Thursday, December 22, 2011

Laing at 13 Pins

I don't think I'd ever tasted taro leaves before sharing some at Thirteen Pins, an odd, clubby, Filipino "tapas" place on Irving Park Road just west of the Kennedy. They're the main component of a dish called laing, which I gather is fairly popular/ common in Filipino restaurants and homes. A little googling suggests that laing is most commonly served over white rice, though at Thirteen Pins the concoction is placed atop white-bread crostini instead.

If the dish my companion and I shared last night is representative, then taro leaves have a very strong taste that may be hard to like for people who didn't grow up eating them. The taste is incredibly earthy - muddy, really - and the aroma is like that of a a barnyard or freshly-laid fertilizer. Upon first whif, I was instantly taken back to my one and only visit to Paris Club. Laing is cooked in coconut milk - perhaps to remove some of that challenging character - but if that's the intent, it did not work. There's also some fish sauce or shrimp paste, in case the greens aren't funky enough for you, I suppose. The mushy, loose texture under the dark lights at 13 Pins probably don't help counter the feeling that you might be eating bird excrement. Especially after taking a walk under the pigeon-filled Kennedy overpass to get to the restaurant.

None of the above is to say I did not like the laing at 13 Pins. It has many of the same traits as great cheeses I seek. The first time I tasted a ripe epoisses, I almost spit it out; now I can't get enough of it. The jury is still out for me on liang, and I definitely plan to try it at least once more, though I'm not sure it will be on a return visit to 13 Pins. I thought the food was actually quite good, with the laing and some crunchy fried pork skins served with an acidic, spicy dressing being the highlights. But the drink selection is pretty bad, and the vibe is an odd combo of romantic/ disco-clubby that didn't work for me. My liang-eating partner and I did eat later than I usually do, so perhaps I'd like the place more at my more typical 5:30PM dinner hour.

Thirteen Pins Tapas and Bar
4202 West Irving Park Road
(773) 283-6626