I saw Weewee Panlilio’s Lunch Box menu sitting on my sister Cristy’s desk. I scrutinized it and found it very interesting.
My manang refused to give me the booklet, so I patiently took a photo of every page, including the phone number. When Friday came, I decided to call to order food for Sunday.
I asked to speak to the owner, Wewee Panlilio, who, I’d learn was no stranger to food business. She’s a partner at Grilla Bar and Grill and the source of its chapchae recipe. Her family also owned Sweet Haven, one of the more popular dining places back when Katipunan was still a quiet strip.
“I am one of those who love to have people around and like to entertain,” she said. “My friends got so used to me entertaining that one of them proposed I turn my hobby to a business. It was, first, meals for the elderly who didn’t have time to cook. So I cooked two to three dishes for them.”
One thing led to another, and by word of mouth, her business prospered. When I asked her which dishes were worth a try, she said, very authoritatively, “Ako na, ako na ang bahala!”
No use arguing there. After all, who knows their food more than those who cook it themselves?
At the appointed time, my food was ready for pickup. Each viand was neatly arranged on disposable red trays, complete with nametags. All I had to do was remove the lids, and lunch was served.
Panlilio prepared lengua with champignon; linguine with prawns and shiitake; baked labahita and pork bigukan.
To my delight, the food was good! It’s lutong bahay, with care given to every detail of its preparation. The taste and flavors were simple yet well-executed.
And though it was tasty, it was not overly so. Which is why it worked, because you found yourself chasing after the taste, as if something was always missing—a dash of salt or pepper, a spice or an herb… But, really, each dish was perfect just as it was.
Panlilio’s lengua was so soft that it melted in the mouth. It was creamy and rich, but never cloying. You could taste the mushrooms and see them—the button mushrooms on her lengua were huge—but the taste was never mushroom-y.
Same with her linguine with shiitake and prawns—an Asian-inspired pasta dish that had just the right amount of sweetness to its soy-based sauce, made more flavorful by subtle hints of umami from the shiitake, topped with large prawns. The sprigs of coriander generously sprinkled on top of it also gave the pasta a subtle yet distinct twist.
And, like the lengua, it was neither overly seasoned nor bland.
The baked labahita topped with a thin layer of what seemed like creamy mayonnaise was broiled golden, making the perfectly seasoned fillets with stark bursts of citrus and capers a fish dish to please any crowd.
Of all the dishes, the most original was the Pork Bigukan—liempo cooked and simmered until tender in a sweet bagoong sauce. It was grilled and served with the bagoong simmered on the side. So good.
“I don’t skimp on ingredients,” she said. “I get involved with my clients. Nakikialam ako! I also have killer taste buds, so I can tell Manang Ebeng, who has been my cook for 35 years, what’s wrong with the food. She and I are a tandem. Furthermore, my recipes are my mother’s, the late Flor de Liz Victorino.”
I can attest to all of the above. In fact, I can really say she is pakialamera because she told me I had enough food already and asked me to stop ordering. When I wanted to order kare-kare, she said I should order something else!
Her menu/flier spans 10 pages, with an extensive a la carte selection (each serving good for eight to 10, according to her, though seriously I believe it can serve more) and a set menu on the back side of the flier (three to four dishes, good for 15 persons, priced per head).
Lunch Box (Call 9205726 / 9286491)
‘Taho’ for dessert
I finally found the new contact number of Peter, my supplier of delicious classic and flavored taho, delivered to your doorstep. Call 0917-8486007. Love the almond and coffee variants!
Chef Cyrille Soenen sent me this text in reference to my column last week: “I just realized that the last name I mentioned should have been Mr. Louis Paul Heusaff, not Lessafre.”
My book “Kitchen Rescue 3, The Directory—My Lifeline to Eating, Cooking and Living,” is now available at all leading bookstores. Call 6474744.