Lamesa Filipino Kitchen
Lamesa Filipino Kitchen has been open on Queen St. for just over a year now, so it feels long past due when I finally made my way over recently to check it out. Until now, my experiences with Filipino cuisine are embarrassingly limited, made up of second-hand accounts of balut (fertilized eggs) and exposure to home cooked delicacies like spaghetti with hotdogs.
Owners Les Sabilano and Rudy Boquila (formerly of the Gladstone Hotel ) totally get it, the menu is pretty much designed for noobs like me. Introductory formats include sampling platters for sharing, affordable $5 (or less) a la carte snacks, or, best still, the $30 5-course prix fixe that includes three courses from the regular menu plus two amuse per chef's choice.
Filipino food incorporates the cuisines of Austronesian countries, along with Spanish, Mexican and American influences. This restaurant adds to that the trademarks of what's happening in Toronto right now - tasty, cheap bar snacks ($5 or less), comfort foods, wine and beer. The menu tasks itself with being true to authentic flavours and ingredients, but also presenting the food in a contemporary way.
There is none of the shock factor that too many episodes of food-travel docs have led me to expect. I sample the full array of snacks on the Merienda Platter ($18) that includes one of everything; lumpia, ground pork spring rolls; Sarsi glazed crispy beef; a miniature shrimp po boy; barbecued chicken wings rubbed with smoky inasal; and, afritada fries, topped with cheese curds like poutine then smothered with tomato sauce, pineapple, peppers, olives and onions.
The Halo Halo Sisig ($10) served in a cast iron pan with a side of white rice gets mixed and eaten like bibimbap. It's composed of chopped chicken, pork and beef with Filipino-style pico, a crispy fried egg and a calamansi which is like a tiny lime-tangerine hybrid.
The Crispy Pata ($18), is perhaps as weird as it gets but I'm unfazed after all the offal and off cuts I've eaten this past year. If anything I'm impressed when gnarly, grisly cuts turn out to steal the show. This is a fried pork trotter, featuring crispy thin crackling and luscious, sinuous meat. It's served to the table to share, meant to be pulled apart by hand and dipped in spicy and acidic dipping sauces that cut through the meat's fatty goodness. If that's not enticing on its own, consider it with four beers offered for an even $30.
For dessert, today's special is a traditional halo halo ($7) over shaved ice with various custard-like toppings, coconut jellies, ube (purple yam) jam and housemade ice cream.
Inside is bright and fresh. The 28 seat dining room is simply adorned with a cigarette paper inspired mural from local artists Christine Mangosing and Ilona Fiddy.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through til Sunday and is now doing lunch in addition to dinner. The restaurant does catering too and can tailor the experience for homestyle buffets or canape receptions.
Photos by Morris Lum