thick, almost as if they added corn starch to it. I would have preferred more of a light saute as opposed to the glops of sauce that were on this dish. Also, there was no mention of the shrimp in the description of this dish on the menu. Not that I’d usually turn shrimp away, but if someone was looking for a strictly vegetarian meal or they were allergic to shrimp, this dish would have not been received well.
On the other hand, the Chicken Inasal which was grilled chicken marinated with vinegar, garlic and annatto oil was a hit. The chicken skin had a wonderful char to it and I loved the chicken’s slightly vinegary flavor. A major plus was that the chicken breast was juicy and tender as opposed to being dry.
Crispy Pata, better known as Deep Fried Pork Knuckles, is a staple at most Filipino restaurants and when done well, is both juicy and crispy. Unfortunately, the Crispy Pata here wasn’t done well. It was deep fried to the point that the meat was too dry and skin was a little hard.
More than halfway through and now we’re up to the Pancit Palabok, which consisted of rice noodles topped with shrimp based sauce, ground pork, smoked fish, crunchy pork, boiled egg and served with lemon. Other than wishing I had calamansi instead of lemons, this noodle dish was fine as it was.
Surprisingly, at least to me, one of the favorite dishes of the night was the Tortang Kapampangan, an omlette with sauteed ground pork, minced vegetables and raisins, served with banana ketchup. I think with all the unfamiliar dishes that the group had experienced so far, this was one that at least was both familiar and also delicious. The banana ketchup was also a first experience that paired well with this egg dish.
I’ve never met a Fried Bangus (e.g. Milkfish) that I haven’t liked and the one we had with our meal was no exception. Fried with soy sauce, lemon juice and garlic, this delicate fish absorbed all those wonderful flavors and also seemed to be liked by all.
The last of the three savory dishes included Sizzling Pork Sisig (crackling pork meat sauteed with onions and spices), Ginataang Hipon (stewed whole shrimps and mixed vegetables in coconut milk) and Lumpia (egg rolls). It’s hard to not appreciate fried pork so the Sisig was definitely a hit. The Ginataang Hipon wasn’t very memorable, but the lumpia was fried for too long, so the meat filling was a bit dry.
14 dishes down and now it’s on to dessert and I ordered two different kinds. First to arrive was the Buko Pandan which is pandan flavored coconut milk, young coconut and jellies. It was a cool and refreshing dessert that almost served as a palate cleanser for all the strong flavors that followed before it.
Our finale of the evening were Banana Lumpias ala Mode in Caramel Sauce known in the Philippines as Turon and with the Turon came a scoop of Ube (Purple Yam) Ice Cream. This was sweet and crunchy way to end this veritable feast.
Overall, there were more hits than misses when it came to the meal at Gerry’s Grill, so it is a restaurant I’d go back to again if I were in the neighborhood, but not necessarily go out of my way for. While the food was generally good, it wasn’t necessarily spectacular and the food that I didn’t like really failed in one way or another. Plus it lacked that home cooking feel to it that I’ve been able to get elsewhere. So for me, Magic Wok in Artesia and Barrio Fiesta in Eagle Rock are still my top 2 go to places for Filipino Food. After all, if I can’t get my Mom’s cooking, I want a restaurant that can come close and I just didn’t get that as much from Gerry’s Grill.