One restaurant that I have always wanted to visit was Bad Saint. Bad Saint, a Filipino restaurant located in the Columbia Heights area of DC, was named #2 best new restaurant in America by Bon Appetit for 2016. Ever since, I have been dyyyyiinnngg to go. However, the problem was the logistics.
Bad Saint is a very tiny restaurant. I think they can barely seat 30 and they cannot accommodate any parties over 4 people. Plus, they do not do reservations. They open most days of the week at 5:30 pm, but I have heard people lining up by 4:15 if not 3:30, depending on the day. Knowing that, it was difficult to find time to both wait in line early enough to make sure I get a seat and time for dinner (Bad Saint is known to turn people away by 7 pm or so if they already filled all the tables for the night).
Luckily, I found a little space in my schedule, and with some schedule maneuvering, I managed to hustle over to Columbia Heights by about 4:30pm and joined the line. I swear, going to Bad Saint is like a half-day event, this is no simple dinner.
Fortunately, I was dining alone. When I was reaching the 90 minutes mark waiting outside, the hostess came out and asked for a single diner. I was in! They seated me at a mini bar counter right by their tiny open kitchen. I swear, it was like eating at the chef’s table. Although there was a lot of smoke and noise, being seated so close to the stove, I loved witnessing the action.
A little appetizer that every table gets, slice raw green mango with house made shrimp XO sauce. When I visited Thip Khao, a Laotian restaurant, they gave me thick cucumber slices with shrimp chili sauce, and here they have it with green mango. I haven’t had these treats at other South Asian restaurants, but I really enjoy them. The fresh fruit or vegetables pair so well with the chili or XO sauce, a little acidity and freshness to balance the spice. I think I might have this at home just as a snack.
The Ginisang Tulya or littleneck clams with chinese sausage, coconut milk and youtiao! This is one of Bad Saint’s signature items and it was delicious. The clams, while a little small, were flavorful, spicy and a little sweet because they used cured chinese sausages. It tasted Taiwanese to be honest. But I love their use of the youtiao to soak up the coconut milk clam broth. Youtiao, or fried Chinese doughnut, as you may know, is just crunchy fried dough without a distinctive taste, other than oil, so it’s a great vessel to pair with lots of dishes. Between the coconut milk and the youtiao, this dish was far from healthy, but the flavor was so strong and indulgent, I wish I had more.
The Ginisang Ampalaya which is bitter melon with farm egg and preserved black beans. While the clams were already quite flavorful, this was like a flavor bomb. I was curious about how they pair bitter melon and eggs…they scrambled everything together. There were so many flavors in this dish, the bitter melon was actually really bitter, the preserved black beans were incredibly salty, there were some green onions to add some spice, and the scrambled egg basically soaked up all the flavors in the dish. The taste was so powerful, I ended up needing to eat it with rice to temper the bitter and salty flavor. Even for someone familiar with all the ingredients in the dish, I thought the flavor was quite powerful. I did enjoy it, but I am not sure if I will order it again?
Put it another way, if you had this for breakfast in the morning, one spoonful and I guarantee you’ll be wide awake from the bitter saltiness.
I am not familiar with Filipino food at all, but I do know that the Filipino cuisine kicks ass with pork dishes, and I freakin’ love the sisig! Bad Saint’s sisig is made with pork jowl, onion, chili and vinegar. I’ve had sisig before, when it was made with just a mix of pork bits not just pork jowl, but this was far superior than the other one I had. The chili and vinegar here added enough spice and acidity to counteract all the fattiness from the pork jowl. The flavors were so well-controlled here, the sisig did not actually taste oily. I finished the plate quite happily with the rice and did not feel sick from the richness at all. The last sisig I had, while it was very rich and tasty, I could also clearly taste the fat, which made it hard to enjoy. This sisig was perfect.
Lastly, a little parting present from Bad Saint. This was also on the house, and it’s the cutest little plantain cigar. They meshed the plantain, formed it into a cigar shape, steamed in banana leaves, then caramelized with a torch gun so it’s a little creme brulee-esque too. The plantain was meaty and actually a little tart, so it contrasted with the caramelized sugar on top.
Would I go back? If I can carve out time to wait in line again, for sure. Bad Saint changes their menu quite regularly, so I’m interested in trying more regular and new items. However, and this is just a little pet peeve of mine, but when I ordered three dishes, the waiter looked a little worried. I said if there is too much food, I will just take it in a to-go box. Later, when I was eating the sisig, she asked if it was enough food for me. I said it was fine and I’m happy with what I’m eating. But honestly, I was thinking, if I didn’t order the sisig, which really was quite substantial and food coma worthy, I was going to order the pork belly glass noodles. The perks of being a lone diner are an easier time finding a table, skipping the line(heehee), freedom to pick whatever you want to eat without worrying about your dining companion and just another way to enjoy time with yourself. I am not sure why waiters sometime are hesitant to let lone diners like me, or just a table with a small group of people, order more food.
Lastly, if you do want to go to Bad Saint, please try during the week. If you go during the weekend, be prepared to wait starting from around 3 pm(I suggest a lawn chair and a book), or you’re just asking for disappointment.