Cebu brings regional Filipino cuisine to Wicker Park

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The flavors of the Philippines are not commonly known in Chicago. Most of the mom-and-pop restaurants are in Niles, Skokie and Morton Grove, but a few recent additions in the city are educating diners with some new menu items - including a brand new spot in Wicker Park.

After Bayan Ko opened in Ravenswood over the winter, there's been some momentum - and hope, at least among ex-pats - leading up to Cebu, which just opened a little more than a month ago in Wicker Park. The food is influenced by the namesake region in the Philippines, which means a bit more coconut milk and ginger all across the menu.

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It's no surprise to see the majority of customers patronizing a new Filipino restaurant are either ex-pats themselves, or have Filipino relatives. What is surprising is the way the traditional dishes are treated at Cebu, which sits a bit hidden, tucked next to a church on North Avenue.

"A little bit modern. We tried to keep everything as authentic as we could but have our own little twist to what Filipino food is," said Marlon Tan, one of the owners.

So while there is the ubiquitous roasted pork - with its crackling skin - there is also kinilaw, a colorful starter with multiple textures.

"It's like the Filipino version of ceviche," he said.

Raw tuna is "cooked" in tart calamansi juice. A squeeze of coconut vinegar and ginger provide creamy acidity. Finely-chopped red peppers, red onions and tomato give the dish a bit of color and texture, while puffed rice also adds some crunch.

Sisig is typically cooked with pork and garlic. Here, it's pork belly and duck livers, sauteed with garlic and onions. Some sisig sauce - containing oyster and soy sauce and a bit of mayo - is added just before plating. And as this sizzling platter rests, a perfectly-cooked soft egg is added to the middle of the plate, surrounded by crunchy slivers of fried pork skin. You definitely want to mix it all up at the table to incorporate that rich egg yolk.
Another classic is chicken adobo. But again, since this is Cebuan-style, it means this slow-cooked thigh might get a jolt of flavor from another source, besides the usual garlic, vinegar and soy.

"We add a little bit of coconut milk to it," said Tan. In the Philippines, there's always different variations of adobo. Each region has their own take on it," he said.

2211 W. North Ave.
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