Bad Saint, Washington, D.C. (Part I)

Bad Saint has received a lot of phenomenal press coverage in the past 3 years since it opened. Reviews often begin with the no reservation policy and the often several hour long wait on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant for a seat. But we weren’t going blind. Isabel, our daughter, had already been 3 or so times, once to take photos for a published review of the restaurant and where she had a chance to taste just about everything on the menu. And she said, “Dad, it’s worth the wait”… so line up on our last afternoon in Washington, D.C., we did. Bad Saint refers to St. Malo, and area of Louisiana where Filipinos who jumped boat (the earliest TNT adventurers) from their galleons in the 17-1800’s took refuge and presumably started to cook Filipino food. The first immigrants… I think it is a BRILLIANT name for a Filipino restaurant in the U.S.

You can tell who the regulars are, they come armed with portable seats, novels, tablets. We had shopping bags instead, to sit on the pavement while we wondered what was on the menu for dinner… The wait wasn’t so bad. But a quick tip for MM readers… just send one person to line up and have your friends come 10 minutes before opening… that’s what lots of other folks did. If you aren’t ion the first 8-10 people in line, you may have to wait even longer for a seat after opening. With just two dozen seats or so, and maybe just 2-3 tables for 4, Bad Saint can’t accommodate too many people at one seating. Maximum group size is 4 people.

A few groups were ahead of us, so we ended in four seats facing out the front windows of the restaurant. The place is tiny, but don’t dwell on the interiors, just focus on the food. The menu listed only 9 dishes that evening + one special. Out of ten dishes, we ordered 7 and the Chef Tom Cunanan sent out another 2, so needless to say, we had 90% of the dishes in that one visit. A bit of backstory, I think one of the owners Genevieve Villamora and Chef Tom were aware, had visited, followed? and had spotted us in line so we have to be grateful for the extra nice welcome which was like meeting up with old friends, though we had only met them face to face this one time. Genevieve was a gracious host, and well, Tom made sure the dishes sent out of the kitchen aimed to please…

To start off this post-graduation family celebration, Isabel ordered the “Tang” cocktail, a cheeky, nostalgic 60’s to 80’s taste profile that was amusing in name, but surprisingly adult and tasty to the palate… Made with a tangerine juice reduction, fino sherry, tangerine, lime, lemongrass and rambutan bitters. Somehow, this first sip was to herald good things to come…

…Mrs. MM opted for a small bottle of French cider, that was a perfect pairing for much of the food we ate that evening. Light, crisp and clean, the Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouché is something I am going to keep my eye out for to bring back home…

…Chief of Stuff and I had two bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen for a direct taste of home (I think these were brewed and imported from Hong Kong, however) and a cheery toast for all to celebrate graduation, moving into a new apartment rental, no more tuition checks for mom and dad, an epic trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona area, touring a first-time visitor to the U.S., etc. was in order. Now to the food…

Labanos at pinaitum. We didn’t order this dish, but I think the Chef thought we should try it. Thank God for that. French radishes sitting on a bed of coconut meat, burnt coconut meat and coconut cream with honey. I think it was all emulsified and chilled to set. Several garnishes such as micro greens, toasted coconut, etc. on top. The dip almost had a consistency of hummus. It was amazing. Surprisingly delicious, but really delicious, and not really reminiscent of anything Filipino, but somehow it still had Pinoy soul. For a westerner, they would just think it was an amazing dish, regardless of provenance or nationality. Note to self, it was disarmingly rich and only became obvious because of how much we would eat in total that evening.

Next to arrive was ginisang ampalaya, which was beautifully done, the twist being the addition of salty black beans (or soy beans?) that ramped up flavor and minimized bitterness, though I seek the bitter. Even Isabel, who is an avowed anti-ampalaya stalwart, seemed to enjoy it. I loved it. This and a bowl of rice, nice vegetarian meal on its own. Note the ebullient use of garnishes, not just to prettify it, it was to add flavor, texture, contrast and it really did work well. Philippine cuisine doesn’t use much in the way of herbs, so playing with other strong flavors is a good way to tickle one’s palate.

The third dish to arrive were these nearly coal black adobong sugpo. Made with squid ink (wrong guess, my bad) pureed black garlic and bay leaves (some ingredients left out), it was swoon-worthy. Again, this single dish on its own with rice would have made a meal. But I like how Chef Tom doesn’t plate up to western expectations, but rather suggests family style servings with multiple dishes to enjoy a myriad of flavors and textures. This was a dense coating of squid ink, not the watery adobos you might be more familiar with from back home. The crisped rice lightened up the look of the dish, but as Isabel put it, they look a bit like fried maggots and to some, might not be so appealing. :)

I had to include another photo of the prawn dish to show how sticky and viscous the sauce was. Note the amount of rice I was consuming with each little bit of shrimp. They deliver unlimited amounts of rice to you, which was appreciated.

Next, dinuguan na bagnet or deep-fried pork belly on a blood stew. Delicious. Only the faintest of metallic taste to the blood; I am not normally a huge fan of dinuguan, but I liked this dish a lot. More on this in the Part II of this post… coming up soon.


12 Responses

  1. That blackened prawn adobo looks delicious! Next time I go to DC I will go find this restaurant! Waiting to see what else you ordered? Btw, there was also a line in your newly opened Zubuchon in MOA.

  2. Holy moly! I can’t wait for Part II.
    I hope you all had a safe and enjoyable trip back to the ‘Pines!

  3. Hello Marketman, sorry to interrupt but, are you doing any special blog or tribute for Mr. Bourdain??? Sorry to sound imposing, we’ll be on standby…

  4. Jerry, still getting over the shock. I am writing a piece for the Metro.Style website and will probably do one for the blog as well.

  5. Bad Saint, a witty take on Saint Malo. Most colonists give the names of their hometown to their settlement. That’s how we got New Orleans and Saint Malo in Louisiana. Aside from being the harbour of corsairs that plied the Channel, Saint Malo (in Brittany) also set out to sea legit explorers farther afield who made names for themselves. Jaques Cartier, the explorer of the sea way that would later be named Saint Lawrence River and is thus credited as the discoverer of Canada, and Bougainville who also started a settlement in the Falklands that he named after natives of Saint Malo, Îles Malouines which gives us its Argentine name, Islas Malvinas.

  6. Footloose, how FASCINATING… If only we could have invited you to join us for dinner that evening… I still have your hometown T on my bucket list, and would like to visit the markets there, so perhaps we will still get a chance to meet, and I, to pick your wonderfully intelligent mind…

  7. I tried Bad Saint’s Adobong Sugpo. It was so good I was tempted to lick the plate clean to savor every last drop of the sauce. However, for $32.00/order, (measly four medium sized prawns) they could have thrown in a few more prawns or used bigger size prawns.

  8. Hi Marketman were you at Bad Saint after 4th of July ? i think i recognize you or maybe look like just you i was sitting next table from you.



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