For some weeks now, chatter about the opening of a full-service Filipino restaurant was abuzz over social media. Why was this unusual, you ask? Just like other Filipinos, I was brought up with very good home cooking everyday and with every meal. It may seem labour-intensive but that is the nature of a Filipino family. It follows suit that when Filipinos dine out, they would go looking for another cuisine. It seems illogical to go looking for something better than what you get home on a daily basis. I often get asked by friends who got a taste of my cooking where is a good Filipino restaurant downtown? I am often stumped with this question as what I know were Filipino groceries and/or some Filipino full-service restaurants but were all located in the suburbs. After dining at Lamesa last Thursday, now I know where to lead my friends into.
I got invited to Lamesa’s pre-launch dinner by my friend Diona Joyce and I readily said yes. I was curious about what kind of spin would they do to give Toronto a sampling of the simple joys a Filipino meal could give. My friend Diona brought me to her tweetup and I got to meet two of her friends, Alvin (@thecheapmonk) and Marla (@marzz_d2a). We started a little bit late and we constantly tried to get a sneak peek of what we were about to enjoy from the table right beside us. Before the food started coming, we were surprised of the detail that they have sourced out San Miguel Beer. Pale and crisp, San Miguel Beer for generations have always been the beer of choice anywhere in the Philippines. We give out our preferences from the set menu and in a matter of minutes we were given a plate with a toasty warm pastry. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that these was Chef Rudy Boquila’s interpretation of the classic bistek (Filipino for beef steak cooked with soy sauce, caramelized onions and citrus calamansi juice). Cracking through the pastry, I get an immediate whiff of a comforting, familiar smell. That was indeed a good start.
The lumpia or Filipino spring rolls arrive and again, the presentation pleases the eye. Normally, in a Filipino gathering, spring rolls are piled up on a big plate. To see it artistically presented was refreshing. Rolled really long, each roll was cut in half on an exaggerated slant and presented with house-made banana ketchup for the pork lumpia and spiced vinegar for the vegetarian version. This dish was followed by minute patties of breaded eggplant, sitting on peanut sauce with pico de gallo on top. I haven’t been able to taste my main yet and I was already getting stuffed . :)
For the main, three of us have selected Steak Kaldereta and Marla went for the Ginataang Gulay, medley of vegetables cooked with coconut cream. My Steak Kaldereta arrived and I tasted each component separately and each one was seasoned well. Each one could have stood on its own as a separate dish. Making myself one perfect bite, I take some a slice of my beautiful medium rare steak, gave it a good dollop of the squash purée, take a helping of the greens and a slice of a potato and swab it through the tomato broth. Classic and comforting Beef Kaldereta stew is almost always in any Filipino’s kitchen. The taste of Chef Rudy’s Steak Kaldereta presented the classic combination of flavor in a contemporary way was equally pleasing. Marla was also happy of her Ginataang Gulay, the ube or taro purée taking the forefront.
Before dessert was served, we were given flutes to have a glass of bubbly. Our server said it is best to pair with the jackfruit crème bruleee they were about to serve. Reminiscent of the classic Filipino leche flan, Chef Rudy infused a hint of jackfruit flavor into this decadent dessert. I had my reservations at first but after tasting it, it made sense to me that jackfruit was added to elevate the classical leche flan. Jackfruit is a staple to Filipino sweets and it does not take away from the lush creaminess of the custard.
Throughout the course of our dinner, Chef Rudy repeatedly came to talk to us about his inspirations. While having our desserts, he talked to us about another day’s pre-set menu where he included pandesal bread pudding, soaked in Nescafe and Carnation milk. I was amazed in how an ordinary Filipino habit would inspire Chef Rudy to spin it to something equally tasty. It is most common for Filipinos to have a pan-de-sal (freshly baked bread buns with a dusting of crumbs) and to dunk it in morning coffee. Just when I thought that the night was over, Chef Rudy pulled out another surprise and gave us a taste of that pudding he made. It was such a good treat, and to be surprised with a sweet treat made it all the more wicked.
After all that food and warm hospitality, it was no surprise we did not notice time pass us by and we finished late. Lamesa for sure gave me a solution to my dilemma. I’ll direct anyone who wants to sit and experience Filipino fine dining their way. Thank you Chef Rudy for your creativity. This Filipino foodie would surely be on your cheering peanut gallery. :)