We had been visiting Victorino’s frequently for the past year but it had always been for another reason: Heny Sison’s cakes. This time around, Mr. B insisted on trying the savory dishes of the restaurant.
Victorino’s was quite special as it is not only a Filipino restaurant, but it is also one that specializes in Ilocano cuisine. Although it could potentially be an interesting visit, my parents both hailed from Ilocos and our home-cooked meals often included Ilocano dishes. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t too keen on this having this meal, but I let Mr. B have things his way at times.
Our favorite table was arranged as part of a bigger banquet-like seating that afternoon, and we were seated in an unfortunate section of the restaurant. The staff was busy preparing for what seemed to be an event later that day, and so the service throughout our meal was generally slow and quite terrible.
One of the enjoyable portions of this meal was browsing through the menu. I took delight from reading the Ilocano names of the dishes, and even making an attempt to explain some of them to Mr. B. I honestly would have loved to have some papaitan, a bitter soup of innards, but Mr. B opted for the boring sinigang instead. The rest were chosen by me, mostly determined by things I craved the most (that were too cumbersome to replicate at home) and the food I wanted Mr. B to try.
Our meal started off with a giant bowl of sinigang with crispy pork belly. We were very surprised that it came in such a big serving that we instantly knew that we ordered too much. Despite having an abundance of vegetables, the crispy pork cubes were still generous. I still doubt whether the crispy bagnet was worth being drenched in the sinigang broth, but I appreciated the quality of this pork belly. The layers of fat and meat appeared very good to me as the layers were distinct and was more meat than fat, and I could only surmise that they used a premium cut of pork. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the broth of the sinigang. Something tasted off to me, until I realized what it was: ginger. While I would love ginger for a fish/seafood sinigang, its presence in the pork version was a bit confusing and unwarranted in my opinion.
The next dish that graced our table was a distinctly Ilocano dish: igado. It’s a pork dish made of innards and lean meat, almost like a bopis without the sauce and with chunkier cuts of meat. Upon first bite, I was hooked. Their version seemed authentic to me, with a wide array of internal organs and enough fat that just contributed to the depth of meaty umami.
Initially, I was hesitant on ordering poqui-poqui, but I wanted Mr. B to try this dish. Unfortunately, it was far from what I expected. I wasn’t sure if it was missing eggs, tomatoes or onions, but it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be. It certainly wasn’t the creamy, decadent eggplant-egg dish I conjured it up to be.
Contrary to my expectation of it being our appetizer, the empanada was last to arrive at our table. This famous Ilocano snack was piping hot when it was served, and I was truly craving for this as it had been so long since I last had a bite. The wrapper was a bit too thick but it was forgivable. The papaya shreds were julienned instead of peeled, providing a very crunchy texture that I honestly found just too much (traditionally, the papaya was grated coarsely). The double-double suggestion of our waiter (which was double egg and double longganisa) proved to be fantastic as the ratios of meat, egg and papaya seemed appropriate. After adding some vinegar to this fried treat, I was a happy camper.
Of course, we wouldn’t dare end a meal here without trying another one of Heny’s cakes. It was tarta quemada this time around. The sponge cake layers were very light, and the whipped cream was a perfect complement to the cake. The crumb was much coarser than their strawberry shortcake, but overall the combination was still good. It was topped with a yema-like bruleed topping, and it was great ending to an already very filling meal. I loved it.
I’m not sure when the next time I’ll have a meal at Victorino’s, but that empanada and the igado were winners. Of course, Heny’s cakes are a must too. Until next time, happy eating!