Nick's Picks: Casa Merlita

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Nicholas Abreu

Gates-Chili, an area known culinarily for its bevy of Italian restaurants, will soon be known for something else, Filipino food.

With its opening last week, Casa Merlita, located at 750 Elmgrove Road, became Rochester’s only Filipino restaurant.

Notes from Indian, Western, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine all are found in Filipino food, reflecting the Philippines' geographic location and cultural history. While it has been gaining traction in the United States, Filipino cuisine still remains an unexplored frontier for most Americans. Diners at Casa Merlita will come to find out that while Filipino cooking has influences from several cultures, it maintains an unmistakable individuality in its signature flavors that departs from the typical tastes of Asian-American fare.

A unique trait that is present in most Filipino dishes is a balance between acidity and sweetness. This push and pull can be found in the use of vinegar and brown sugar in lechon sauce, a frequently used ingredient. Vinegar-based sauces prove to be much lighter than what Rochesterians may be used to from local Asian-American restaurants. Meat, specifically pork, and rice are at the center of most Filipino meals, but a surplus of seafood, vegetables, and fruit give this cuisine a certain brightness and variety.

Merle Snow, a Philippines native, owns Casa Merlita as well as Lil-M, a small grocery store on Spencerport road that specializes in Filipino imports. One can find her in Casa Merlita’s kitchen as well as behind the counter, acting as a warm liaison for Western New Yorkers’ foray into Filipino culture.

So far, customer favorites include pork adobo—tender, delicate pork cooked with fresh garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar, and served with rice; pancit canton—thick wheat noodles, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables cooked in chicken broth; and crispy, airy, pork spring rolls.

Casa Merlita is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also serves specialty fruit drinks and coffee.

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