Lamesa - my first Filipino experience

lumpia asado
was very excited when a new restaurant, Lamesa, popped up in my neighbourhood of Queen and Bathurst. What's more exciting is that it offers a cuisine that I am fairly unfamiliar with and would like to learn more about: Filipino food. It's interesting to learn that while there are about 200,000 Filipinos in the GTA, there isn't a restaurant in the city that serves traditional Filipino cuisine while taking its own spin on modernizing the classic dishes.

I asked my very good friend and Filipino native, Carlos, to join me for dinner as I figured he would take me through some of his culinary experiences with the food. As we walked into this bright restaurant (formerly the Rosebud) we were immediately greeted by co-owner Les Sabilano who Carlos knows of course, as it's just a small world here in TO. Les explained that his concept is to introduce Filipino food to the mainstream. The word "Lamesa" means "table", which is the epicentre of the Filipino home and that is the feeling they wanted to bring into the restaurant. When I think of what Filipino food represents to me, it would be a family style dining experience with rice, tropical fruits, greasy stir fries with noodles and spam. It is a complete misnomer as Filipino food is an amalgamation of various cultures with derivatives from Chinese, Spanish, Malaysian and American cuisine. Shows really what I know! We selected the $35 prix fixe tasting menu as we believed this would give us the variety we were looking for and put our journey in the hands of the talented Chef Rudy Boquila. 

corn and coconut soup
We were immediately served a little shot glass of watermelon juice as a palette cleanser. It was quite refreshing for a hot summer evening. The first dish was amazing: lumpia asado (Filipino spring rolls) with soy glaze. I have definitely had chinese and thai rolls and these are similar, but with a uniqueness to them as well. The next dish was one of my favourites of the evening and it's not even on their menu (yet, fingers crossed)! It was their coconut and corn soup - such a lovely balance of flavours with a velvety texture. I would go back and order a big heaping bowl of this soup.

crepe sinigang
 Next we were brought a delicate house made crepe with sinigang in it, which is a sour stew with a heavy influence of tamarind. It was very flavourful.  Fourth up was a dish of sisig halo halo.  "Halo halo" literally means "mix mix" which in this case is a blend of chicken, pork, beef with a fried egg and a pico de halo sauce over it served in a small iron skillet. You are encouraged to break the egg and mix it up with the different meats and it was amazing. We also had a helping of their pancit which is traditionally made with shrimp, but for our meal was substituted with mushrooms as Carlos has a shellfish allergy. This is a noodle stir fry dish mixed with veggies and while it is simple, it has a good texture and balance of flavour. After five dishes we still weren't done! We had only just begun as those were all our appetizers! Can you believe it?
pancit (l) and halo halo (r)

Our mains were plated next -a juicy beef short rib that falls off the bone placed atop a pineapple carrot puree and olive tapenade which adds this sour/sweet element to the dish. My favourite main was the pork belly adobo: a confit of pork belly served with soy, vinegar and a smear of black garlic puree. The belly was crispy and so flavourful and was complimented well with the sides on the plate.

short rib (l) pork belly (r)

We were so full at this point and so satisfied. Carlos commented that this was a novel place where it adapts the traditions from the Philippines and innovates them through plating, deconstructing flavours and elevating simple dishes. Finally our desserts came - we got a few of them. We had a house made soft cheese cake which looked like a scoop of soft ice cream and it was heavenly. Even Carlos, who is not a fan of cheesecake, licked his spoons. We also had their jackfruit creme brûlée and it was sweet and light. We were also given a trio of house made sorbets - young coconut, jackfruit and pineapple. Finally, there was a home made rice cookie and my very favourite, the turon, a purple yam stuffed empanada.  mmmmMMM! There were so many firsts for me in terms of dishes, new names, everything. I can't wait to go back again!

****1/2 stars
Lamesa Filipino Kitchen,
669 Queen St. W. (Queen and Bathurst)
Twitter: @LamesaTO

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