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Pista Sa Nayon

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Three people walk into a Philippine restaurant in Boise Idaho. One is Jewish, one Middle Eastern, and the third is Irish ... No. "Ignorant people in preppy clothes are more dangerous to America than an oil embargo," V.S. Naipaul remarked many years ago.

"Maybe I should pretend I'm on a therapist's couch, and I'm getting help writing food review ..." No.

"I got it! It's a movie about a famous food critic, and he, me, is reviewing Pista Sa Nayon, and the food review is expressed through the words of the director. I'm played by Ed Norton, no, Fabio ..."

I have nothing even remotely amusing to write, because Pista Sa Nayon, like so many other unique, independent restaurants in Boise, is endangered. Endangered by the confining effects of expansion and growth that promote and engender generic consumption. The inexorable and execrable influence of corporate culture has the disquieting effect of silencing small businesses ...Yikes, that reads like Jesse Jackson doing an impersonation of the Unabomber.

Hmmm. Pista Sa Nayon is a small, tough-to-find Philippine restaurant painted alongside crowded Fairview Avenue. On the night we visited, the husband-owner was waiting tables while his wife cooked. That division of labor meant that we'd be getting her more traditional take on Philippine food--an amalgam of Spanish and Southeast Asian cuisine. If he'd been cooking, there might have been a hint of French or Indian influence, but not American. "American food is easy," he said, and as if to say 'Why bother?' Indeed why bother when you can prepare food infused with garlic, ginger, chiles and coconut.

Toward the back of the restaurant, some kids were watching American Idol on a TV propped on a chair. Our attention was happily diverted to the lumpiang shanghai--narrowly wrapped fried egg rolls stuffed with beef, carrots and celery. The crisp exterior effectively managed its contents without unduly dominating them. We cleared the spices from our throats with hot tea, both green and black, and moved on to our entrees.

The three of us (more precisely a Denver Jew, a Haitian-Lebanese and a bellicose Welshman) requested Adobong spare ribs, shrimp with chili and coconut, and another beef dish called bistek. The shrimp were well portioned, like Muhammed Ali, and simply presented on a plate veneered with a light red sauce. The tender spare ribs were chunky and cut short, like Joe Frazier, and adorned only with an exuberant chili sauce. The bistek was sparingly dressed in a ginger and garlic sauce that could set your hair on end like Don King's. There was no hiding behind a flurry of butter, cream and sugar--the refuge of so much restaurant food--for these three dishes. They stood on their own merit, and successfully so, as we indulgently mixed the sauces with white and fried rice. But unlike the "Thrilla' in Manila," there was no clear-cut winner; each meal was equally enjoyed.

For dessert, we tried the leche flan, a custard dish with layers of caramelized sugar laced with deyap (a citrus) rind. The bellicose Welshman (he did not approve the moniker) is lactose intolerant, and so he had only a small portion. He certainly doesn't need anything else to make him irritable. The Denver Jew (she did approve the moniker) normally loves anything that has sugar added, but surprisingly, she did not finish her modest portion, which caused the owner visible distress, which in turn made the Denver Jew feel guilty and sad, which in turn prompted me to finish my portion, which upset my stomach because I just don't eat dessert very often.

Anyway, all ended well for our sugar lover because at the exit door, the owners provide not only a basket of mints, but also another basket of chocolate. It was a delightful final surprise from a lovely couple making affectionate food at their welcoming little spot in Boise.

--Waj Nasser and Fabio are, in fact, indistinguishable.