One of the Wharf’s most highly anticipated restaurants opens tonight. Kaliwa from husband-and-wife team chef Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong brings together Thai, Korean, and Filipino cooking under one atmospheric roof on the waterfront. (Cathal says the 185-seat place looks like a “luxury hotel in the Philippines.”)
Armstrong was introduced to Filipino food from his wife, a Manila native, and her family. The Irish-born chef started playing with the flavors at Restaurant Eve over three years ago, hosting pop-ups and eventually serving sisig alongside bouillabaisse on a dual Filipino/New American menu. It was during a Filipino food event that he met chef Paolo Dungca, who was then cooking food from his home country at Bad Saint. Dungca joined Eve as a sous chef and will be Kaliwa’s chef de cuisine.
Don’t expect pan-Asian fusion fare. The opening dinner menu, which will grow significantly in the coming weeks, is broken down by distinct Thai, Korean, and Filipino sections. That being said, Armstrong notes there’s a “complementary crossover” between ingredients like ginger and chilies, many of which the team has been growing at Eve. In preparation for Kaliwa’s opening, the Alexandria restaurant has also been making its own curry pastes—a laborious process, which is why many restaurants buy the bases—as well as kimchi, ferments, and other pantry staples. Dumplings, Filipino lumpia (spring rolls), and noodles in Korean jjompang (spicy shellfish stew) are also made in-house.
After Kaliwa’s opening Armstrong says they’ll stop serving Asian dishes at Eve, whose future remains uncertain. The Old Town stalwart will likely close this spring, while Armstrong says he’s scouting new locations for Eve at the Wharf and elsewhere around DC.
Kaliwa’s cuisines are also complimentary in their contrasts. Armstrong says they’re going for bright and spicy with the Thai flavors—none of the sweetness of central Thailand—with dishes like red curry crab, wood-grilled ribeye with chili dipping sauce, and whole fried fish scattered with chilies and lemongrass. By comparison, the Korean fare is more funky and fermented, with more familiar dishes like bibimbap and Korean fried chicken sandwiches alongside yukhoe (a chili-laced steak tartare).
Some diners may be least familiar with savory fare from the Philippines. For a full taste tour book two (or all) of the spots at the 14-seat kamayan table, which launches soon. A wide array of Filipino dishes are served family-style on a large banana leaf, and diners eat with their hands ($65 per person; bookings available through the website). A la carte dishes include pancit canton (egg noodles tossed with shrimp and pork cracklings), wood-grilled marinated chicken, and pork belly barbecue. Dungca says he’s looking forward to playing with more “underrated” cuts like pork offal when the team opens a street-style barbecue stand by its 45-seat patio.
“Filipino food is very unique, and people are starting to embrace that,” says Dungca. “As chefs, we’re using what we learned from our mentors and embracing our culture.”
Kaliwa. 751 Wharf St., SW; 202-516-4739. Open for dinner starting at 5:30. Lunch and weekend brunch starting soon.