Sunday, June 10, 2012

In Praise of Lamesa Filipino Kitchen

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about Filipino food here in Toronto.  There are some who write in blogs that will remain unnamed alleging that Filipino food is the ugly sister of Asian cuisine.  (Whoever wrote this is forever on my shit-list.  Beyond the obviously misogynous implications of this analogy, how ignorant does a person have to be to make that claim?  Does this person not know that there is a wide variety of Filipino food and that making such a broad generalization on the basis of one meal is moronic?).  There are those who think that Filipino food is AMAZING, but only when done in the traditional manner.  And there are those, such as the proprietors of The Purple Yam restaurant in NYC (http://www.purpleyamny…) who see that the time is right for different, non-traditional interpretations of Filipino food.

The proprietors of Lamesa Filipino Kitchen belong to the latter.  The controversy that has emerged from Lamesa primarily concerns its ‘modern’ take on Filipino food.  Sadly, most of its detractors have yet to set food in the restaurant.  Once they do, they might find themselves pleasantly surprised.

In a nutshell, this was, by far, one of the best restaurants in Toronto.  I was impressed that they decided to do away with the trappings of standard Filipino restaurants, such as  pictures of the Last Supper and carabao figurines.  The interiors were sleek and spacious, with bright white walls and an impressively ornate gold ceiling.  The service was exemplary - not too obtrusive but extremely friendly and warm, with each server making sure that clear explanations accompanied each dish.  

At Lamesa, you can order a la carte or you can eat from the tasting menu.  The menu varies weekly, giving the chef the opportunity to flex his culinary muscles and try different creative dishes.  

Tonight, the menu started with an amuse bouche of corn soup with bacon, which was a perfect amalgamation of creamy and salty.  

Then there was the halo-halo sisig, which definitely did not have the pork ears that are found in traditional sisigns but still maintained sisig’s essence by providing crunchy pork and a fried egg.  Welcome additions were tomatoes and a wonton-like cracker.  When combined, this provided great texture.  The flavours worked.  The lemon that was provided with the dish gave the saltiness a delightfully citrusy taste.  My personal preference would have been a little bit more spice.

The mains were great.  The beef rib kaldereta was unlike any kaldereta I’ve had at my grandmother’s house.  The beef was tender and succulent and so full of flavour; the carrot-pineapple puree that accompanied it complemented the beef, and the bits of potato were great touches.  This kaldereta was so good that, at $24 a la carte, it felt like a steal - similar beef ribs served in more expensive, ‘mainstream’ establishments like, say, Canoe do not have the same level of complex flavours.

The pork belly adobo was also good though this felt more like pork liempo rather than the traditional adobo.  But hey, who am I to quibble?  It was orgasmic.  The crunchy skin of the pork was especially scrumptious; the black garlic puree, the ginger, and the sweet garlic that served as accoutrements elevated the dish.  My only concern was that towards the end, the crunchy skin lost a bit of its, well, crunch, but it could just be that I was taking my time talking and drinking, rather than getting right to business and eating.  

The fourth course was their interpretation of a key lime pie, this time with calamansi. It was fine.  MOTL loved it but I don’t have a sweet tooth so I’m not the best judge of these things.

The fifth and last course - the jackfruit creme brulee - was the highlight.  The surface was nicely coated with caramelized sugar but what lay underneath was impressive!  Langka (jackfruit) made into creme brulee is the work of geniuses!  Who would’ve thought that this would work?  I devoured mine, only giving MOTL a tiny bite.  He had an empanada with plantains, which tasted good, but in my blissful state devouring the jackfruit creme brulee, I barely bothered to pay it any heed.

Additional highlights were the cocktails, which were each roughly 12 bucks each, which meant that this was standard for Queen street.  We each got the Lolo and the Lola cocktails, which were yummy (and quite strong)!

For someone who eats in my fair share of restaurants, Lamesa was, by far, one of the best meals I’ve had in Toronto.

Lamesa Filipino Kitchen on Urbanspoon