Dinner: Rosel’s home cooking showcases Filipino “flavors for life”
Two cuisines are all the rage in the region, Laotian and Filipino. After a journey that began in the welcoming kitchen of Thompson Tran’s wooden boat in Kitchener, Rosel’s has found a permanent home, joining several other establishments showcasing Filipino cuisine. They are now in the space vacated by Shawerma Plus, along a steep slope of niche kitchen vendors near the intersection of King and University.
Nuestro 88 became the region’s first full-service Filipino and Latin restaurant in early 2019, followed soon after by pop-up Rosel’s. Gayuma Catering and Sari Sari have since joined the party, with all applause for widely attractive offers.
Available daily from the kitchens of the over 7,500 islands that make up the Republic of the Philippines, the cuisine is a true fusion, heavily influenced by colonialism and geography and rooted in readily available local produce.
Rosel Dry and his sous chef Vianca Acacio have always dreamed of becoming chefs. Their stories – featured on Rosel’s website – are archetypal. A past of poverty, of effort, of moving to a new country, of undertaking modest but vital jobs, and finally of wanting to settle in Canada, while supporting his family back home. Rosel’s slogan, “Flavors for Life”, reflects Dry’s desire to offer authentic cuisine from his homeland, at the family table.
We were greeted warmly on arrival: a restaurant that simulates walking into a friend’s house has gone a long way in ensuring guests have a good experience. The emphasis here is clearly on hospitality and what goes on in the open kitchen, not on decoration.
The menu is available via a QR code, or – my preference – a clearly laid out board. Despite the research prior to the exam, what is missing is my retention of the necessary vocabulary: Siomai I have, and Lechon is a piglet if memory serves, but what the hell are Tap Silog and Ube? Is the gluten-free Pancit Bihon like the Pancit Canton that I had enjoyed elsewhere?
Acacio stepped in to provide advice. Just like a random, oddly familiar guy who was sitting, typing on a laptop. We ordered according to their suggestions.
A street food platter ($ 13.95) included spring rolls, pork dumplings, and addicting fried chicken skin curlywurlies, along with three sauces, including a tangy chili-garlic. We weren’t quite finished when our main courses arrived.
I had been tempted to discover the flavor of Chicken Pine Chicken, but instead opted for the Tap Silog ($ 15.95), a marinated beef sirloin, sliced and topped with a runny egg, on brown fried rice with garlic. Naked tomato and cucumber slices provided contrast in a pleasant, if not fancy, dish.
I wowed a fork of my wife’s Chow Mein Pancit Bihon ($ 15.95) with Bihon rice noodles – Pancit Canton offers egg noodles – sautéed in anato oil with vegetables and chorizo. There was also crispy pork belly, a hard-boiled egg filling and a pinch of fried garlic. One of the many gluten free options, the dish would travel well which is a good thing as Rosel has just (as of this writing) announced that they were closing for meals on site due to the obligation check the status of vaccines.
I was worried the desserts were too sweet, so I was surprised with the Buko Pandan ($ 4.95). Grass green screw pine flavored gelatinized cubes, translucently floated in a sweet cream, alongside grated young coconuts. Along with the subtle vanilla flavor of the pandan leaves, it was an unknown blend of tastes, textures and, yes, sweetness, but fairly balanced.
I also enjoyed a delicious pineapple soda ($ 2.95), which was all fruit and water. During our after dinner chat it turned out that the laptop guy was Chris Dry, Rosel’s husband. I had met him years ago while he was developing a cool ginger beer product. Her Bug Brewing Craft Soda has come a long way, and the homemade soda was pleasantly refreshing.
The Drys met online nine years ago and he was careful to point out that the restaurant had always been his dream, which he fully supported. There is good karma here and Rosel pays it to the next one, with each sale making money for Kids Against Hunger Canada.
Filipino cuisine deserves much more attention than it currently receives. Try Rosel’s, or, for that matter, one of the restaurants I mentioned, to taste for yourselves.
22 King Street North, Waterloo
(entrance from rue Regina, due to works on King)
Hours: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday
Payment: Cash, credit and debit cards and wire transfer
Getting your food: After our review visit and with the introduction of mandatory customer vaccinations, Rosel’s announced that it will be open for take out but not for dinner. To learn more about their position, check out their social media. No delivery option is available.
The law project: $ 60.75 (taxes included but not tip) for a shared aperitif, two courses, a dessert and a soda.
Accessibility: Like many of the establishments along the Strip, the level change makes Rosel’s completely inaccessible to wheelchair users due to the many steps to climb.
To note: Several platters – enough to feed a large family – are available on the regular menu. There is also a weekly special as well as a periodic Kamayan feast. Four taps – pineapple soda, ginger ale, and seasonal or other flavors including lemon-lime and strawberry – of Bug Brewing products will also be available soon, via a distinctly Filipino style, with Keezer being made to Chris Dry’s specifications. .
Ordering food in the time of the coronavirus: As restaurants make day-to-day decisions, check their social networks or call them for updates. The lists of restaurants open during the closing of the dining rooms are available on bit.ly/3d2JV74 and wilmotplusfortensemble.ca; a crowdsourced list is on Facebook’s Food In The Waterloo Region at bit.ly/3d1cKAX.