1314 Cortelyou Road, 718-940-8188
Price Range: $18-$28 Rating: 4 out of 5 L's
You know the expression "the proof is in the pudding"? Well, at Purple Yam you might say the proof is in the halo halo—the Filipino answer to an ice cream sundae, which is served in a tall, thin glass dish to show off layers of sweet beans, palm seed, cocogel (what?), agar agar (huh?), coconut sport (who?), jackfruit (really?), and flan, with a pretty lavender scoop of purple-yam ice cream on top. When the waiter plops one of these frozen confections on the table next to yours before turning to take your order, you realize that no matter how many times you read over the menu and no matter how many questions you ask, you're going to have to do some tasting to understand what Chef Romy Dorotan's Filipino-meets-pan-Asian cooking is all about.
Purple Yam is open for dinner every night, and for those who can't make the trek to Ditmas Park on a school night, it's also open from noon to 3:30 on Saturdays and Sundays. The brunch menu offers eggs with glossy garlic rice and out-of-the-ordinary breakfast meats like tocino ("sugar-achuete cured pork," $10) and beef ("air-dried beef," $11), washed down with strong cups of coffee and spicy cardamom chai lattes. We went straight to the kimchi and scallion pancake ($6)—a standout version of the egg-based Korean street food, flecked with spicy pickled vegetables and served alongside a thick sesame oil and scallion dipping sauce. Our server recommended pairing it with the buko (young coconut juice, $3), which was served cold in a wine glass with soft coconut shavings. My dining companion took a swig and declared that it tasted like Fritos, without the salt. I wouldn't go so far to compare this refreshing and delicately creamy beverage to junk food, but to be fair, it didn't not taste like Fritos. (And who doesn't love Fritos?)
Another must-try is the juicy chicken adobo ($12 on the lunch menu, $16 at dinnertime), served in a clay pot with a braising liquid of garlicky vinegar and soy sauce. Vegetarians will find solace in the lunchtime selection of bright and healthful noodle bowls, such as the vegetable jap chae ($8)—a broth-free tangle of golden, translucent sweet potato noodles with shredded carrots, sauteed spinach, and deeply flavorful shiitake and woodear mushrooms.
If the halo halo seems too adventurous a dessert, the satisfying buko pie a la mode ($6) is reminiscent of Mom's apple pie, if your mama were into subtly sweet young coconut and ice cream flavored with macapuno (a Philippine variety of the coconut palm). Can something be considered a comfort food if you're eating it for the first time? Purple Yam has proof that it can.