Before the Winter Storm Jonas descended upon us, Tom and I made sure we had an epic meal to keep us satisfied during the snowy days ahead. Feeling adventurous, we opted for Bad Saint, a hot new Filipino restaurant in Columbia Heights (also on my list of DC goals for the year).
The real impetus for the meal was the fact that I had a haircut that evening, and I’m a firm believer that one should never waste a good blowout. While my tresses were being tended, Tom went over to Bad Saint to put our name in. Yes, this is another restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, makes patrons wait in line and often several additional hours for a table and is still one of the most sought-after meals in the city. Masochistic it may be, but we Washingtonians will do anything to say “Oh yeah, I’ve been there.” Obviously, I’m no exception. Know thyself.
Luckily, there are several places to distract yourself nearby while you wait. Room 11 and Maple are both great for drinks or hey, you could even get your shopping fix at the nearby Target. Just be sure you can get back to the restaurant within ten minutes or so. Wait patiently, and soon your phone will beep with the delightful news that it’s time to eat.
The place is small, wee, cozy, teeny-tiny. There are only two real tables and all other seating is counter-top. We were seated in a row of six stools facing a mirror, with a handy beverage ledge to save space for food. The mirror gave me ample opportunity to check out my sassy blowout, but I typically don’t enjoy staring at myself when I eat. Personal preference I suppose.
Bad Saint has a small drink menu, with a selection of cocktails, a few wines and several beers. We opted for canned brews – a blood orange gose (loving goses right now) for me and an IPA for Tom. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they offered free sparkling water in addition to flat.
The menu is broken down into vegetarian, seafood and meat options. We ordered mostly vegetarian with one seafood dish, starting with the Ginisang Gulay consisting of romanesco, bok choy and baby squash in a savory sauce. I loved the slightly charred taste of the vegetables, which were tender but not mushy. The romanesco was a fun addition, as it’s a food I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten before. The dish was served with a bowl of rice, but I found I enjoyed it more on its own.
Next up, a big bowl of Pangit Bihon Guisado with rice noodles, wood ear mushrooms and lemon oil. (No, this meal was not low carb. Yes, it was worth it)
Now, because I’ve never had Filipino food I can’t really speak to the authenticity here, but this dish definitely made me an instant fan of the cuisine. The flavors were so vibrant, packing a big punch from the lemon oil. A fairly straight-forward noodle dish elevated by complex textures and flavors, this will satisfy both picky and adventurous appetites.
Our next dish was to me the most exotic, the Ginisang Ampalaya with bitter melon, farm egg and preserved black bean.
This was my first time trying bitter melon, which I didn’t know anything about other than a few references from Top Chef. It was definitely bitter, but in a palatable way and balanced nicely with the other flavors of the dish. It felt like the fanciest egg scramble in the world and was my favorite dish of the night.
Lastly, we had the Ukoy, freshwater shrimp fritters with sweet potato and cilantro.
This tangle of fried sweet potatoes and shrimps (head on) was quite the surprise when it hit our table. It was a risky order for me, because I’m far from the world’s biggest shrimp fan. But I was assured by the staff that I would like it anyway. And I did, although maybe not quite as much as the other dishes. The thin strips of sweet potato were delicious paired with the spicy dipping sauce, and even the shrimp were pretty good (probably excellent if you like shrimp). My mother would likely faint if she witnessed me eating shrimp with eyeballs (I was a picky child), but it just goes to show that palates do evolve over time.
By this point, we were quite satisfied and even had a doggie bag of leftover veggies and noodles to take home, but I needed to know what Filipino dessert was like. You know, for research.
The bilo bilo, a purple rice porridge of sorts with coconut flavors and lots of crunch was one of the most unique desserts I’ve ever had. It was warm, rich and comforting. I’d actually love to have this for breakfast every morning.
I was very impressed with Bad Saint. Every dish exploded with flavors and opened up a whole new cuisine with which I can’t wait to become more familiar.
Although the wait can be long and arduous, the price point is excellent. We left with a reasonable bill, full stomachs and leftovers enough to stretch two additional meals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – DC needs more places where you can eat well without spending your entire paycheck on a meal, and Bad Saint offers just that.
Next up, I need to try Purple Patch to further develop my taste for Filipino food and I’ll definitely be back to Bad Saint to try the rest of the dishes on the menu.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This post originally appeared on Kacy’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled “Bad Saint, Real Good“. Kacy is also a cultural ambassador for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.