Last winter, Philly chef Lou Boquila helped bring the city its first taste of a cuisine that’s hard to find in these parts: Filipino food. With help from partners Neal Santos, Jillian Encarnacion and Resa Mueller, Pelago Pop-Up Kusina
temporarily took over Passyunk Square resto Noord
. The event (and subsequent pop-ups) sold out, and now Boquila is launching his own restaurant in South Philly.
Perla, currently under construction at 1535 South 11th Street, will be the city's only Filipino restaurant. Boquila, a Philippines native who came to Philly when he was eight, says he’s not a traditional Filipino chef.
"But I know the food," he insists. "I know the flavors, [and] I relate that to a restaurant kitchen."
Balking a bit at overuse of the word "fusion," the fledgling restaurateur nonetheless describes Filipino dishes as a mix of influences. They blend Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Spanish flavors, and are served in family-style communal meals that are hard to replicate in a restaurant setting.
Boquila, who’s been cooking for about ten years, got his start in the local food industry as a dishwasher at South Street’s now-defunt Knave of Hearts. He worked his way up, becoming a line cook and then helping run the kitchen, before deciding to attend culinary school. After finishing, he interned at Twenty Manning Grill
, where he later became sous chef, and then moved to Rittenhouse Square’s Audrey Claire
, where he’s been since 2007.
"Perla will be interpretations of popular Filipino dishes," he explains; he's aiming for "an approachable palate everyone can try."
For example, there's his version of kare-kare, a Filipino stew he makes with oxtail and tripe, along with peanut butter and shrimp paste. He assures diners not to be scared off by the unusual-sounding flavor combo of this "very different, very very funky dish," because it all blends together well with the under-appreciated savory quality of peanuts.
Perla will have a small start for its small space, focusing mainly on a tasting menu that will keep the chef in a hands-on role. But in a nod to traditional Filipino dining, the restaurant will offer special Sunday brunches -- according to Boquila, "breakfast is very big in the Filipino community" -- as well as a Sunday night homage to home-style Filipino dining with kamayan
meals, large communal dinners eaten by hand off of a banana leaf.
Boquila hopes to open Perla by March of 2016.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lou Boquila, Perla