ARE YOU hungry? Have you eaten yet? Do you want food?
For anyone who grew up in a Filipino family, or anyone with Filipino neighbors, co-workers or friends, this refrain is extremely familiar. Drop in to visit a Pinoy at home and the topic of you eating - or, more specifically, how troublesome it is that you are not currently eating - is the first conversation you'll have.
That's how I knew Pasiano's, in Tacony, was legit. Within three minutes of my arrival, before I'd even had a chance to remove my coat, I was earnestly asked, three different times by three different people, if I was feeling peckish.
Obviously, the answer was yes.
And owners Bill and Christy Sederman, whose unique menu mixes the soulful Filipino cooking that's so hard to find here with classic Italian and American dishes, are banking on even more Philadelphians responding in the affirmative.
Although it's not an immigrant community with a profile as visible as Philly's Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean populations, there's a large contingent of Filipinos here, with a particular concentration in the Northeast. Despite this presence, there haven't been many options in terms of restaurants specializing in the cuisine, a unique amalgam of indigenous, Spanish, Chinese and American influences.
This is a big reason why the Sedermans decided to take on this BYOB, which officially opened under their watch on Nov. 14. It's a magical date for the couple. They met on Nov. 14, 2005: Bill was waiting in line at a Northeast Philly bodega, a pair of Eagles-Cowboys Monday Night Football tickets in his pocket, when his friend called to let him know he could no longer make the game.
He turned around and invited Christy, a complete stranger who happened to be waiting herself, to accompany him. They were married one year later to the day. In 2011, their son Billy was born on their fifth anniversary.
Learning the cuisine
Christy, a medical-lab technician from the province of Rizal who's been in the States since 1999, is an avid home cook, so it was natural for her to want to teach her food to her professional-chef husband.
Native New Yorker Sederman, who's cooked high-end French, steakhouse and German, consulted for cruise ships in China and worked under Walter Staib at City Tavern, took to it immediately. "It's amazing the flavors that come up, just by the manipulation of spices and ingredients," he said.
Before taking ownership of the business, Sederman was the chef at Pasiano's for a time, when it was much more of a red-sauce restaurant. (By coincidence, "Pasiano" was the first name of a former owner's grandfather - a Filipino.) Pretty much all the elements from those days are still in place. Romanesque sconces and shelves decorated with wine carafes. An al fresco-style mural of a idyllic seaside villa. A painting of Venetian gondolas resting in the water. Deano and Old Blue Eyes on the sound system.
And, although Sederman does reserve a section of the menu for customers who still like to eat the old way - mussels in white-wine sauce, risotto, broccoli rabe - interest in the traditional Filipino side is growing. "I think it's a perfect marriage. It's comfort food on both sides," he said. "I got Italians that come in and order nothing but Filipino."
Red gravy to kare-kare
The Sedermans make a pretty good team. Christy combines her family recipes and personal knowledge of her cuisine with her husband's formal culinary experience. The dishes she's most proud of include lumpiang hubad, a chicken-and-veggie spring roll of sorts that they serve with egg crepes; kare-kare, or oxtail slow-cooked in a peanut sauce (they roast and grind the legumes from scratch, no packaged shortcuts); and crispy pata, an intoxicating deep-fried pork hock with a texture that lives up to its name.
Sederman was initially surprised by the amount of labor, skill and attention to detail that went into food that, on its face, is very humble. "Filipino cooking is not easy," he said. "You can't rush it. It's not an a la minute type of thing. There's a lot of prep work and double- and triple-cooking." He's all in, even nurturing a fruit tree to sprout calamansi, a key-lime-like citrus fruit used heavily in Filipino sauces and marinades.
The labor he and his kitchen are putting in is paying off, if the happy-looking Tagalog speakers yukking it up in his dining room and belting it out in the upstairs karaoke lounge are any indication. This latter feature is a smart addition, as Filipinos are typically unabashed hams who love to sing.
Christy's go-to tunes? Whitney Houston's "All the Man That I Need," when she's happy with her husband. And when they're arguing? "I Will Survive," she jokes.
Though it might seem as though Italian and Filipino cuisines have nothing in common, the Sedermans find parallels, just as they did when they were first getting to know each other. The lo mein-like pancit? It's pretty much spaghetti, according to Bill. Palabok, a seafood noodle dish garnished with hard-boiled eggs and toasted garlic? More or less shrimp scampi, in Christy's eyes.
But to them, it doesn't really matter how or what you order, as long as you come hungry.