Pinoy Heritage, chef Francis Ang’s award-winning pop-up, has been spreading awareness of Filipino food among Bay Area diners for years. And the chef’s sisig fried rice is where it all started. Ang first made the many-layered rice dish after returning to the United States from a visit to the Philippines in 2013, a trip during which he and his wife Dian ended up stranded for days, cooking for friends and family in the wake of a destructive typhoon. It was a turning point for Ang, who was working as a pastry chef at Fifth Floor (now Dirty Habit) at the time.
“We came back here and it hit — it hit really hard. We are alive,” Ang recalls. He hosted a fundraiser for those impacted by the typhoon, cooking Filipino food at Dirty Habit — and the rest, you could say, is history. Though Ang had long aspired to open his own restaurant, cooking Filipino food, for the first time, became the dream. “This is the calling,” he says he and Dian realized. “This is what we should be doing with our lives.”
On August 16, Ang will open his first restaurant, the highly anticipated Abacá, serving California-Filipino food in a sun-soaked, plant-filled space at the Kimpton Alton Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf. And the sisig fried rice is still on the menu. Ang says the idea to combine fried rice and sisig, a popular Filipino dish made with pig’s face and pork belly, actually came from Dian. Sisig had long been a go-to recipe in Ang’s “arsenal,” he says. It was a dish he’d learned to cook from his dad when he first moved from Manila to the United States and one he’d whip up at Fifth Floor staff parties and backyard barbecues.
But Dian was the one who suggested he put it in fried rice. Capped with fuchsia-hued pickled onions, delicate microgreens, and a healthy layer of crumbled chicharrones, the sisig fried rice doesn’t, on its face, scream Filipino cuisine. With a poached egg nestled into the center of the bowl, a mosaic of color and texture masks the unctuous rice underneath. But Ang says that’s not an accident.
The Bay Area has known and loved sisig for some time, thanks, no doubt, in large part to Señor Sisig, the pioneering Filipino-American food truck with brick-and-mortar locations in the Mission and Oakland. But while Señor Sisig folds Filipino ingredients into burritos and tacos — even taking cues from Taco Bell — Abacá slips southeast Asian influences into the menu in more subtle ways.
Though Abacá has been heralded as one of the first, if not the first, San Francisco restaurant to serve Filipino food in an upscale setting, there will be dishes on the menu you might not even recognize as Filipino, the chef says. “The whole idea is to make things approachable,” he says, including for diners who may or may not have experienced Filipino food before. “We want to be approachable and at the same time helping to educate and spreading our culture and our cuisine,” he says. “A lot of these recipes, it’s just us interpreting it into our own with California ingredients and produce and something we may have learned from like, literally, cooking with a tita on the street or somebody’s yaya.”
The result is dishes like a light and refreshing tomato and peach salad; it highlights seasonal, local produce and incorporates unexpected ingredients including a savory mung bean puree and a salty, herbal condiment Ang makes in house from smoked fish. It’s a decidedly California summer salad that’s been infused with flavors from across the Pacific.
Shareable small plates, including six different types of barbecue sticks, comprise the bulk of the menu. And even though Filipino food tends to lean meat-heavy, Ang has made a point to include vegetable options. There’s a skewer of summer vegetables and one of Hodo yuba skin glazed in adobo sauce. Larger plates range from a dry-aged ribeye to a dramatic platter of squid relleno featuring a whole squid stuffed with chorizo that’s slow-cooked and charred on the grill. Most dishes range from $10 to $20.
Aside from the dinner options, Abacá also encompasses a panaderia and coffee counter, located just off the main dining room. Here, Ang will flex his skills as a pastry chef bringing his modern touch to traditional Filipino pastries. At the bar, Kevin Diedrich (Pacific Cocktail Haven, Kona’s Street Market) pulled together a fruit-soaked cocktail list with options including the Ube-Colada (rum, pineapple, and ube-coconut cream) and Pandan-quiri (milk-washed rum, pandan, and calamansi). Rounding out the beverage options is a tight selection of wines, several sakes, plus about a half dozen beers.
As for the future of Ang’s pop-up, Pinoy Heritage, he’s not ruling out the possibility that it will live on. But he is focusing primarily on Abacá and making it a hub for Filipino food and culture in the Bay Area. The hotel includes a separate private dining room where Ang says he hopes to host events and dinners, perhaps with chefs visiting from the Philippines. Since the fundraiser, celebrating community has continued to be a driving force in Ang’s work. Even the restaurant’s name is a nod to a friend’s business making and selling woven baskets from the abaca plant. Customers will be able to see the designs behind the bar and adorning the walls at the restaurant. “I think it’s a culmination,” Ang says of Abacá. “This is the start of a new chapter.”