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NolaCaine

Bistro 1521 - Modified Filipino Comfort Food in the Former Applebee's Space in Ballston

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We ate there over the weekend, it is worth a visit.  The bar program is biggest strength.  We found the menu, even as it has expanded from the previous iteration, was waaay too pork and chicken-centric, one member of our group was disappointed there was no grilled fish items.  Another lamented there were too few veggies options to balance the meal.  But, I understand they will expand the menu in about a month.  Service is not on par with the bar program, yet.  

I would recommend the Ukoy, Sisig (to share amongst like 6 people), Ihaw-Ihaw Special, and Kare-Kare.  Bicol Express was excellent as well.  

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Thanks for the report, was interested after the ARLnow Article, in trying it out.  Now I need to decide if we want to wait or just go now, he is completely fine with lots of chicken and pork.  I do like some balancing veggies though with my meal.

On 8/14/2017 at 1:24 PM, Kibbee Nayee said:

No weekday lunch?

I don't think they are open for weekday lunch yet per their website?

---

The Corner (thistle)

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Have you every really enjoyed a dining experience but didn't like the food? Until last night, I hadn't either and it's an odd sensation. On a Monday night I ventured to Bistro 1512 with my husband for a spontaneous night out. Neither of us had even tasted Filipino food before so we were quite excited. Now, I fully expected lots of fish because, as I understand it, the Philippines is an island nation. Wrong! Pork and chicken like mentioned upthread.  Specifically, oily pork and chicken.

We did have the good fortune to enjoy a very nice salad with jackfruit. Not only light and tasty, it was perfectly well dressed.

Our dear waiter was horrible.  Really nice but disorganized and inattentive, yet also amusing. 

For a Monday night it was about 3/4 full and although the Applebees TVs were on in the bar area, they were off in the dining area; a detail I appreciate.

What is up with that space? Isn't this place 3 or 4 in under 10 years:  Green Turtle, Applebees, this Bistro. Is Applebees still paying the lease?

I think local diaspora is supporting the restaurant and I like that it is near, not a chain, and different.  Maybe I"ll go back if/when they get their sea-legs on and offer some less oily options...or someone here tells me how to better order.

All that said, I really enjoyed the overall experience. Maybe it was the wine and lovely dining companion.

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Hmm. We had a decent meal there. Spicy wasn't spicy, though. Not sure if the little white girl made them dumb it down, or if the food just isn't meant to be that spicy.

We had sitsig, palabok noodle dish, tinolong manok (chicken soup). A little boring/bland, but felt light and healthy - not oily. Maybe we should have ordered what you did?

It looks weird b/c it's a former Applebee's space. And the bar seating is strange - deeper into the restaurant, the floor slants so depending on where you are sitting, the seat feels high/low compared to the bar. 

I wonder if I just don't like food from the Phillipines. Have not tried Bad Saint yet, but every other experience has been 'eh'. 

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12 hours ago, Simul Parikh said:

...Spicy wasn't spicy, though. 

We had sitsig, palabok noodle dish, tinolong manok (chicken soup). A little boring/bland, but felt light and healthy - not oily. 

I agree that spicy wasn't spicy except for a direct bite of red chili; green chili wasn't spicy at all.

I thought the sitsig especially was very oily last night.  I wanted the chicken soup but the waiter suggested something else with coconut milk that was ok.

PSA, this is NOT the menu we were handed last night (so I can't figure out what I actually ordered):

Screenshot 2017-09-19 at 22.49.36.pngScreenshot 2017-09-19 at 22.49.46.pngScreenshot 2017-09-19 at 22.49.56.pngScreenshot 2017-09-19 at 22.50.08.pngScreenshot 2017-09-19 at 22.50.17.pngScreenshot 2017-09-19 at 22.50.35.png

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So, the bar manager announced today on his FB that he is "parting ways" with Bistro 1521, due to "too many cooks in the kitchen."  He also says that hospitality, great service, and the best quality ingredients are important to him, "no short cuts".  He also cited the huge space.  I probably won't be back, I was giving it the benefit of the doubt due to the usual opening pains.  Our service was friendly yet pretty bad, and the food was worth the visit, and the cocktails very good.  I certainly wish it the best, I will monitor this thread keenly.

 

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On 9/19/2017 at 10:02 PM, DaRiv18 said:

So, the bar manager announced today on his FB that he is "parting ways" with Bistro 1521, due to "too many cooks in the kitchen."  He also says that hospitality, great service, and the best quality ingredients are important to him, "no short cuts".  He also cited the huge space.  

Tough. I heard that JoJo wants to be part of a Restaurant that works with his native dishes. Hopefully next time.

Nice guy. Focused. Hard worker. Dedicated.  Took our course maybe 20 yrs ago.  Knows his stuff.

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On 9/19/2017 at 10:02 PM, DaRiv18 said:

So, the bar manager announced today on his FB that he is "parting ways" with Bistro 1521, due to "too many cooks in the kitchen."  He also says that hospitality, great service, and the best quality ingredients are important to him, "no short cuts".  He also cited the huge space.  I probably won't be back, I was giving it the benefit of the doubt due to the usual opening pains.  Our service was friendly yet pretty bad, and the food was worth the visit, and the cocktails very good.  I certainly wish it the best, I will monitor this thread keenly.

 

JoJo had contacted our school and hired from it before he left.  I subsequently heard that a number of the bartenders he hired left with him, while enough stayed on to carry on the bar program he initiated.   (All my comments are 2nd hand/still haven't been there).

What I did hear was the bartending staff loved him, including those that left and those that stayed.  Assuming the cocktails he developed remain on the menu I'd suspect the bar program @DaRiv18 spoke well of in August remains a strong point.

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On 8/14/2017 at 1:55 PM, DaRiv18 said:

We ate there over the weekend, it is worth a visit.  The bar program is biggest strength.  We found the menu, even as it has expanded from the previous iteration, was waaay too pork and chicken-centric, one member of our group was disappointed there was no grilled fish items.  Another lamented there were too few veggies options to balance the meal.  But, I understand they will expand the menu in about a month.  Service is not on par with the bar program, yet.  

I would recommend the Ukoy, Sisig (to share amongst like 6 people), Ihaw-Ihaw Special, and Kare-Kare.  Bicol Express was excellent as well.  

The bar program is still a big strength at Bistro 1521 - their beer selection is crammed full of "local" brews (enough to make this grizzled veteran wide-eyed), and their wine list is workable, with fairly priced wines by the glass. Our bartender, David, was a very nice person who offered to go back and get my friend a taste of Banana Ketchup, which he'd never before heard of (banana ketchup is a staple condiment in the Philippines, and is often sold under the label of, believe it or not, Heinz (aside - one of Australia's largest players in the Vegemite market is Kraft, who recently began selling a product that's Vegemite mixed with cheese, called Cheesybite!). I'll take banana ketchup over regular ketchup any day of the week).

On 9/19/2017 at 1:44 PM, NolaCaine said:

I agree that spicy wasn't spicy except for a direct bite of red chili; green chili wasn't spicy at all.

I have a relatively penetrating knowledge of Filipino cuisine, having studied it for years, and having taken part in numerous Filipino family functions among other things (you do not leave these things hungry, I assure you). One attribute about most Filipino foods is that they're generally quite mild; in fact, spiciness is the exception (although it is highly regional, and there are some spicy dishes) - another attribute is that the Filipina home cook will often have a massive jar of MSG crystals at the ready - they use MSG like we use antibiotics, but this is mostly for home cooking. I'm surprised the bar at Bistro 1521 didn't have bowls of Pulutan or Tenga ng Baboy, but this did used to be an Applebee's, and they know their Ballston clientele might not go for such tawdry things.

I began my meal at Bistro 1521 with a 10-ounce snifter of Grapefruit Sculpin IPA ($9) made by Ballast Point Brewing Company - a San Diego, CA-based brewery with an outpost in Daleville, VA; but don't be fooled by the homey "small-town, craft brewery shtick" - Ballast Point was sold for over $1 billion to Constellation Brands, a Fortune 500 company worth over $41 billion. I *really* hate that the consumer must research each individual beer to determine whether or not they're essentially buying Budweiser - someone should publish an annual guidebook to this that you can take to the supermarket; alternatively, retailers and restaurants should do the work for the consumer. This beer was as boring and soulless as you might imagine - yes, you could taste hints of citrus, but so what?

My friend started with a glass of 2016 Trencalos Sauvignon Blanc ($8) from the Castilla region of Spain (there are numeros typos on the wine list at Bistro 1521, e.g., "Reisling," and there was one here, too). This was a generic Sauvignon Blanc with enough acidity to cut through the mildly zesty notes in the appetizers and her entree - you could tell it was a Sauvignon Blanc, but it would take someone like Gerry Dawes to know it was Spanish, much less Castilian.

I'm grousing about both of these drinks, but they're really no different than what you find at 95% of restaurants, so don't blame Bistro 1521; the blame goes much further up the chain than this. Hell, the Original Sin lies with Procter & Gamble.

Both drinks were served in good stemware and at the correct temperature, with friendly, prompt service, and there isn't a whole lot more this restaurant could have done.

Our appetizer was an order of Lumpiang Shanghai ($5 at happy hour; normally $9) - two very good lumpia, halved, and nicely presented with appropriate dipping sauce (which worked much better than the banana ketchup). These were very good lumpia, arguably the highlight of the meal, and although I'd never pay $9 for two of them, they're worth getting at the $5 happy-hour price.

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I'd finished my glass of beer, and despite ordering a "red-wine" course, wanted to stick with white, so I got a glass of 2016 Domaine Bellevue Unoaked Chardonnay ($9) from Touraine, France. I've had this wine numerous times, and knew what I was getting in advance - compared with my friend's Sauvignon Blanc, I would recommend that others tend towards the Sauvignon Blanc due to its crispness, but I also knew that my dish was going to be somewhat stolid, and not needing any type of zing from my wine.

With her Sauvignon Blanc, the classic Filipino dish with the funny name, Bicol Express ($17), specifically marked "spicy." This was a stir-fried dish of "sliced," pinkish pork, coconut milk, ginger, peppers, and shrimp paste, served with a small bowl of steamed, white rice. We both agreed that the dish had good flavors, and only the mildest hint of spice - and the Sauvignon was the wine of choice here. Up above, I said the lumpia was "arguably" the highlight of the meal; this was the other argument - although this dish won't win any awards, it tasted good, and was well within the spirit of Filipino home cooking. I can recommend this for people to try - not necessarily for Filipino nationals, but for people looking to transition into the cuisine.

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They say never to order an entree for one of the side dishes, but I did anyway. Mechado ($23) was presented a *lot* like an American pot roast, mashed potatoes, and greens dish, basking in a thick gravy - except this was braised short ribs, grilled asparagus, "Mechado sauce," and mashed purple yam. It had the feel (if not the look) of something you'd get at a hotel banquet, but was actually quite enjoyable, the one exception being when it cooled to room temperature: The Mechado sauce brown gravy, which had been thickened with corn starch, separated and clotted - there seemed to be a similar, but less dramatic effect, with the shrimp paste in the Bicol Express; however, the Mechado gravy became mildly disgusting once it broke. Nevertheless, it was a good dish, and every bite of food was finished on all the plates. I won't recommend this to people, and would urge the restaurant to stay closer to its roots, instead of trying to guess what Ballston residents might be looking for in a restaurant. Let them come to you: Word will get out, I promise.

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