Don your high-water overalls, nose ring and ironic T-shirt, folks: Filipino/French fusion pop-up Partido warrants a trip to Highland Park’s notoriously hip York Boulevard – specifically, the old El Arco Iris building. Note, however, that this joint is not for the faint of heart — literally. Partido stays true to the associations many people have with Filipino food: lots of salt, vinegar and oil. But the chefs at Partido have managed to elevate this to meet the expectations of a sit-down dinner. Portions are hefty, but presented with grace, and familiar salty, greasy plates of food ascend to luxurious, decadent dishes.
My friend and I started off with some lumpia, essentially a Filipino eggroll filled with ground pork and vegetables. Formerly, I had known lumpia only as a finger food presented in bulk at events. I have eaten my fair share of these squat, tightly wrapped, grease-drenched pods of indulgence, so when served half a dozen elegantly thin, microgreen-dusted, perfectly golden-brown rolls arranged on a sleek wooden plank, I worried the comfort food aspect I so adored in Filipino cuisine had been thrown by the wayside. Alas, I should have trusted in Partido. The delicate, crispy wonton shell gave way to a burst of juicy and savory unadulterated pork flavor. Such juxtaposition of texture is difficult to accomplish, let alone perfect. Though they came with a garlic/Thai chili vinegar and a sweet chili dipping sauce, I happily munched away at the morsels on their own. (Note: This speaks volumes as I often eat things for their sole purpose as a vehicle for sauces.) Currently, Partido’s plate of lumpia stands unrivaled in my personal “best eggroll variant” category, and I predict it will not be unseated for a while. For just four bucks at the bar during the 6 to 8 p.m. happy hour, the lumpia is a must-get.
Speaking of happy hour, Partido offers a fun array of seven specialty cocktails, most of which hint at Pacific Rim flavors without being gimmicky. As the normally $12 drinks are only $6 from 6 to 8, I treated myself to a Manila Sunrise. Tequila and Thai basil mingled with our salty starters while strawberry and lemon brightened up the palate. As someone who respects food, I do realize that cocktails are not meant for pairing … but these cocktails and apps are, admittedly, pretty great together. This is Partido’s saving grace, as their beer selection is pitiful. While I understand an extensive tap doesn’t lend itself to the high-brow French/Filipino fusion feel the establishment is trying to convey, everyone who has ever traveled to Asia (or watched anything with Anthony Bourdain) knows that beer is exactly what salty, greasy and crispy need. Sure, there were a few bottled brews available for order, but I was left wanting a Sapporo, an Asahi, a Singha — anything Asian, anything on tap.
Starting on a high note with drinks and lumpia (and some complimentary taro chips with coconut lime dipping sauce), the rest of our meal progressed much the same. As per wait staff recommendation, we ordered longanisa poutine fries, crispy cauliflower and pancit. Again and again, texture reigned supreme in our dishes.
A heaping mound of shoestring fries, somehow all equally crispy and salt-coated no matter how buried, held up admirably to a daunting amount of Spanish-turned-Filipino sweet sausage, cheese curds, chives, etcetera. Atop the poutine perched a single circulated (basically hard-poached) egg. Pure decadence. I constructed bite after perfect bite of every ingredient by the fork full, each one tasting like a sinful mouthful of potatoes au gratin. Be warned: one order of longanisa poutine fries could sustain a small village, so bring your friends. You’re definitely going to want an order, but you definitely need to eat them fresh to do them justice.
The fried cauliflower crunched delightfully then melted into happy nonexistence on the tongue. Many have tried, but this is the only pure form of indulgent cauliflower I have yet encountered. Personally, I wished dipping sauces had come with this dish; texture was excellent, but I wanted a little more flavor than salt and cauliflower. In any case, tell your vegan friends. They will appreciate this.
My old roommate — whose Filipina mother often insisted I eat ridiculous amounts of homemade chicken adobo and lovingly force-fed me Jollibee every time I visited — had some choice words regarding the pancit.
“No oregano. This is some white bullshit … and it is wrong without chicken.”
While I, too, found the addition of oregano confusing at first, it was not unwelcome in the dish. It freshened up an otherwise vinegar-heavy plate of noodles. And, true, this pancit was vegetarian, but the veggies were phenomenal. The char gave a depth that made up for lack of meat, though I do wish the ratio of vegetables to noodles was a bit higher. Not a highlight, but better than Jollibee (don’t tell my roommate’s mom).
Though we two diners had barely put dents in the mountains of food already on the table, it took our waitress next to nothing to persuade us to top it all off with dessert. Ube churros. Pandan anglaise. Pure joy. Ever since returning from a recent trip to Thailand, I have been searching for pandan flavored foods; the leaf offers a hint of nutty flavor similar to pistachio that I can’t get enough of. Ever wondered what makes rice at Thai restaurants so good? Pandan. The anglaise was subtle and delicious, but, honestly, those ube churros were beautiful unto themselves. Crispy outside, fluffy inside, eclair-sized, beautifully deep purple, cinnamon-sugar doused to perfection bites of happiness were these. We claimed we couldn’t eat another bite of dinner, but the churro plate was clean in under a minute. ‘Nuff said.
As for the atmosphere, the bar was full of jolly drinkers, the service friendly and informed and the space comfortable enough with booths and tables for any party size. However, while Highland Park subculture experts might deem the interior “normcore,” I’d call the style “abandoned Mexican joint furnished and lit by out-of business pizza joint.” And that’s essentially what Partido is, simply renting out the old El Arco Iris. To their credit, there’s not much personal style Partido can pump into their venue as a weekend (Thursday-Saturday) pop-up from, according to our server, “now until question mark.” This is evident — the interior screams transience. A few parol-style light fixtures adorn brick spandrels, and Filipino and French flags hang on the back wall, but there is little else that would attract customers seeking Partido’s cuisine.
That said, this critic is excited for Partido’s prospects. When El Arco Iris becomes a “barcade” this summer, the pop-up plans to open up shop for good in the Arts District. I can’t imagine a better scene for Partido, but, until then, check them out in Highland Park.
5684 York Blvd., | Highland Park | (562) 302-1057 | Alcohol/Major Cards