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A Filipino Foodie’s Review of Filipino Food

Ever since I made the move from Quebec to Ontario, I have been on the lookout for Filipino restaurants. There are more options here in Toronto than in my home province and I am super grateful since I crave Filipino food at least once a week. I live at Yonge and Lawrence so my go-to has been Casa Manila. They serve the classics family-style in huge portions and I’m never disappointed. However, I have been wanting to try Lamesa for years and when they opened their sister restaurant, Lasa by Lamesa, I added that to the list too. Lo and behold, this past week all the stars aligned and I was able to hit both restaurants and satisfy my craving…at least until next week.

Lasa by Lamesa serves traditional Filipino dishes in a casual setting. The restaurant is styled like a bright, colourful cafeteria and the reason I know this, despite never actually having eaten in there, is because my friends and I tried to come for dinner once but it was full and we were forced to go to Sea Witch next door (probably the best fish and chips in the city, highly recommend!). Fast forward to this past Saturday, we were celebrating our close friend Greg’s birthday and he just so happened to live in Forest Hill, a few blocks away from Lasa. So before we TTC-ed it to his aparment, I placed our dinner order on Foodora. We arrived on his doorstep at the exact same time as the delivery guy so I could not have planned it better. Lasa’s menu is easy to understand even if you have zero experience with Filipino food because they break it down into categories (Fried, Grilled, Stews, and Vegetables) with a description for each dish.

We had pancit (noodles), chicken adobo (stew made with vinegar, soy sauce and garlic), lumpia (spring rolls) and lechon kawali (deep fried pork belly), plus garlic rice, of course. Lesson number one of Filipino cuisine is you always need to have rice. The portions were more than enough for three people and they nailed the taste of each dish. The pancit was citrusy with crisp vegetables. The adobo was so flavourful. The lumpia and lechon were good but not as great as the first two dishes. The lumpia lost a little of its crispiness due to being in a container and my only gripe about the pork belly was that it needed sauce. We drizzled some of the adobo sauce over it and that made it better. All in all, it turned out to be a great takeout experience that I would definitely do again.

My second Filipino food experience this week happened on Wednesday when my girlfriends and I went to Lamesa in Queen West to catch up over dinner. From the first sip of their Lolo Cool J cocktail, I knew we were in for an amazing meal. Lamesa does a modern take on Filipino cuisine, which basically means they take a typical Filipino dish and update it. Please do not come here expecting traditional. If you want that, go to Lasa. That being said, I was looking forward to their interpretation of dishes that were very familiar to me. The following is a detailed description and review of each course we had at Lamesa but if you just want the highlights, skip to the end.

They were offering a tasting menu of $40 that night, not sure if that’s a special on Wednesdays but regardless we took full advantage. We immediately knew we made the right choice after devouring the amuse-bouche of Kinilaw (Filipino ceviche): pieces of albacore tuna with coconut, guacamole, calamansi (kinda like a small lime but sweeter), chili on a shrimp chip. It was fresh and bright with a kick from the chili and satisfying crunch from the chip. Kinilaw usually doesn’t have avocado in it, but the pairing of the guacamole with coconut worked so well.

The first appetizer was their take on arroz caldo (Filipino congee): it was made with butternut squash, ginger, miso, had a poached egg in the middle and charred brussel sprouts on top. They told us to break the egg and mix it in with the rest, which we did. Now this was a standout dish. I never in a million years would’ve thought to put butternut squash in arroz caldo, which usually uses just standard chicken broth. The squash gave it beautiful colour and depth. My friends who have limited experience with Filipino food loved it. The second appetizer was lumpia (spring rolls): stuffed with house corned brisket, Swiss cheese and cabbage with mustard and banana ketchup as dipping sauces. I was looking forward to this because I love corned beef (normally lumpia is filled with ground beef) but it didn’t impress me as much as the arroz caldo did. I really liked that they provided mustard not just ketchup but I couldn’t taste the Swiss cheese.

Now onto the main courses: the first of which was the national dish of the Philippines, adobo. Their version: seared chicken thigh with a soy vinegar jus, confit garlic and chimichurri drizzled on top. Absolutely enjoyed this, it reminded me of a fancier version of the classic chicken adobo served at Lasa. Both used chicken thighs which I prefer. The jus was a more concentrated version of the traditional adobo sauce but I really liked the crispy skin achieved by the searing and the clever addition of the chimichurri. This was accompanied by a vegetable dish of broccolini in a sauce of bagoong (fermented shrimp paste which sounds weird but don’t knock it until you try it), raisin, garlic, peanut and chili. The combination of those ingredients resulted in a sauce that can only be described as umami. Garlic rice accompanied these two dishes.

The second main course that took a little more time to make it to our table, providing us with a well-needed break from eating, was their take on Bicol Express (stew in coconut milk): pork shoulder in a spicy coconut jus on coconut polenta with poblano and jalapeno. The second vegetable dish was ginataan (which literally means “done with coconut milk”): house made squash bread topped with coconut ranch, cauliflower with sambal and fennel. Both of these dishes had similar flavour profiles: coconut and spice. It was a good thing all three of us enjoyed coconut. Being the carnivore that I am, I liked the pork shoulder more. The others preferred the vegetable dish, especially the spicy, crispy cauliflower which was the surprise highlight. Jasmine rice accompanied these last two dishes.

By the time dessert was served, we were full but more than willing to make room for their ube leche flan: purple yam custard with calamansi gel topped with puffed rice. I was skeptical when I read this on the menu but it was deliciously executed. Leche flan is the Filipino version of crème caramel. Similar to what they did with the arroz caldo, the addition of the purple yam made it prettier and more interesting flavour-wise. The sour calamansi balances out the sweetness and my friend who didn’t like it at first bite quickly realized it was only because she didn’t eat the gel with it.

I could not have asked for a better dining experience at Lamesa. While there are definite standouts on their menu (the kinilaw, the arroz caldo, the adobo and the ginataan), all the courses we were served from their tasting menu were very creative and a delicious take on Filipino classics. I didn’t know it was possible to transform the dishes I fell in love with as a child into fancier, more modern fare. Filipino food deserves its place on the more high-end spectrum of the culinary world and I for one am super grateful that Lamesa is leading the way. I can’t wait to come back and try their Kamayan (no utensils) option on Sundays. 

Verdict: If you have never tried Filipino food before, I would suggest going to Lasa first so you can experience the authentic Filipino staples then visit Lamesa to be blown away by the inventive flavours they dish out. If you do try Lamesa, I recommend making a reservation because it’s a small space and they had to turn people away when we went. Happy eating!


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Tasty Tuesday: Brunch at Lady Marmalade REVIEW

Two weekends ago, my best friends from Quebec came to visit. Since I value sleep and don’t usually make it out to brunch in Toronto, they took matters into their own hands and chose the restaurant we were going to that Saturday morning based on some Internet research: Lady Marmalade in Leslieville.
We arrived a little before noon and the place was already packed with a line outside, which is typical for any good brunch place in Toronto. Luckily, the girls were used to waiting, because it’s the same deal in Montreal. The menu looked promising and the people inside looked happy with their dishes, which helped us deal with the cold winter morning.

Finally, it was our turn and I saw why it took so long, the space is small and the tables are all mismatched, which meant you had to wait for the perfect one to open up and accommodate your party. We got the one near the window, score! While waiting, Annick and I glimpsed other people having the hot chocolate with giant marshmallows. It was satisfying enough, if a little too sweet. We had to have them. She went with the Peanut Butter and Banana Bread Pudding, from the specials of the day. My other friend, Caro, and I ordered from their regular menu. She got the Huevos Rancheritos and I got the Pulled Pork Eggs Benny.
It might not seem fair because I don’t have shots of their meals, but they can vouch for what I’m about to say: my dish won brunch. The Pulled Pork Eggs Benny is one of the best eggs benedict, maybe even one of the best brunch dishes, I have ever had. It’s packed full of flavour, the pork was tender, the eggs were perfectly cooked, the hollandaise worked amazingly with the citrus marinated onions. It was melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

The girls still seemed to enjoy their dishes, even after tasting mine and casting jealous looks all throughout brunch. I definitely recommend this place and would love to come back to get the same thing I ordered. FYI: It is cash only.

Happy Tuesday!

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Tasty Tuesday: Winterlicious Auberge du Pommier

It’s now time to talk about my last but certainly not least Winterlicious experience. We made this reservation first since I was very aware of how fast Oliver & Bonacini restaurants fill up doing Winterlicious. It’s a chance to go to one of their restaurants that you might not be able to afford normally. We lucked out because our 5-year anniversary fell during the last week of Winterlicious. We narrowed it down between Canoe or Auberge du Pommier, but the latter ultimately won because of proximity to our apartment.
On February 11th, we got all dolled up for our French fine dining experience at the rustic yet elegant venue that is Auberge du Pommier. We were so glad that it wasn’t stuffy fancy but more on the cozier side. Service was impeccable, from coat check to our very friendly, knowledgeable and attentive waitress.

I would like to apologize in advance for not taking photos of what the boyfriend ate, but his shots always turn out blurry. I’ll just describe the dishes he chose and what he thought. For the appetizer, he opted for the White Bean Velouté with smoked sturgeon, sweet sour onion jam, warm bean salad and scallion crème fraîche. He found the soup good, although the sturgeon was overpowering at times. I ordered the Seafood Rémoulade: crab & poached shrimp salad, grated celery root, Bibb lettuce and Meyer lemon aïoli.
While I would have preferred the crab to be in larger chunks, the shrimp was very tasty and the lemon aïoli lifted the dish. It came with sliced grapes which worked well, but croutons which were unnecessary in my opinion.

We both got the exact same main dish that we’ve been eyeing since the Winterlicious menu was announced: Filet of Ontario Beef served with sweet & sour beets, sautéed spinach, horseradish & cauliflower purée and sauce Bordelaise.
The beef was to-die for. Perfectly medium-rare, sprinkled with coarse salt and super tender that a steak knife was not required at all. I wish it came with even more of the yummy Bordelaise sauce. I typically don’t like beets, but I didn’t mind them. The purée was deliciously creamy and tasted like mashed potatoes.

As for dessert, Keith got the Beignet: fried donuts, apple cider parfait, apple butter. There were three and came all neatly lined up. Of course, I went for the Chocolate: cocoa brioche, chocolate marquise, cashew, blood orange coulis.
While visually my dessert was more stunning than his donuts, I actually think he won. My chocolate dessert was so rich, I couldn’t even finish it. And I don’t particularly remember tasting the blood orange. His donuts, on the other hand, were light, fluffy and delicious.

All in all, we had an amazing anniversary dinner. I highly recommend Auberge du Pommier for any special occasion. The ambiance is very romantic but in a non-annoying way. The venue is gorgeous, the food is amazing and the service is wonderful. What more can you ask for?


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Tasty Tuesday: Winterlicious Five Doors North

Yes, I know, I know, I missed a post yesterday. However in my defence, I was depressed from the Super Bowl and recovering from a pretty fun weekend, that started on Friday night when I met up with two of my friends for the first night of Winterlicious. I have to admit Five Doors North, an Italian bistro, wasn’t even on my radar until my friend Nathalie suggested it. It was close enough to all of our apartments and the menu looked very interesting. It’s pretty easy to spot, just south of Eglinton station.
I’m so glad we tried it because we had a great time. The decor is quirky and the service is friendly. But let’s get right down to the most important part: the food. Now forgive this photo-less post but it was too dimly lit to take decent shots. You’re just going to have to trust my descriptions.

For the appetizers, my two dining companions got the Baked Goat’s Cheese with Polenta, Sundried Tomato Paste and Pesto. They seemed to have enjoyed it a lot, but it’s mostly polenta. I opted for the Crispy Pork Belly with Butternut Squash Mash, Caramelized Apples and Sweet Onion Reduction. The apple flavour was lost on me, but the dish worked so well. From the perfectly cooked pork belly to the creamy mash, if it was socially acceptable to lick my plate, I would.

On to the mains: Nathalie got the Pasta of the Day, which was linguine with crispy prosciutto and pumpkin seed pesto. It was a huge portion so she couldn’t finish it but she said it was very good. Christine chose the Steak with Chimichurri, Tortilla Salad and Black Bean Sauce, which I almost ordered. Our server told us that the steak is cooked medium, but it came medium-rare which is how we all like it anyway. My main was the Grilled Black Tiger Shrimp, Roasted Corn Salad and Chipotle Aioli. The sweetness of the corn cut the kick from the chipotle well. The shrimp was grilled well and the smokiness enhanced the dressing.

Then for dessert, there were three options and there’s three of us, so it was an easy decision. The Flourless Chocolate Cake was very rich and decadent. The Banana Chocolate Bread Pudding came drenched in a cream sauce. And the Crème Brulee was satisfactory but not the best I’ve ever had.

All in all, we were happy with our choice. And I would definitely come back to try something off their regular menu.

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Tasty Tuesday: 3 Montreal Spots To Try

Last time I went to Montreal, I talked about the best cupcake store there. This time around, my mom and my sister introduced me to some new places that were super delicious. Here are three Montreal spots to try (ok, one is in a suburb but still):

1. Schwartz’s
Alright, I’m pretty sure you’ve either already tried it or have heard countless recommendations but I cannot stress enough how absolutely vital it is for your happiness to come to Montreal and get Schwartz’s smoked meat. We skipped the dine-in experience because the line is always too long, even in winter. They conveniently have a take-out section where you can enjoy their delicious sandwiches and my personal favorite way to eat smoked meat, on a poutine.

2. Mai Xiang Yuan
While not as big as the one here in Toronto, there are a few gems worth checking out at Montreal’s Chinatown and this dumpling establishment is one of them. Look out for the baby blue sign and prepare yourself for cheap, yummy goodness. Bring cash since they don’t accept debit or credit. The place is pretty small and gets full real fast for lunch and weekends but it’s so worth it. Their dumpling combinations work amazingly well and everything is cooked perfectly, whether you get steamed or fried.

3. Prohibition Bar (Ste-Therese)
Ok, so it’s technically not in Montreal and it’s definitely not ideal to take public transport to this bar but if you love craft beer, I suggest trying your best to check this place out. We had a surprise welcome back party for one of my best friends here and I just loved the decor, the theme, and of course, the beer. Also side note: One of the greatest things about Quebec is that we make the best beer and we sell them at the corner store.

Happy Tuesday one and all!

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Tasty Tuesday: Nando’s REVIEW

Happy Tuesday everyone! For today’s post, I want to talk about my new obsession: Nando’s. My friend, now co-worker introduced me to this restaurant two weeks ago and I have since been three times now. It doesn’t hurt that there’s one right beside the office.

If you haven’t heard of Nando’s yet, it’s a restaurant chain from South Africa, famous for it’s Portuguese-style Peri-Peri chicken. Peri-peri also known as African bird’s eye chili gives the flame-grilled chicken a unique kick. I don’t know what else they put in the marinade, but it is so delicious.

Unlike a traditional sit-down restaurant, you get a table number, line up to order, pay at the counter and then wait for your food to arrive at your table. Personally, I really prefer this set-up so you can just leave as soon as you’re done with your food. It comes in handy when they get really busy.

The only thing I’ve tried so far is the 1/4 chicken breast with garlic mashed potatoes and frankly, I don’t need anything else. The chicken is always cooked to perfection. I’ve gotten it either medium or mild and loved both.

Well, maybe some Pasteis de Natas for dessert. Definitely another reason to stop by are the super yummy Portuguese custard tarts!

The boyfriend’s go-to is their Peri-Peri Chicken Sandwich with pineapple. I haven’t tried it but he swears by it. I also really appreciate the many dipping sauces they have available. The garlic one is my favorite. Nando’s is the perfect example of a restaurant that is the best at doing a signature dish. I’m so happy to have discovered it, finally. Run, don’t walk. And I’m already counting down to the next time I go!

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Tasty Tuesday: Grand Electric REVIEW

Let me preface this review by saying that no, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of the famous Grand Electric, deemed to be one of the best Mexican restaurants in Toronto. In fact, I have been wanting to try this place out for several years now but was deterred by the distance from my place and the long wait time for a table. Recently, the friend who recommended it in the first place insisted and we finally got our schedules all aligned one glorious Saturday. As a bonus the weather was perfect for tacos and cocktails too.

We went for lunch to avoid the busy night crowd but they still had a 20 minute wait for a table, which is apparently nothing compared to the usual hour. It passed fairly quickly since there are a lot of cool shops around the restaurant. I made a mental note to come back and explore more of Parkdale. Finally they texted us that we were ready to be seated. I immediately liked the restaurant when I walked in. The decor and vibe were right up my alley. I mean they had this on the wall:
They also have a pretty decent craft beer/cider list and probably one of the best bourbon selections in the city but we were all feeling cocktails so we got margaritas. Turned out to be the right call since it was the best margarita I’ve ever had in recent memory. Perfectly balanced, straightforward, no frills, I can’t wait to order it again:
While waiting for our tacos, because why would you order anything else, we snacked on chips and guacamole. The chips are the kind you’d expect from a good Mexican restaurant, fresh fried tortilla chips served with guacamole that’s the perfect consistency.
And now without further ado, time for the main course, the reason we trekked all the way here. Their menu is written on a chalkboard and it changes from lunch to dinner but the taco selection pretty much stays the same. While my friend who’s been here several times got three spicy chicken tacos, I wanted to try as many kinds as I could so I went with (from the top left going clockwise) roast piggy, pork belly, baja fish and beef cheek.
Ok, I’m already salivating and I haven’t even gotten to the descriptions yet. The roast piggy was rich and tasty with tender pork shoulder but when compared to the belly that had pineapple and an amazing sauce, the latter was the superior pork taco. That being said, they were both way better than any other taco I’ve had in Toronto. The fish taco had a sizeable piece of battered white fish, probably cod, that was complimented by the crema and shredded cabbage. It was great but the fish tacos at JOEY Eaton Centre were comparable. Now the beef cheek was something I’d never had before so it surprised me with how the combination of sweet braised beef and jalapeño complimented each other well. I’d order them all again happily but if I had to choose, I’d go with the pork belly and the beef cheek.

With the price being $3.60 per small taco, it can add up but it’s definitely worth it in my opinion. Plus I live far away that there’s no danger of this being a regular go-to place. And now I definitely know where to get my taco fix next time I’m hit by a craving…which after writing this post might be soon. Happy Tuesday!

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