In Washington, a taste of home–with a twist
I am in Washington, D.C., for the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Spring Meetings and got lucky enough to be introduced by Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary JV Chan Gonzaga, who heads the Office of American Affairs, to several Filipino-American chefs who have been making the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia) fall in love with Filipino food since around a decade ago.
One of them is the stunning Patrice Cleary, owner of Purple Patch, who served in the Marine Corps for eight years and then became a stay-at-home mom before becoming a restaurateur. “This wasn’t in my cards,” she shared over dinner. “I had helped other people open restaurants and I had done bartending but I always wondered what my purpose was.”
Then she found her calling: to become a chef/restaurateur. “Out of everything I’ve done in my life,” she continued, “there is nothing else I’d rather be doing than what I’m doing right now.”
Her story is one of kismet. The owner of the building where her friends had a restaurant randomly offered her the space when their lease expired, even if he did not know whether she could cook or not. When she visited the space, she immediately felt a sense of nostalgia and thought, “If I’m ever going to do anything in the industry, this would be the place to do it.” It was almost as if she was summoned by the space.
She took the plunge and opened Purple Patch. Last March, the restaurant celebrated its eighth year anniversary and on top of that, she now owns the building where the restaurant is located.
The night we visited, the weather was fabulous—a cool spring evening—and the restaurant was full. And by full, we mean crowds filled up: the outdoor seating, which has a capacity of around 100; the indoor seating, with around 80 pax; and the lower ground level room that fits 40 pax and functions as a private dining space. This private area was where we were with Washington’s Filipino chefs—all enjoying Filipino food!
The menu includes Filipino classics: lumpia, fried chicken, adobo, laing, pancit, escabeche. She learned to cook all these from her mom, a Bicolana who taught her not only the methods of cooking the dishes, but even the nitty gritty details, such as how there must be a correct pork to veggies ratio in lumpia—tips that were not lost on Patrice, which is really her secret ingredient for success.
Another ingredient for her success is that she adds her personal twist to some of the classics, turning the ordinary into something extraordinary. For instance, her fried chicken is a Spicy Adobo Fried Chicken. She first cooked this for the talk show of Harry Connick, Jr. but it became such a hit she had to keep it on the menu. For the pancit, she uses strips of chicken adobo. For adobo, she uses short rib instead of chicken or pork, and coconut milk instead of just vinegar. The dessert of pudding is topped with ube instead of the usual vanilla ice cream.
Having once been a bartender, her drinks are also worth writing about. Make sure to try her Spicy Calamansi Margarita, which wakes you up with the jalapeño but makes you smile with the calamansi.
And before you head home, visit the souvenir corner and grab a Filipino cupboard essential such as Jufran, Mama Sita or Mang Tomas; Filipino coffee; Filipino rum; or Filipino trinkets to complete the adorable nostalgic experience.
Eight years since Chef Patrice found her calling, not only has Purple Patch become a neighborhood favorite; the restaurant has received rave reviews from no less than the Washington Post, as well as from Bon Appetit and Eatr. While not rated, it has also received a very notable mention in the Michelin Guide in 2017, calling its food “note-perfect”, its pork sinigang “worthy of exaltation”; and dessert “a thing of wonder”.
Not bad, in fact, pretty impressive for a stay-at-home mom!
Talking about her daily experiences, Chef Patrice said, “I don’t think people give chefs and restaurant owners enough credit. We’re superheroes everyday! But we do it with a smile because we have such passion behind what we do.”
I guess that’s what happens when you find your purpose and fulfill your destiny: you become a superhero. And Chef Patrice is indeed, superwoman, with the superpower of making people come alive at Purple Patch!
Purple Patch: 3155 Mt Pleasant ST NW Washington, DC. Visit purplepatchdc.com and follow @purplepatchdc on Instagram.