Those looking for a taste of the Philippines with a twist used to head to La Parrilla de Manila in New Brunswick, where they had to fight for one of the two parking spaces and a spot at one of the two tables at the small restaurant.
But now, they can enjoy their favorite Filipino-American fusion spot with room to bring their friends, family and favorite wine or beer at the BYOB restaurant’s new location at 1159 St. Georges Ave. in Colonia.
The eatery, which operated in New Brunswick for five years under the ownership of Francis and Marie Grace Ponce, now has 84 seats and receives about 100 daily visitors following its official opening on Aug. 3, although many locals were trickling in from July 30 to get an early sampling of the new La Parrilla de Manila.
“Our food is for everyone,” said head chef Homer Reyes. “It isn’t expensive and people can bring the kids or come right from work. We are trying to make it possible to cater to people from all walks of life and nationalities with a little bit of everything.”
La Parrilla de Manila’s menu has expanded with about new 35 dishes to add to its Filipino-American fusion target with entrees such as the lamb shank kare-kare style for $21.99, one of the most popular meals that features slowly braised lamb and risotto alongside eggplant and string beans and accompanied by bok choi with peanut sauce.
Other new dishes include the lengua, or ox tongue, for $19.99, braised with herb and spices in a mushroom red wine demi sauce alongside risotto, baby carrots and green beans, as well as the grilled salmon teriyaki for $19.99 cooked on a cedar flank and topped with wasabi pea dust among stir fry vegetable and edamame puree potatoes.
However, not everyone is thrilled with the restaurant’s fusion entrees.
“Some local Filipinos are unhappy because this is not traditional Filipino food, but it’s not supposed to be,” said Reyes. “I’m not trying to offend anyone with our dishes, but this is a fusion and we are trying to mix it up. I want to gradually introduce Filipinos to other nationalities with our food.”
Reyes said that some local Filipinos also aren’t happy with the entrée prices ranging from $7.99 to $10.99 for lunch and $19.99 to $23.99 for dinner, which is higher than what is charged at other Middlesex County Filipino restaurants. However, Reyes said that La Parrilla de Manila, unlike its Filipino eatery competitors, is geared toward those looking for an upscale meal with a finer ambiance and high-quality meats rather than take-out, which is why there is an upcharge.
One of the traditional Filipino aspects of the Colonia restaurant is that four family members work at La Parrilla de Manila, including Marie Grace Ponce’s brother, Jaime Caballes, who is a cook, Tess Lazaro, Francis Ponce’s sister, who is the accountant, Gerdrudes Ponce, Francis Ponce’s mother, who is a cook, and Faye San Augustin, Francis Ponce’s cousin, who is the floor manager, among the other 17 employees.
Reyes, as well, has been a personal friend of Francis and Marie Grace Ponce for five years and joined the restaurant team for its Colonia opening. Although this is the first Filipino restaurant that he has co-opened, he has also co-opened restaurants in Rhode Island, Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois after moving from the Philippines in 2006.
Under his leadership, Reyes said, he is trying to train many of his hard-working young employees, who come from all nationalities, to work in a fine dining restaurant, many of whom are coming from fast-food backgrounds.
“I am also hiring people from all countries so that there is no bias here,” he said.
The owners’ history is rooted in traditional Filipino culture, however, as the Ponces used to have a small cafeteria in their college medical school in the Philippines where they would cater to students, drivers and locals. Although today they are practicing doctors in Monmouth County, they still have the passion to cook.
“They like to eat and they like to cook,” said Reyes. “They want to share that passion for what they enjoy making with the community.”
Jenna Intersimone’s “Life Aboard The Traveling Circus” column appears Tuesdays. Her “Life Aboard The Traveling Circus” blog is at LifeAboardTheTravelingCircus.com. Tweet her at @JIntersimone or email her at JIntersimone@GannettNJ.com.
LA PARRILLA DE MANILA
Where: 1159 St. Georges Ave. in Colonia
Hours: Lunch served Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Entree Price Range: Lunch from $7.99 to $10.99 and dinner from $19.99 to $23.99
Contact: 732-510-7033 or laparillademanila.com