On the right track
Gina’s Filipino Kape
Sacramento, CA 95814
California has a large Filipino community, and the Sacramento area boasts a hearty population—at least 40,000, according to the 2010 U.S. census data.
So why don’t we have more Filipino restaurants? You can certainly find a few places in south Sacramento and Natomas, where populations are heavy. But, until recently, there wasn’t much of anything available in downtown or Midtown.
In early October of last year, Gina Ramirez sought to change that, opening Gina’s Filipino Kape (Tagalog for “cafe”). The space used to be an espresso bar, and the same elaborate neon sign still hangs outside. A portable A-frame sign specifies it as Gina’s, although it’s often folded in rainy weather.
The place is clean and bright, although it’s dominated by two huge flat-screen TVs, playing endless loops of Friends on our visits. Diners order at the counter and servers bring food to the table. The only menu is on the wall, though it would be helpful to have a hand-held paper version as well.
While many Filipinos will recognize the Americanized titles of some items, Gina’s could help educate others with some more explanations. The breakfast items, for instance, include fried rice with sausage and egg ($6.95). This is otherwise known as sinangag, and is usually served with a fried egg and longganisa sausage.
The short, plump sausages were slightly sweet and garlicky, while the rice was fairly mild and somewhat underseasoned. It came with ketchup, which seemed weird, but we found out later that it was banana ketchup, a distinctive Filipino condiment. Unfortunately, the tomato slices were an unappetizing pale shade of salmon.
A better breakfast choice is the Filipino burrito ($5), which is a fantastic mashup of cuisines. It was a reasonable portion of diced potatoes, super-caramelized onions, crispy bits of longganisa, cheese and egg in a flour tortilla. The crunchy sausage and sweet onion really made the combo crave-able.
There is coffee, of course, and we had it straight ($1.50) and as a latte ($2.50). The prices are certainly good, and the coffee is fine if not noteworthy. You can also order a variety of bottled beers and juices.
Some baked items are brought in, while others are made on-site. They change daily, so ask for descriptions. Recently, they had housemade egg pie and cookies (one free with coffee).
There are hot specials daily, like kare-kare (oxtail in peanut sauce) on Wednesdays. We tried the Tuesday adobo ($8) made with pork, and it was perfect for a cold day. Large chunks of pork are braised in garlic, oil and vinegar until they fall apart, then served with their flavorful juices and caramelized onions. There’s white rice on the side and a mixed salad with a sweet dressing.
Under “specials,” there’s also pancit ($7.50) and lumpia ($2.50 for three). Pancit is a characteristic dish of stir-fried rice noodles with chicken and shrimp. Gina’s version has large chunks of carrot and cabbage as well as sliced yellow peppers. It’s a fairly bland dish, but heartily portioned, with a hot lumpia on the side.
Lumpia are possibly the most well-known Filipino dish. The ones at Gina’s are long and slender, freshly fried and served with a sweet and slightly spicy dipping sauce. The pork filling isn’t plentiful, but they’re tasty nonetheless. You can also get them with a shrimp filling.
They’re on the right track, introducing Filipino food to downtown, but Gina’s could use some more oomph. Some enthusiastic promotion of the menu items and what they are, plus some fine-tuning of flavors could really make it a go-to spot on the grid.