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17 December, 2007
PapillonI was skeptical of Papillon when I first read about it. A vegetarian Filipino restaurant? Bah, how can a vegetarian chicken adobo be good? D. and I decided to go to El Segundo and try it for ourselves.
Papillon is located on Main Street, which was surprisingly empty on a Saturday afternoon. A lot of restaurants and businesses were still closed; apparently, most of them open late during the weekends.
The family-owned and operated restaurant was small, with just 5-6 tables indoors and a couple on the sidewalk. There was a counter lined with framed reviews from local papers as well as framed, mounted butterflies (papillon is French for butterfly).
Why the French name, I asked the owner who also happened to be our server. He said it was in honor of the blue butterfly, an endangered species with only three colonies still known in existence, the biggest of which resides in El Segundo's Habitat Preserve.
As we looked over the extensive menu, D. and I ordered a mango shake and an avocado shake. The thought of the main ingredient in guacamole being turned into a shake didn't appeal to him -- avocado is a fruit, I argued -- but conceded after taking a sip that he liked it better than the mango, which had a strange aftertaste that I can't put my finger on.
We decided on three dishes. The first was Papillon's choice, a combo plate of vegetarian pork barbecue, grilled tofu, stir fried vegetables, plantain and steamed rice. It was a good dish overall. The flavorful tofu served with a spicy sweet and sour sauce was balanced by the sweet plantains and crunchy stir fried veggies.
The barbecued "pork" seitan (wheat gluten) was very "meaty" and savory. I was just disappointed that instead of the traditional Filipino marinade I expected, it was merely brushed with American barbecue sauce.
We also had the vegetarian pancit (stir fried noodles) which had lots of vegetables and mock shrimp and pork that were so good, we didn't miss the meat. It was also interesting how the "shrimp" and "pork", though both made of seitan, had distinctly different tastes and textures. The dish was as good as any non-vegetarian pancit I've had, and there was so much we had to bring half of it home for dinner.
The highlight of the meal, though, was the "chicken" adobo. Adobo is the Philippine national dish, and each region of the country has its own distinct version. This one was decidedly from the Visayan islands: the "chicken" slowly simmered in equal parts soy sauce and vinegar made fragrant with lots of garlic, black peppercorns and a bay leaf or two, until the sauce was reduced to a gravy-like consistency.
Again, we didn't miss the meat. The "chicken" cutlets were very close to the real thing, except a little chewier. I wish you could smell and taste the photo, because nothing compares to the heady aroma and flavor of a good adobo, especially over steamed rice. We liked it so much we ordered more rice just to soak up every bit of the sauce.
The verdict on Papillon: worth the trip, especially for vegans/vegetarians with a craving for generous helpings of Filipino food that are reasonably priced. D and I will definitely be back. Maybe we'll try the piquant vegetarian sinigang and crunchy vegetarian egg rolls next time.
Papillon Vegetarian Cuisine and Grill
408 Main St.,
El Segundo, Ca 90245
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