Pinoy in Somerville: Filipino Cuisine, Charismatic Chef

Shanghai lumpia spring rolls at Pinoy Phillipine restaurant in Somerville, New Jersey.
Shanghai lumpia spring rolls at Pinoy in Somerville.
Photo: Andrea Clurfeld

Cynthia Conshue, chef and owner of Pinoy in Somerville, plays two other roles at her Filipino restaurant in the county seat of Somerset: ambassador for all foods from the Philippines and a female version of Rick from Casablanca.

Conshue, who “comes from a long line of restaurateurs in the Philippines,” according to Pinoy’s website, opened the place in 2012. (A Pinoy is a person of Filipino origin or descent.) The restaurant is located on a pedestrian-only block in the downtown district.

Conshue cooks, also waits on tables, in the process recommending dishes that comprise a veritable primer on Filipino cuisine. She’s the go-to gal in the modest two-part dining space and the sage of how to navigate not only the menu but life in general.

“Yes, you must have the [Shanghai] lumpia,” Conshue tells us on our visit. I was going to forego these skinny, deep-fried spring rolls because I know them well. But Pinoy’s are flush with moist ground pork and snips of freshly chopped vegetables. Though the skin may be a tad oily, these lumpia are crunchy-crisp.

We also need the oxtail, Conshue notes. And the stuffed squid, which is from the specials’ list.

Okay, okay.

Meanwhile, we’re refreshed by the house gift of a simple beef broth, with slender slices of beef. It’s restorative, will cure what ails you and is reminiscent of the base of a really good Vietnamese pho. Conshue is pleased to see us slurp it down.

“You like?” she asks, and we nod.

Stuffed squid at Pinoy Philippine restaurant in Somerville, New Jerseye

Stuffed squid

The stuffed squid turns out to be pretty and on point, with thick circles of tender squid accordioned across the plate. Bright red peppers pop from the dish, which gains punches of flavor from onions both bitter and sweet and a glaze that unites all elements.

She’s right about the oxtail, too: The broad slices are dressed in a peanut sauce that does a tango with the meat and also partners nicely with the steamed bok choy and green beans piled on top.

 

Oxtail at Pinoy Philippine restaurant in Somerville, New Jersey.

Oxtail

We love the eggplant, which soaks up its ginger-coconut milk bath, becoming silky and sultry. It’s terrific if ordered with another Filipino must-have, pork adobo. Pinoy’s rendition is textbook, with chunks of pork absorbing the flavor of long-stewed garlic and yielding scents of caramel. Heady stuff.

Conshue is ever watchful. She’s quick to point out that the peanut sauce on the oxtail begs to be spooned onto the seasoned noodles that come with all entrées, and that the mild coconut curry sauce on the eggplant elevates the fragrant rice that likewise comes with every main dish.

Eggplant in coconut sauce at Pinoy Philippine restaurant in Somerville, New Jersey

Eggplant in coconut sauce

For dessert, we order her durian ice cream. Durian, a spiky-skinned tropical fruit with a lush interior, is infamous for its funky odor, sometimes politely described as damp gym socks but often much worse. As for the ice cream, the aroma mellows and, after getting a couple tastes under your belt, it becomes exotically tempting.

A much better ice cream, however, was Conshue’s purple yam, one of the defining flavors of the Philippines. The ice cream was mild and slightly sweet, like a sweet potato.

It made for a soothing end to the meal—though not to the evening. Next door to Pinoy is Carol’s Creative Chocolatz. But that’s another story.

Pinoy, 18 Division Street, Somerville. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 am to 9 pm. 908-450-8978 PinoyFilipinoRestaurant.com

All photos by Andrea Clurfeld

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