When I added Bad Saint to my 2016 DC-To-Do list in early January the tiny Filipino eatery in Columbia Heights was already quite the popular destination for local foodies. Grabbing a seat at the tiny 25-seats restaurant required a some advance planning (or luck!) since it has a strict no reservations policy. Then came national recognition. In September, Bon Appétit magazine gave Bad Saint the # 2 spot on its Hot 10 list of best new restaurants in America. Michelin inspectors took notice as well and a few weeks ago included Bad Saint in its Bib Gourmand list of worthy yet affordable restaurants in DC’s very first edition of the guide (you can see a full list here). Not the greatest timing to decide to cross it off my list 😉
By 5:30PM the line for dinner at Bad Saint went down the block
But you know what, I’ve made some questionable choices about my time lately, including waiting 3 hours in line for Hello Kitty themed macarons, so I figured, what’s one more line, especially if there’s fabulous Filipino food at the end of it right? And so I headed to Columbia Heights yesterday, armed with a good book and some mosquito spray. I got there around 3:50PM, which was a bit later than I had meant, and almost didn’t get a table for the first seating at 5:30PM. Luckily, around 5:45PM, my dining companion and I were shown to two uncomfortable stools at a narrow counter facing a mirror and near the exit. Not the greatest seats in the house though the dim space filled with photographs and knick-knacks is otherwise fairly cosy. A bit crammed, but cosy. Co-owner Genevieve Villamora waited on us for part of the evening, providing attentive service and many welcomed explanations about the menu.
The menu is separated in three sections: gulay (vegetables and salads), isda at iba pa (fish and more) and carne (meat.) Within each of these sections, dishes are organized by size and Genevieve recommended we order one to two dishes per person, depending on their size and how hungry we were. So we did. Here’s what we ordered, mostly from the vegetarian section.
Kinilaw na pugita (octopus, fingerling potatoes, queen olives)
Ginisang ampalaya (bitter melon, farm egg, preserved black beans)
Like many of the diners that head to Bad Saint, I don’t have much experience with Filipino cooking. It’s not a cuisine I’m that familiar with, but I am familiar with good food, and good food I ate!! The ampalaya (the bitter melon salad with a farm egg and fermented black beans) was probably the only dish that didn’t wow me, though I found its unconventional flavours interesting. I loved the octopus and fingerling potato ceviche, though I would have loved a bit more olives in there. My grandmother is from Morocco, the land of olives, and I pretty much always want more olives. The Adobong Dilaw was like autumn in a clay pot and I can’t wait to have some of the leftovers tonight!
Ginisang tokwat (fried tofu, yu choi, sate oil)
Adobong Dilaw (cauliflower, kabocha squash, tumeric)
Since the menu changes frequently, you may not see these items when you visit, though I think the bitter melon salad and a version of the Adobong Dilaw are typically found (there was also a chicken version of the dish on the menu too.) I know Bad Saint doesn’t accept parties larger than 4 but I found myself wishing that I had come with more people. It’s not that my friend J.C. was bad company, it’s that there’s only so much we could eat and I would have loved to be able to order more dishes and explore even more of chef Tom Cunanan’s creative Filipino menu!
Have you been to Bad Saint yet? Does its presence in the Michelin Guide make you more likely to go? I wanted to check it out well before Michelin and Bon Appétit took notice, but the release of the red guide definitely gave me that extra push to go and do the waiting in line thing. There’s a lot of other Michelin-starred or Bib Gourmand restaurants I want to try. Sadly, Minibar, Pineapple and Pearls and Kinship are not quite dining options for my budget right now, so I’m tackling the list from the bottom up, at least price wise, and starting with the Bib Gourmand I haven’t been to yet. So, Bad Saint: check. Bonus for crossing it off my 2016 DC-To-Do-List too. And Ottoman Taverna… you’re next!