If you've stood in line at one of her pop-ups, seen the growing number of accolades she's earned, or watched her walk chef Marcus Samuelsson through the Seattle Filipino restaurant scene on No Passport Required, you've probably been patiently anticipating the opening of chef Melissa Miranda's restaurant Musang for a long time. The wait is finally over. And in the whirlwind after her grand opening, I got the chance to sit down with Miranda while she reflected on how she got here and what she hopes to bring to the community.
"I started doing pop-ups in Seattle three years ago, cooking Italian food after studying abroad in Italy, but I felt a calling to return to my roots," she explained. "I started cooking the food that I loved the most, really as a place for my friends to come and kick it and share Filipino food, because there wasn't a whole lot of places to get it." The pop-ups gained a loyal following that led to more than 700 backers on the Kickstarter campaign that partially funded her cozy restaurant. Inside the purple Beacon Hill craftsman Miranda has dubbed the "ube house," you'll find an inviting space with decor inspired by heritage homes in the Philippines, and an open-air kitchen in which Miranda and staff carefully craft thoughtful dishes you're unlikely to find anywhere else. "Our dishes offer seasonality, freshness, and simplicity, often using four or five ingredients," she said. "Filipino food is often looked at as super heavy, but we're doing it in a contemporary way."
Main dishes such as the beef mechado are a must-try, a comforting steamy stew of beef and roasted vegetables swimming in a red pepper tomato sauce, as is the smoked steelhead trout tinapa with fennel, bitter greens, and a roasted tomato vinaigrette that one of the staff described as crack sauce (which is accurate AF). The ginataan was hands down my favorite dish, and can easily be added to any order. It's traditionally cooked with shrimp and shrimp paste; however, at Musang, they've created a savory vegan version with winter squash, mushrooms, roasted root vegetables, turmeric, and ginger with a garnish of pickled mushrooms and herbs on top.
One of Miranda's favorite dishes on the menu right now is the adobong pusit pancit, made with squid hand-caught and carved by her father, Musang, the restaurant's namesake. You can often find Miranda's mother and father around the kitchen, fully embracing their roles as her biggest cheerleaders. "My dad's crazy," she said laughing. "His gregarious spirit lives here; he comes into the kitchen and is our biggest quality check."
Miranda says Musang is family-friendly and envisions it as a community space first, and a restaurant second. She's thankful for the community she's built in the Filipino restaurant scene with supporters that include the Kickstarter backers and pop-up followers. "Community is the only way we can hope to create sustainability in this new restaurant scene," she said. "Restaurants open and close left and right, and the model we grew up with, the hustle, doesn't work anymore. You have to build community so you know people will show up when you open and tell their friends about their experience. Without the community, we wouldn't be here."
Musang is now serving dinner Wednesdays through Sundays, and brunch Saturday and Sunday mornings. While Miranda may be the public face of the restaurant, she's not taking credit for its success. "Our team is the driving force," she insisted. "Musang isn't chef-driven; it's community-driven. My sous chef is a badass, and my manager is a badass. It's difficult to find a team that believes in the product, and you can feel that when you walk in the door."