647 346 2377 | $35 Five-Course Tasting
I was immediately drawn to the concept at Lamesa for two reasons: it’s a five-course tasting that changes nightly for $35 (win!) and it’s rooted in Filipino cuisine, an under-represented food culture in the Toronto restaurant scene. That was all I needed to know, so I grabbed a group of eight friends and ventured over to the new spot on Queen West to check out what it had to offer.
Photo Credit: blogTO
So let’s jump right into the tasting menu: it’s composed of an amuse-bouche, a pulutan (small plate, tapas-equivalent), an ulam (main), a pre-dessert and a dessert.
Our amuse was a coconut and corn soup, topped with a chewy piece of bacon for some texture. This may have been one of the best bites of the night. I’m a sucker for great corn flavour and the coconut morphs it just enough to make it different. The bacon bit was also satisfying to munch on afterward.
I then selected the canton noodles with shrimp, beans, carrots, and cabbage for my pulutan. This dish was really clean overall, especially with a healthy squeeze of lemon over top. The shrimp flavour could be tasted throughout, and it was refreshingly devoid of anything overly fatty or oily.
The other pulutan ordered around the table was the ‘halo halo sisig’, a dish of ground pork, chicken and beef with garlic, chillies, tomatoes and onions topped with a fried egg. Some loved it, but some commented it was a bit too salty for them. I’ve been informed the onion and tomato are supposed to balance out the dish, but not sure that happened here. In my bite I also had trouble finding any of the garlic or chillies and felt the egg could have been left runnier for easy mixing (halo halo means to mix around).
The first main to come out was the steak with roasted red pepper, fingerling potatoes, olive tapenade and a pineapple and carrot puree. In concept and look, this dish looks like a standout. Despite the explosive colour, I found the flavour a bit bland. Perhaps the presentation over-promises, but the puree and jus on the plate didn’t deliver much and I couldn’t find the sweetness of the pineapple. That said, the steak was tender and couldn’t have been prepared much better.
The other main was the opposite to the steak dish in many ways. The pork cheek sinigang is a soup, presented here as a deconstruction of sorts, and looked a little bland. However, the tamarind found in the broth delivers a pronounced sour flavour that was probably more assertive than anything on the steak plate.
I see this dish as a bit of an acquired taste. The daikon puree is a bit bitter and when combined with the sour broth may not be your favourite combination. Thankfully, the pork cheek melts in your mouth and again shows these guys are good with their proteins.
The pre-dessert came as a crumbly little cookie that was playfully wrapped in brightly-coloured tissue paper. I’ve been told this is called a polvoron, a beloved cultural treat. It also came laced with a ‘surprise’ ingredient that changes the mouth-feel of the cookie. I won’t divulge what it is, but you’ll know a few seconds after you pop it in.
We had both of the two dessert choices: a maple-custard flan (above) and mini-empanada filled with a little bit of plantain (below). People really enjoyed the flan, with a texture similar to panna cotta and mild maple flavour. I ordered the empanada and was a bit disappointed. The pastry was OK and there was very little plantain to be tasted. Didn’t really get it.
Service and Ambience
I like the inside of the place, clearly designed to complement the more ‘contemporary’ style of the dishes. I was also a fan of the mellow hip-hop being played that keeps the atmosphere chill and casual. The one thing I didn’t get was the flat-screen TVs showing tropical landscapes. Added a bit of cheesiness to an otherwise beautiful room in my opinion.
Our service was excellent throughout the night. Our server ensured we always had a drink if we needed one, and all dishes were explained with careful attention paid to explaining the Filipino origin of the dish. Really appreciated that detail.
I’m really on the fence with the score for Lamesa. I think there were a number of dishes that were just OK and I wouldn’t say I had any ‘wow’ bites. That said, I think the $35 tasting concept is brilliant (even if two of the courses are one bite) and I really enjoyed the service.
I think I would recommend it to others on the basis of value and uniqueness, but not sure if I myself would go back for a second try.
Posted by: Jacob, Visited June 22, 2012
P.S. Special thanks to Sam Chung for the Filipino subtleties.