Bistro 1521

Since Bad Saint was the inspiration for this blog with their horrible, salty, over-hyped, line-causing disaster of a restaurant, I wanted to give Filipino cuisine a second chance (and have another restaurant to share the “Filipino” tag for the sake of fairness to the people of the Philippines).

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Quick side note: if you think, “Oh yeah, let me just drive to Arlington on a Sunday night, no big deal,” you should probably check what time of year it is. If it’s the first weekend of April, just lock your doors, turn out your lights, and hide under your bed until Cherry Blossom Fest is over. Don’t even think about going to Arlington. Also, if you plan to go to Arlington in general, just don’t. The parking is a nightmare and nothing good ever comes from this place (except tortas).

My dining companions had already ordered appetizers by the time I arrived. We had the lumpiang shanghai (egg rolls) and ukoy (veggie and shrimp fritters). I appreciated the crispy simplicity of the egg rolls. They were mostly shell with a small amount of filling, but it was well-seasoned regardless. The fritters were enormous and served with a thin, spicy-sour sauce that worked really well. On the other hand, they also weirdly included shell-on shrimp. They were delicious but why? Why do I have to pick apart a fritter in order to shell my own seafood? Why am I even paying for not-quite-prepared food? It’s even worse in fritter form.

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When we ordered, it turns out that the people in our group fell into two camps: the people who wanted spicy pork tenderloin and the people who wanted chicken on top of noodles. Our table of five ordered two of each of these things, plus I had a mango salad and we got an order of chicken adobo fried rice for the table. My husband ordered his bicol express pork dish extra spicy, as per usual.

First, let me talk about the mango salad. I guess I just assumed this would be a salad that was actually made from mangoes, not a salad with a few sad julienne slices of mango on top. Disappointing. Not even worth posting.

The bicol express was plentiful and looked like this:

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It had a good texture and a very unique flavor, which I will attribute to a seafoodiness from shrimp paste. On the other hand, I hesitate to call this “extra spicy,” and maybe it’s not even fair to call it “spicy,” which is the warning they offer on the menu. As compared to the regular spicy version, the extra-spicy had a couple extra chilis thrown in last-minute. They weren’t even super-spicy chilis. So spicy was not its forte, but it was satisfying.

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The chicken bihon looked and tasted like your typical chicken-noodle-vegetable amalgamation. The chicken was kind of dry, the dish was composed primarily of vermicelli noodles. I was fairly underwhelmed by this too.

The standout of the meal for me was the 1521 fried rice, which I’m actually shocked that I liked considering that I think rice is the number one most useless food to ever exist. But damn, throw some chicken adobo and some hard-boiled egg in there and I’m all over that noise. One again, pretty dry chicken but the oiliness of the rice made up for it.

The unsung hero of Bistro 1521 was the cocktail selection, though. We were all very satisfied with an interesting mix of liquors and authentic juice flavors, and everyone had a second round. I bet this place does a mean happy hour.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Well, it’s a lot cheaper and less salty than Bad Saint, so if for some reason you absolutely need to eat Filipino food and nothing else will quite cut it, this might be a decent option. Otherwise, come for the apps and beverages, then fill your belly at one of the other fine establishments that I’m sure exists somewhere in Arlington. Can’t help you with that one.

Bad Saint

This is my birthday weekend, and in lieu of a more upscale place, I opted to finally pull the trigger and wait in line for Bad Saint on a Saturday, a place I’ve been dying to go to since it opened.

We arrived at about 3:15 and were not the first ones in line, but definitely close enough to the front (although the people in front of us would eventually all have their friends show up). Around 5:05, the doors opened, and the hostess began taking in groups one by one, asking each person if they had any allergies and then pointing out which things on the menu they wouldn’t be able to eat (each item included a description in English, so I’m not sure why this was necessary). It took another 15 minutes for us to be allowed in due to this rigmarole, but we were eventually seated on the stools against the wall, where we had a great view of the kitchen, which I was really excited about.

The menu looked fabulous. I wanted everything. I first ordered a cocktail and my husband got a beer and we also heard the daily specials. Because everyone enters at the exact same time, it took forever to get my cocktail, although it was very original and tasty so I’m not sure I can fault them. We eventually ordered four dishes: the banana hearts in coconut milk, the pork sausage, squash blossoms stuffed with squid, and the beef ribs.

First, the good: I have never had Filipino food before and it was different than anything I’d had before. In fact, “interesting” and “unique” were the words my husband and I most often used to describe our dishes. As one might expect, it’s generally got the Southeast Asian ingredients mixed with flavors from the Spanish colonial influence. The banana hearts, which I expected to be on the sweeter side, definitely were not, which I enjoyed. The squash blossoms were really balanced and had a great texture, which I don’t always feel like I get with squid. And the pork sausage had a great, semi-sweet flavor.

The bad: Everything was SO. SALTY. I have no frame of reference for Filipino cuisine, so I can’t speak to its authenticity in this regard. It was not salty in an inedible way, but it was a predominant flavor in everything we ordered (although they deliver a small semi-sweet dessert with the check, which was completely bland, probably because my taste buds had been destroyed by all the salt).

The bottom line: I don’t regret coming here, and I don’t regret waiting in line (OK, maybe a little…), but I will not do it again. Bad Saint is good, but not good enough to merit their first-come-first-serve-no-reservations policy. Not bad bad, just insanely overhyped. They should rename this restuarant “Mediocre Saint.”

Price: $75 per person