Empress Tavern team dishes out Filipino, Hawaiian fare at pop-up

Hawaiian mix plate: kalbi short rib, lomi lomi salmon, mahi mahi ponzu, wild rice, macaroni salad ($15)

No, everyone. Empress Tavern will not be a Filipino or Hawaiian restaurant.

Sure, most pop-ups by a restaurant before said restaurant’s opening are to test out dishes, get feedback and generally build some excitement around its food. Chef/owner Michael Thiemann and co-executive chef Matt Masera need no such help. Instead, their team put on a silly good time at Old Ironsides last night with plastic leis and a special beverage menu of red or blue “drank.”

Thiemann’s wildly successful restaurant Mother is enough to build a rapid fanbase for Empress, his upcoming meat-centric concept located below the Crest Theatre. It’s expected to revolve around a rotisserie-spun meats, with craft cocktails and a formidable beer list. American food. So what are the dudes doing serving spam loco moco and lumpia?

Fun, I guess. And to build a little buzz, sure. And maybe to prove the vegetarian restaurant owners can, in fact, cook meat. 

On the Filipino side, the pig trotters were crispy on the outsider, tender on the inside, which paired nicely with the soft, tangy pork sisig. On the Hawaiian side, the kalbi short ribs were wonderfully sweet and fatty. We all know Masera’s dessert prowess, but that haupia—creamy coconut pudding topped with salty macadmia nuts and a hint of guava—was positively killer.

At 6 p.m., a line snaked from the order window to the back of the bar, and it stayed steady for at least an hour and a half. The one thing almost no one was ordering was balut, a developing duck embryo. It’s a Filipino delicacy, but a pretty notorious and creepy thing to most Americans. When the server brought over my table’s balut, she said we were the second to order one, and that the first person “was not pleased.” Oops!

Basically, it tasted like an extra rich egg yolk, with a touch of livery meatiness. Salt or vinegar would have been nice to add some dimension to the thing. But really, it’s not so bad. Not that you asked. 

Anyway, look for an Empress Tavern opening date in late May. Hopefully.

Filipino mix plate: cripsy pata, lumpia, sisig, wild rice, macaroni salad ($15)

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