Filipino cuisine should be more popular than it is. It combines Southeast Asian flavours with Polynesian, Spanish, Chinese, and North American influence in a familiar and comforting way. Sweet, sour, and salty flavours are abundant in Filipino cuisine.
Lamesa Filipino Kitchen has been serving up these familiar yet unique flavours to Toronto since 2012, and is currently one of the only modern and licensed Filipino restaurants in Canada. Recently they brought in a new head chef, Daniel Cancino, who had previously worked at Lamesa as a line-cook. Cancino grew up in the Philippines and is elevating his favourite childhood dishes at Lamesa (which means table in Tagalog) while incorporating modern influences. We had the opportunity to try the majority of the new fall menu that he has developed.
The meal starts of with a stellar cocktail, The Boracay Breezey, named for Boracay island. Incorporating house-made peach liquor and topped with an edible flower, this cocktail tastes exactly how I imagine a tropical island feels; fresh, sweet, and smooth.
To continue on with these fresh island vibes they serve us our first appetizer (or merienda) tuna kinilaw ($14). Kinilaw is like a Filipino civiche, using raw tuna marinated in calamansi juice (a popular Filipino citrus fruit) along with an avocado and coconut guacamole, and shrimp chips to dip. Co-owner Les Sabilano tells us this is where we can see the Spanish and Mexican influences coming through.
The next influence we see is American comfort food, with corned beef lumpia ($7), a spring roll stuffed with corned beef brisket, cheese, cabbage mostarda, and served with kimchi and banana ketchup. If you haven’t tried banana ketchup, please do. It tastes like a combination of sweet chipotle bbq sauce, ketchup, and bananas. Our last “merienda” taste was the beet maalat salad. Maalat is salted egg, a traditional delicacy of the Philippines. Here we see it elevated by having it crumbled over the beet salad, almost resembling feta cheese. By the end of our appetizers we’ve taken in a world of flavor.
The part of the menu we sample from next is “gulay” which translates to veggies. These dishes range from salads and vegetable sides to more substantial dishes like pacit, a traditional noodle dish. The Talong salad combines charred eggplant with salted egg, eggplant caponata, adobong seasoning, and creme fraiche. This salad converted me to an eggplant lover, seeing how eggplant can really shine with vinegar and spice.
Another standout veggie dish was the cauliflower ginataan, which was cauliflower cooked various ways with a smooth and creamy coconut sauce. Eating at mom-and-pop style Filipino restaurants it’s hard to find a lot of vegetarian options, so it is unique that Lamesa offers five vegetarian dishes.
Rice is an integral part of the Filipino kitchen, which can be seen as we move into “ulam” roughly translating to any delicious dish served with rice. The first tasty offering is beef bulalo ($24), a play on bone marrow soup. This updated bulalo is served in a fragrant beef and ginger broth piled high with beef short rib, bone marrow, veggies and a salsa verde. This dish has the same type of comfort that pho brings to the table.
Our next tasty dish is pork octopus dinuguan. Dinuguan is something I’ve heard of before. My boyfriend’s mom, who is Filipino, tells me they call it chocolate sauce, which is not what it is at all. It is in-fact a sauce made of pig blood. Turns out blood is delicious. The dish uses the blood as a sauce instead of a stew, atop of pork cheek, octopus, apple, and onion, sitting on a bed of maple puto. It is a very comforting dish, just as chef Cancino intended.
The meal at Lamesa comes to an end with a decadent ube leche flan. This smooth purple-yam based flan comes adorned with various jellies, pearls, and edible flowers. Reminiscent of halo halo with its various textures, I wish I could have eaten the whole plate to myself.
Tags: adobong, banana ketchup, beef bulalo, bone marrow soup, Boracay Breezey, cabbage mostarda, calamansi juice, cauliflower ginataan, charred eggplant, civche, coconut guacamole, corned beed lumpia, creme fraiche, Daniel Cancino, dinuguan, eggplant caponata, filipino, Filipino Food, gulay, lamesa, Lamesa Filipino Kitchen, maalat, maalat salad, merienda, peach, pork octopus dinuguan, salted egg, shrimp chips, spring roll, talong, tuna kinilaw, tuna tartar, ube leche flan, ulam