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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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Friday Favorites

Happy Friday everyone! Work has been crazy busy this week so I needed a couple of pick-me-ups to stay energized.

Luckily Keith took over dinner duties and made some delicious dishes like the following, inspired by watching Masterchef Junior.

My new favorite chocolate bar

An impromptu date night at Nando’s

Some of my girlfriends from Montreal are coming for the weekend, plus my little brother and sister are staying with us for the week since they’re on March Break. On top of that, next week at work is supposed to be even busier, which means I might not be able to post everyday, but I will definitely try my best. In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

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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 Casa Manila

For my 2nd Winterlicious 2015 experience, my sister and I chose to go for some Filipino food. I have a special spot in my heart for Casa Manila. It was the first Filipino restaurant I’ve been to in Toronto and I’ve taken my family there whenever they come to visit. We even got our Christmas dinner from them one year. They just make great traditional Filipino fare and I was glad they were participating in this year’s Winterlicious.

I’d like to take a second to point out just how many options they have on their Winterlicious menu. While some restaurants have three or four appetizers, entrees and desserts to choose from, Casa Manila has 5 appetizers, 8 entrees and 4 desserts to choose from, which would normally be a wonderful thing, but for someone who loves everything, like me, it was torture.

For the appetizers, I hesitated between BBQ Skewers, Spring Rolls or Arroz Caldo but opted for the latter, since it’s a rice soup that’s perfect for winter. We all ended up ordering the same appetizer. While it did warm us up, we thought it could use a little less ginger.

Once again, I had a dilemma when it came to the main dishes. While adobo is a classic choice and the most well-known Filipino dish, it’s easy to make at home so we didn’t order that. I love Filipino stews like Kare Kare, our peanut stew, which it might seem weird to use peanut butter in a stew but it works well. Plus there’s Kaldereta, a tomato beef stew, which is what my sister and Keith chose. I had a bite and it tasted good, but this time it needed more of the sauce and more veggies. Keith would’ve wanted it served in a bowl so he could dip some bread in it, but we don’t really do that in the Philippines. We eat almost everything with rice.

Fun fact: Filipinos love their pork, so it was no surprise that there were two pork belly main dishes on the menu, one grilled and one fried. I opted for the grilled pork belly, Inihaw Liempo, marinated in their secret sweet and salty sauce. Served with rice and dipped in vinegar, it was just as good as I remember it from back home.

For dessert, I got mango ice cream but should’ve definitely chosen what my sister and Keith ordered: Leche Flan, our version of crème caramel.

All in all, while we had some minor suggestions, we enjoyed the food and left very full. If you’ve never tried Filipino cuisine before, Winterlicious at Casa Manila is a great introductory experience.

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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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Friday Favorites

Happy Friday all! This weekend is going to be a busy one with a friend’s 25th birthday and the Super Bowl. I’m also in the process of changing my hair color. I haven’t for years so I was a little hesitant but having an amazing stylist definitely helps a lot. I’m going back on Saturday to tone it.
No weekend is complete without pains au chocolat courtesy of our wonderful neighbors.
Another week, another happy hour spent at my favorite after-work bar.

Hope you have a fantastic weekend!

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Friday Favorites

Happy Friday everyone! Finally, it’s Friday. I don’t know about you, but for me, this week went by at a snail’s pace. My boss is off to Mexico next week, lucky her. Meanwhile, winter is getting on my nerves. Hopefully she’ll bring some warm weather back with her. Here are a few things that are getting me through these dreary months:

An alternative to Jenga, this hit Korean game is surprisingly fun:
Definitely enjoyed staying at the Eaton Chelsea for our last conference:
Our close friend’s awesome board game-themed birthday party:
Currently finishing up this beauty of a book:
I wish we can have these pancakes every weekend:
Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

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Friday Favorites

Happy Friday everyone. Today’s post will be short and sweet since I’m still full from all the food yesterday. Hope you all have an awesome weekend!

So glad that my local office bar is this one:
Our second visit to the newly opened board game café beside our apartment involved cake and Clue.

And finally, here is the 21 pounder we made last night that everyone seemed to enjoy. I’m so grateful to be able to spend Thanksgiving surrounded by the best people.


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Tasty Tuesday: DAVID’s Tea & DLISH Cupcake Pairing

Since working with Crystal, Cicerone and beer writer extraordinaire, I’ve been obsessed with pairing food with beer. It’s pretty fun to come up with classic and unusual combinations, but it also made me think of doing it with dessert and tea. Inspired by two of my go-to places, DAVID’s TEA and Dlish Cupcakes, here are my favorite pairings:

Let’s start with a classic combination: Coconut, Dark Chocolate and Mint
Cocomint Cream is part of David’s Winter Collection so stock up now and you can enjoy it with Dlish’s Dark Chocolate cupcakes, a flavor available every day.

This next pairing is all about complimentary tastes: apple and caramel.
Apple Custard, another limited tea from David’s Holiday Collection, has raisins, honey-scented chamomile and a hint of vanilla that would go well with the apple cupcake and caramel frosting. I tried Dlish’s Apple Caramel for the first time this past weekend and it was super yummy.

For something that you can enjoy all-year round, I decided to put together my favorite tea with my favorite cupcake flavor
David’s Breakfast tea is the perfect blend of black teas. It’s balanced and can definitely hold its own against Dlish’s rich and luscious signature Red Velvet cupcake.

If chocolate is not your thing, then this one can be your go-to:
Forever Nuts is one of David’s Tea’s bestsellers. It’ll pair well with the already nutty Carrot Cupcakes.

Finally, for something very Christmas-y, then you have to absolutely try: gingerbread and chai.
Sure, they’re both spicy but they also just remind you of the holidays. Dlish’s Gingerbread is to die for. And David’s Chai Guarana has anise as its secret ingredient. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Happy Tuesday!

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Friday Favorites

Happy Friday one and all! Here are a few things I’m loving right now.

Some awesome posters from the burrito place next to my work:

Last night’s play that I really enjoyed. You should definitely go see it if you can!

I just finished reading this and it’s become one of my favorite books ever.

Still thinking about the amazing chocolate and beer from last week’s Beer School.
There’s only one class left, so don’t miss out!

Hope you all had a great week and an even more wonderful weekend!

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