Found Some Filipino Food

Plato Filipino is one of the latest restaurants to hit Joyce Street and I am glad I found the time to try it.

First off, upon entry, the restaurant is well-lit, workers have a pleasing orange uniform, and the restaurant is neat and tidy. Great first impression.

While Plato is the typical turo-turo serving style, what I appreciate is how clean, orderly, and organized it is. It made me confident in the food preparation and serving process.

The server was on the phone taking an order, but did immediately acknowledge me as soon as I approached the cash register and helped me as soon as she could.

I ordered my go-to meal, sinigang ng baboy and added a barbequed quarter chicken. If I recall correctly I paid under $12 for the meal, which is only slightly more than a regular combo. The pork tamarind soup was satisfying in its sourness, had several pieces of meat and good veggies. The barbeque chicken was meat-ty, no scrawny birds here! It had extra barbeque sauce added on the outer layer, but I think it would have tasted just as good without. It was well cooked and warm. (For those who have read a previous post about a different Filipino restaurant that recently opened on Joyce, you’ll get this reference.)

I am glad that there is once again a Filipino restaurant in my work neighbourhood that I can return to and recommend to others. Looking forward to future food visits.

 Plato Filipino Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Mesa Revisited – Come for Kamayan!

The day after my first La Mesa experience I was still thinking about their food. The Tasting Menu was great, but I hankered for a few of the things that I did not get to try. My dinner plans with a colleague was a bust, so I wanted to leave it to chance once again. I decided I would walk towards La Mesa, but if any other spot tempted me enough along Queens Street West, I would allow myself to be persuaded. I paused at one or two places, but not enough to stop.

Arriving for Sunday dinner, I was pleasantly surprised that they had space for one and offered me the Kamayan experience. Kamay in Tagalog means hand, which is what you must use to eat the food. The food is laid out on banana leaves, something that is generally plentiful in the rural areas of the Philippines. The leaves are easily cut, cleaned, and can be used instead of plates, and is also used in some of our cooking processes.20170326_185345

To serve, La Mesa has two staff people alternating their explanations of the feast, and I use that term purposefully. They began with a long swipe of a purple-tinged bagoong caramel that was placed underneath the lightly-salted salad (caramel not seen in photo). In various spots on the banana leaves they also strategically placed a brown sawsawan so that you would be encouraged to dip your food into them. Their sawsawan gel seemed to be made up of hoisin, soya sauce, and perhaps oyster sauce as well. Three generous drops of mango hot sauce delivered on the heat. I added small amounts to different meats to create flavour pops in my mouth. I was also happy to see the soy garlic puree offered, as I was already a fan from the other night.

Another thing that I enjoyed was the tapas-style feel to the feast. They had five differently cooked proteins on offer! As a renowned carnivore, that alone brought my happiness level up a couple of notches from the outset. I loved the taste and texture of the skin on the fried chicken adobo. It intrigued me and forced me to savour it slowly as to try to determine what they use in their marinade. The mussels were supple and the boneless bangus was the salty contrast needed between the seafood. Pork was served two ways: as lechon kawali in a lettuce wrap, dressed with a calamansi aioli that I loved, and pork rib inasal. The roasted rib was a bit on the sweet side, but if you combined it with the saltier grilled broccolini, you had a perfectly balanced bite.

I could only take small bites of some of the other offerings, as I had no access to a refrigerator, and there was no way I would be able to finish the entire meal. They offered crispy tofu with black bean sauce dolloped on top, a deviled egg, deep-fried cauliflower, and kalabasa corn bread. All tasted great and I felt pangs of regret that I couldn’t swallow them up. I haven’t even talked about the fried garlic rice, so let me just say there were two mounds of it which was plenty. If my photo was taken table-side instead of an aerial shot, you would be able to see the amount of rice more clearly. All this for $40 was again worth the time and money.

There were two other things I wanted to highlight about La Mesa, the bevies and the wall art.

Over the two evenings, I was able to try three of their cocktails, which they have given familial names to. I sampled the Tito Boy, the Lola, and the Lolo Cool J. I am no connoisseur in drinks, but couldn’t resist the names. The Tito Boy was a good strong drink and the Lola a bit of a sweeter one. My favourite of the three was the Lolo Cool J, made of bourbon, ginger, pineapple syrup, and lemon. While I don’t have a sweet tooth, when we are talking about alcohol, I normally prefer sweeter drinks. The Lolo Cool J was not overly sweet and I found swirling the candied ginger and letting it sit for a bit made it tastierwhen you eventually bit into it. It took the edge off some of the alcohol, which made it easy for me to enjoy it twice that night over such a large meal.

Finally, I think it was so easy to come back to La Mesa because of the feel you got from the restaurant. I appreciated their wall art and floor art in front of one of their bathrooms. The servers (including the owner) were friendly, but more importantly not fake. We had solid conversations about the current Filipino offerings in Toronto, a brief history of how La Mesa was started and how it has been received by the Filipino community, and also talked about their latest venture, Lasa. I never disclosed that I was a blogger during either visit but I’m guessing my experience would not have been any different.

Come to La Mesa for the Kamayan experience but make a reservation. The restaurant was full from the time I was seated to when I left. It does not matter if you go solo, on a date, or with a flock of friends, I’m confident you’ll have a great time!

Lamesa Filipino Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Mesa is a Luscious Dining Experience

I like to keep my food adventures random and a little bit to chance. When I hit Toronto last week, I decided to check what were some of the closest Filipino restaurants within decent walking distance from my hotel. As I was in town for work it would definitely have to be a dinner spot.

I found three relatively easily, which surprised me given I was downtown. I normally don’t read other food blogs so as not to taint my taste buds with others opinions, but don’t mind word of mouth recoms. I asked MaryAnne, someone more familiar with Toronto than I, which of the three to try. She actually hadn’t gone to any of them but had heard good things about La Mesa, which has a “Filipino-inspired” menu. We went with that. We further pursued this food adventure by finding folks to join in the journey and we ended up with an interesting group of six, with André, Anne-Marie, Deanna, and Raphaëlle rounding off our group.

None of us had eaten at La Mesa before. The entire group was up for pretty much anything and everything. After some initial questions with the server, we decided to go with the Tasting Menu experience. On-line, La Mesa’s menu advertises this experience to be 11 courses for $80. We had what I would say were seven courses at $50/person. Let me say up front – it was worth it!

20170325_192329We began with an amuse bouche of tuna kinilaw, somewhat similar to ceviche. For tartness, they used calimansi, a small citrus fruit that is grown in the Philippines and other places, which was perfect. The avocado was velvety and the chilies provided a hint of heat. I loved the shrimp cracker as the vehicle. While I certainly could have eaten a bowlful, the amuse bouche did its job in creating anticipation for the rest of the meal.

The next course was soup, their version of arroz caldo. This dish is usually made from rice and chicken. La Mesa’s twist was to have butternut squash at its base. This was Deanna’s favourite dish. There was a poached egg at its centre (in contrast to hard-boiled offerings in the Filipino version) and our server shared that the egg should be mixed within the dish before serving. This made the soup creamier and richer in taste. If you have an open mind and don’t expect the consistency of a true arroz caldo I believe you will have an appreciation for the dish.

Third up was two meat dishes, lechon kawali and corned beef lumpia. We were great about sharing each dish. The deep fried pork was perfectly cooked. They had rendered enough fat to make the edges crispy, yet not oily. The corned beef egg rolls was a hard sell to me. It did have a kick of spice, which was unexpected. Normally I like corned beef, especially the way Filipinos make it, but I did not quite get into it in lumpia format. This may be one of the very few critiques I have of our experience.

Gulay was next. Vegetables dishes were made on purpose, we were told, as there are few vegetarian dishes in regular Filipino fare. We were served ginataan and kalabasa maalat. The ginataan included a warm and moist cornbread, which I mentioned to the group seemed to fit more with Filipino food since the Philippines does grow corn. However, now that I think about it, on all of my trips to the Philippines, I don’t think I’ve had corn bread often, if at all. Anyway, my belly was slowly filling at this point and I knew more was on the way, so I admit that I had little-to-none of the squash dish. What can I say? It is easier for me to turn down vegetables.

I am used to eating my ulam with rice, so at each serving I couldn’t help looking around for it. At this fifth course we received garlic fried rice with chicken adobo. MaryAnne and I agreed that the rice was a bit undercooked and the garlic slightly burnt, but it did not stop us all from eating almost all of it. The adobo was a drier version (which can also be made wet or at least with some sabaw in reserve). La Mesa offered this buttery-smooth garlic puree that paired well. They included whole chunks of garlic in the dish itself, but the puree could stand on its own with the chicken.20170325_200945

Our second-to-last course was talong humba and branzino pinakbet. For the first dish, I liked the eggplant bite that I got and missed the crispy tofu. I really enjoyed the pinakbet but this is a very loose interpretation of the original dish. The okra, in particular, was wonderful. I also discovered that the branzino was a meaty fish. However, for pinakbet I missed the shrimp paste flavour and sabaw, which I think would have still complemented this dish and actually may have brought all of its elements together for me.20170325_204206

Finally, to dessert. Ube leche flan was my favourite and difficult to share. Eating a spoon of the flan with some of the calamansi gel simultaneously created a perfect balance of tartness and sweet. Otherwise, the gel would overpower your palette. The fresh grapes also helped bring natural sweetness to the dish. The banana chocolate cake “Filipino feature” was including Ovaltine in it. It was dense and I don’t know what happened to my taste buds, but Raphaëlle had to tell me the fruit was raspberries. (Foodie fail on my part! LOL!) I think it was the “seeds” in the raspberries that threw me off. Now that I’ve reviewed the menu, I think those “seeds” were probably crushed up walnuts.

We were at La Mesa for easily a couple of hours. The music was bumpin’ to quote MaryAnne, and more than a few of us enjoyed the 90’s R&B throwbacks. If there was a dance floor I’m sure we would’ve taken it over. The food, music, ambiance, and making new friendships made La Mesa an experience to remember!

p.s. Apologies in advance for the photo quality. I tried to take a few shots with a flash but did not want to ruin the dining experience with my table mates, so most were done without it.

p.p.s. Look for Part Two of this luscious La Mesa experience, as I was drawn to return the following night kamayan-style.

Lamesa Filipino Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Manila Grille Doesn’t Make the Grade

I had been away from the beginning of winter and upon my return, I was happy to see that the Manila Grille, another Filipino restaurant, had taken over the former Cucina Manila’s spot on Joyce Street in Vancouver.

This past weekend was my first chance to try it out. The set-up is a bit awkward. From the door you see tables and chairs closely bunched together, then into the right corner is some baked goods, the cashier, then the bain-marie so you can pick your food (typical turo-turo style). It left myself as a new customer, a little confused about where exactly to line up. Some signage may help or having one of the staff greeting people upon entering as the restaurant isn’t large.

I hovered near the bain-marie and unknowingly jumped the line, but the gentleman that was supposed to be served first was quite understanding. The service from staff was fairly abrupt. The staff person was complaining loudly to us that she was short-staffed and while I can definitely understand that frustration, I don’t believe that the customers should bear the brunt of her wrath.

I ordered the 2-dish with rice combo. My two dishes included sinigang na baboy (sour tamarind soup with pork spare ribs and veggies) and chicken barbeque on a stick. Budget-wise it still met my mmmmura scale coming in at less than $10. Portion-wise, the rice was plenty, as was the chicken. In contrast, my small sinigang container was filled with two largely chopped pieces of daikon (which probably took up half of the container) leaving space for only a few pieces of spare rib and a couple of pieces of baby bok choy and string beans.

In terms of taste, I did enjoy the sinigang, but not the daikon. The broth was at the medium-range of sourness and was not fatty. The chicken barbeque looked saucy and I couldn’t wait to take a bite. Unfortunately, immediately after that bite, I realized that the barbeque was stone-cold. I had ordered it from the bain-marie, but I am guessing it must not have been in a heated portion of the food warmer. I was very disappointed. Luckily, I had a microwave at work otherwise, I would not have been able to eat it at all.

I had chosen dishes that were usually my favourite go-to’s for Filipino restaurant. Since both didn’t make the grade I would have to be hard-pressed to return.

Manila Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Startin’ up at Silogs

While not my blog’s main focus, I do try to go to as many Filipino restaurants as I can, especially since it is my main fare and I love to know where the best dishes are made.

Most Filipino restaurants are of two types – either you order off a menu, or it is turo-turo style (loosely translated as point-point) as most food offerings are already cooked and in warmers that are easily viewed and you just point at what you want adding rice as a side.

20161119_110704Silogs is a new start-up in New Westminster and they are trying to be different from those two main types and I think they can succeed. They are using the niche of specializing in the quintessential Filipino breakfast: ‘Silogs. Silogs is the end part of a Tagalog mish-mash that begins with the protein you choose. For example, longsilog is longanisa (sweet cured sausage), sinangag (garlic fried rice), and itlog (egg).

Silogs takes it to a whole other level offering not-so-common proteins such as the chopsilog that I had. It included a lightly-battered fried pork chop that was cooked well, not oily, nor heavy. The same could be said for their fried rice. My eggs were over-easy (as ordered). I loved their ‘Epic’ vinegar, which I’m guessing had either Tabasco sauce or sambal oelek or chili paste mixed in with the vinegar. It was the perfect dipping sauce to the chop.

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As I was sharing with my little guy, I ordered Combo 1 which allows for two proteins. We went for the made in-house, skinless longanisa. It was a little peppery for him. It also had a slight glaze on it, which didn’t add anything for me. I would have enjoyed it much more without it.

D. ordered the lechonsilog but found the pork belly to be a bit average (her words).

Since it was our first time we made the unusual decision of having dessert a20161119_114724fter lunch. D. chose the leche flan which is sort of like a creme caramel. The portion was quite generous. In terms of taste, the caramelization on top was a bit bitter almost to the point of burnt and the texture overall wasn’t as creamy as I like.

Other than the food, at lunch time on a weekend, this seemed to be the place to be as we bumped into four different people that we knew. For full disclosure, one included someone who worked there, which I didn’t know beforehand. I think my avid fans would 20161119_110719agree that it did not bias my review either way.

On my Mmm…Sarap! rating scale, I would grade Silogs a mmmmura because the food definitely filled all three bellies for less than $25 and I was in a food coma afterwards as proof! I also like their quirky signs, including the license plates from Manitoba and the Yukon Territory where the owners have had previous restaurants.

Epic Grill Silogs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Some wonderful meals in Whitehorse

Before trekking out to Whitehorse I had asked one of my colleagues for some recommendations. Funny thing was, for one reason or another, I was only able to go to a couple of her recommendations. Despite this, I am happy to report that I had some wonderful meals in Whitehorse and ensured that I still hit local establishments.

My best experience was at The Wheelhouse Waterfront Dining restaurant. It was the last place I was able to enjoy a meal before returning home. It is the fancier and pricier restaurant in town, but I loved the ambience of the antique tins and wooden crates from all across Canada and the nautical elements.

20161016_192955In terms of the food, I had never had Artic char before. Their grill offering came with quinoa, which was putting me off. Thankfully they allowed me to substitute it with the braised mushroom rice that normally comes with their duck confit dish.  I did not receive the bruschetta that is listed on the menu, perhaps because of my rice substitution. Instead, my meal came with a side of vegetables. All together it was a superb dish! The Artic char was a hefty fillet topped with herb butter and arugula. My friend and I agreed that it tasted less like salmon and was more similar in texture to tuna. It was cooked well, moist, even without the herb butter. The braised mushroom rice was a great pairing to the Artic char. The rice wasn’t heavy and its flavour did not overpower the fish. There were ample mushrooms, which I can appreciate. The vegetables were orange carrots, purple beets, and red peppers. Adding a bit of the herb butter to them made them very enjoyable and I was able to eat everything on my plate. This is particularly noteworthy considering I almost never eat beets!

Next up is our first unexpected surprise, brought to us by a colleague who was also working the event I was at. The Gold Pan Saloon is very much what one would imagine a sports bar to be, a long bar that wrapped around half the space, multiple screens featuring different sports (I stopped counting at five), but still a substantial seating area. Lunch was hopping on both days that we attended, a Friday and a Sunday. My first visit I had the seafood board which included deep fried mussels, shrimp, calamari, with sourdough bread and two dipping sauces. It also included salsa fresco which helped lighten the deep fried factor. We debated if it was too much food for one person, but since a woman at a nearby table had ordered it and did not seem to be having any trouble we decided not to split the dish. I enjoyed the variety and tapas-style offering. I savoured the chili sauce because there was a hint of heat, it was not sweet, and it had enough vinegar to act as a counterpoint to the taste of the mussels and calamari. My second visit I ordered the salmon burger. The patty retained the natural flavour of the salmon with a hint of dill and lemon without taking away its innate juiciness. Two not-so positive comments I have about the Gold Pan Saloon is that it is a pricier lunch (even considering we are talking about Whitehorse) and they aren’t consistent in their kitchen. The first visit my colleague was able to get a half-and-half order of salad and fries. When I tried the same thing on my second visit, I was told no and just got a full salad.

A couple of other honourable mentions include The Deck and Legends. At The Deck my friend and I split their Deck sampler and a two-piece fish and chips dish. You can probably sense by now that I love ordering a bunch of things so I can try a lot more dishes. We really liked the fish dish. The batter was light with great taste and the fries were very easy to munch on, not overly salty, nor oily. On the other hand, the sampler was a good amount of food, but nothing that stood out. It was the first time I had a jalapeno slammer, which was a jalapeno with goat cheese inside and bacon wrapped around it. It wasn’t spicy and the bacon definitely made it easier to eat the jalapeno. The wings and ribs were overdone so I didn’t enjoy the meat as much as I expected to.

Legends had good breakfasts at reasonable prices. I had all of my three breakfasts there because of my work schedule and location. For my first breakfast, I loved the bannock over bread option, although it was a denser bannock than I’ve had before. My second breakfast was a great bagel sandwich, where the bagel was soft, and having two types of meats, Canadian ham and bacon was standard and were not oily at all. Finally for breakfast three, being able to substitute more sausage links when I didn’t want to eat eggs anymore to accompany my large pancakes filled me up as I knew I wouldn’t be able to have lunch that day until much later than normal.20161014_072326.jpg

I hope that I am able to return to Whitehorse one day as there were so many other places that I wanted to taste their food fare.

Baba Sweets is spicy!

Trust me to go to a place called Baba Sweets and eat only savory items. Regular readers won’t be surprised as they know I don’t have a sweet tooth.

Happy to say I’ve made another great discovery in my neighbourhood. I was actually aiming to try a place across the street, but their opening hours listed on-line are different from real life. With Baba Sweets & Restaurant in Burnaby already open, it was that time or never for lunch that day, so in I went.

I ordered the butter chicken lunch special and added an order of chicken pakora. Only after the food was brought out was I asked if I had someone joining me. Sheepishly I said, “Um…no. I didn’t realize my order would result in so much food!”

The lunch special includes different choices of main which comes with a small Indian salad, half a plate of rice, and four pieces of naan. This was all placed in front of me, with my chosen butter chicken main, then a full plate of chicken pakora was added to my table. Needless to say, I had leftovers.

I really liked the chicken pakora. I decided to test my taste buds and went for medium spice, instead of my regular choice of mild. The menu describes it as boneless chicken marinated in yogurt, ginger, and garlic, that is fried served then with chutney. Medium for me was definitely spicy! However, the chutney was the perfect cooling compliment, so as long as I ate them together, I could enjoy each bite. I can also attest that when I had them for leftovers the next day, the heat and flavour had intensified overnight.

Price generally matched the amount of food you receive (note to self) so I’ll remember that the next time I order. I am certain there will be a next time.

Baba Sweets & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato