Where to Parsnip in Harvard Square.
Why For a Filipino dinner pop-up created by chef Jeffrey Salazar to honor his native cuisine. Normally, Parsnip skews New American. This was a chance for him to let loose.
The backstory Salazar was born in Nigeria to Filipino parents and lived in the Philippines for several years before moving to the United States, where his family settled in Queens, New York, and later in New Jersey. Someday, he wants to open a Filipino restaurant; for now, he hopes to introduce customers to his food through pop-ups like this one. Parsnip is a long way from its predecessor, the eccentric UpStairs on the Square: Your wily auntie’s attic now looks like a crepuscular art gallery, with mod lighting and long tables. Two seatings, one at 6 p.m. and one at 8 p.m., draw a mostly young, mostly serious crowd. Salazar hopes that this is the first in a series; it was held in conjunction with BosFilipinos, a Filipino organization that offers educational programming and cultural events.
What to eat Salazar riffs on his favorite Filipino dishes and often serves them himself, family-style. To start, scallop and rock shrimp kinilaw, a ceviche-esque cold seafood medley spritzed with lime juice, lemon juice, and yuzu and mixed with chilies and shallots. Lumpiang Shanghai are thin, crackly Filipino spring rolls, stuffed with pork, carrots, and Chinese artichokes. “This gives them a more herbaceous flavor,” he says. They’re paired with a blood orange dipping sauce. Sizzling sisig tastes like diner hash, only better — a runny fried egg sizzling atop cured, duck-fat-coated pig snout, cheek, and ears, chopped up with smoky applewood bacon and Thai chilies. “It’s what we always eat when drinking,” he explains. Sinigang is a warm tamarind broth laced with fish sauce, bobbling with cherry tomatoes, rice balls, daikon, and poached baby shrimp. A slightly unwieldy head-on shrimp is hooked atop the bowl, best sucked dry when your dining companion isn’t looking. Salted tilapia, deep-fried with rice flour, is next, picked apart with one’s hands and dunked in vinegar-soy or fish sauce with lime. Finally, smoked pork adobo: cured, wrapped in banana leaves, and smoked for five hours. It’s fatty and soft, swimming in adobo sauce: vinegar, soy, black peppercorn, bay leaves, and garlic — more savory than fiery, the color of burnt red clay. For dessert, miniature cones of queso ice cream with sharp shredded cheddar on top.
What to drink Ginger and brown sugar tea with Jack Daniel’s; lychee puree with elderflower liqueur and champagne; soda.
The Takeaway Aside from at Tanam within Somerville’s Bow Market, Filipino dishes — typically salty, sweet, and sour — have yet to go mainstream around these parts. At $90 per ticket, Salazar’s pop-ups are a way to experience new (or familiar) flavors in a calm, thoughtful environment; to ask questions; and to linger over tea steps from Harvard Square.
Parsnip, 91 Winthrop St., Cambridge, 617-714-3206, www.parsniprestaurant.com