Several years ago this city was blessed with a Filipino restaurant that, sadly, was ahead of its time, and didn't last. It was a charming place, with a decorative bamboo motif, waitresses in traditional costumes, and a menu that, while unfamiliar to most of us, delivered classy presentations of cooked-to-order food. I liked everything I tried, but one dish in particular stood out, the lumpia. Not those familiar wee, deep-fried rolls, but a big, soft, blintz-like crepe wrapped around a filling, and I've been hoping ever since to find it again.
I thought I had found it when I saw a photograph on the Internet of one of Kalan's dishes -- lumpiang sariwa, drizzled in peanut sauce. It looked like the lumpia I remembered, and I couldn't wait to try it. No such luck. If I understood our server's explanation (and I suspect I didn't), one of the essential ingredients wasn't available, and they didn't know when, or if, it would be.
Today's Filipino restaurants are simpler affairs -- buffets, as often as not -- but Kalan is nevertheless bright, spotless and comfortable, with cherry-red accents on the white and grey walls, and photographs of some gorgeous tropical places which, I assume, are in the Philippines. The food, which varies from day to day and from lunch to dinner, is displayed on a steam table in one corner of the room. However, it isn't sold on a fixed-price, all-you-can-eat basis, but in combos of one, two or three main items, plus rice and soup, from $6.99 to $8.99, taxes included.
The soups were delicious. One came with a few greens and a tiny drumstick; another was a clear broth that was tangy with tamarind -- so good I wanted to ask for more, but lacked the nerve (especially since I had probably already driven our server crazy by straying from the combos, and asking for a little bit of almost everything).
My first visit was for dinner, which consisted mostly of homey, long-simmered stews. Tender squid in oyster sauce turned out to be one of the dishes my bunch loved best. Another was pancit, which wasn't on the steam table, but was made to order for us -- not with the usual rice vermicelli, but with the more substantial egg noodles, which were stir-fried with veggies and slices of pork. Other favourites that night were oxtail in a luscious coconut and peanut sauce, tangy pork adobo in vinegar and soy sauce, savoury beef caldereta stewed with onions, tomatoes and the occasional potato (there's liver paste in the sauce, but you won't taste it).
My friends were skittish about pork in either the blood or liver sauces, but I liked them. The one dish we all agreed was too pungent for us was pork coated in dried shrimp paste, which is probably an acquired taste. But we chickened out completely and didn't try the papaitan, a dish of chopped innards, which don't put me off, but also bile, which does put me off. Another acquired taste, possibly.
I'd been looking forward to the barbecued pork and fried chicken that Filipino cooks do so well, but was told that they might be available at lunch, when the selection is larger.
Actually, there was still no barbecued pork when I came for lunch, but the sliced pork steak with onions and hints of lemon in the soy sauce marinade, was delicious, and they did have fried chicken -- no batter, no bread crumbs, just super-crunchy skin, and juicy flesh within.
Other musts, if they're available, are the big, homey meatballs in a tomato-based sweet-and-sour sauce, and the addictive lechon -- chunks of roasted side pork with the crunchy cracklings attached. Not everything is displayed on the steam table, so make a point of asking what else might be available.
Other dishes that day included a mild chicken curry, green beans with small but flavourful shrimp, milkfish with strips of eggplant in a vinegar sauce, and (my preference) sweet and sour tilapia. There may be fried lumpia, either the small cigarillo-shaped rolls stuffed with meat, which were OK, or the thicker, clearly hand-rolled versions, which were wonderful, with a moist, mixed-veggie filling.
Among the few house-made desserts are luscious egg-yolk tarts -- similar to Chinese egg tarts, but with the addition of condensed milk, in a soft, almost cakey crust. There's also a rich, caramel-sauced leche flan, also enriched with condensed milk, as well as some brightly coloured desserts that I didn't try.
Service by the women who run this place was warm and endlessly patient when dealing with all my questions. That warmth and friendliness was shared by some Filipino customers who were there for takeout orders, and who enthusiastically directed us to the dishes we shouldn't miss. And they were right on.
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.
Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.