LAMESA: Contemporary Filipino Tasting

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

Food

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.

The Reco?

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.

Other reviews:
 dine.TO     |    Food Trippin’

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited June 22, 2012

P.S. Special thanks to Sam Chung for the Filipino subtleties. 

Lamesa Filipino Kitchen on Urbanspoon

FRANK: Don’t forget about this place

416-979-6688    |    $16 -$24 lunch mains

 

As far as good restaurants go in Toronto, I feel like people forget this place exists at the AGO. People know about C5 in the ROM, but otherwise the fact it’s in a museum seems to hide it a bit. Been meaning to stop by the Frank Gehry-designed spot, found a good reason to, and off we went.


Photo Credit: Lost at A Minor

Food

The Frank lunch menu is essentially two succinct sets of starters and mains, many of which should dramatically improve what you normally eat for lunch. There’s a wide variety of interesting choices that aren’t too adventurous, but are just right for a ‘fancy’ lunch.

The three of us shared four apps to start:

  • Carrot and ginger soup: Nothing surprising here, a well-made soup that more or less yelled ‘carrot!’
  • Smoked paprika marinated grilled octopus with chickpeas, merguez, pequillo peppers and spinach (below): Really nice Spanish-inspired dish whose flavours were bright and balanced; also a beautifully-plated dish. Only thing was the octopus wasn’t quite as tender as it needed to be to knock this out of the park.
     
  • Seared halloumi on chickpea polenta and caper peperonata (below): Nothing really stood out here, but a pleasant dish. Think the halloumi could have been crispy or something, the sear didn’t change much and the chickpea part of the polenta didn’t add anything. Peperonata was a flavourful touch though.
     
  • Blue crab cakes with herbed ailoi (below): Golden and crispy on outside, soft and warm on the inside, really nice aioli with a bunch of greens. This made for a very tasty series of bites. Enjoyed these a lot.

Each of us then ordered very different mains. The first was the special of the day, a wild mushroom risotto with cipollini onions done to perfection. Flavours were dead-on (earthy and buttery), the texture was exactly where you’d want it to be and the portion wasn’t too large. 

The second dish was the corn and cheddar souffle on warm cored-apple. Found this one to be bit a bit boring, as the souffle didn’t taste like much - the apple swooped in to save it from blandness.

The last dish (above), a skirt steak on crispy sour dough, triple crunch mustard, caramelized onions and goat’s milk gouda was awesome. The triple crunch mustard caught my eye in the description, but it’s just semi-crunchy grainy mustard. The real crunch is the sour dough along the bottom and the great sear on the meat. The dish reminded me of a deconstructed and elevated steak sandwich - this is a very good thing. It’s a large portion as well, so you get your money’s worth for the priciest of the mains ($24).

We also sampled a few desserts. We found all three to be average, but regrettably cold. The crustless apple tart (above right) I had with spiced whip cream reminded me of a lukewarm Starbucks drink; could be worse I suppose. My friend’s eggnog creme brulee didn’t taste particularly like eggnog, but with a great torching job on the top, it was strangely cold. The chocolate rum lava cake with poached pears was good, but again, not hot. We thought all three were best-served warm. It’s too bad.

Service and Ambience:

I found our server to be very friendly and helpful with the menu, and the supporting staff also were around frequently replacing silverware, water refilling, etc. Food came out at a good pace given the room was busy at lunch.

As for how the place looks, it’s very modern and minimalistic. There’s a great metal sculpture that protrudes out from the cafeteria below that I particularly liked (above). The dining room itself is really big and felt somewhat empty, but that’s minimalism for you. Whether you think that style is suited for a restaurant is your own call, but as a space in a museum, I can understand the design choice.

The Reco?

I liked lunch at Frank. Despite the temperature-challenged desserts and a few small misses, we quite enjoyed the steak, crab cakes, octopus, and risotto. For an area that’s a little short on nicer restaurants, I think it’s a very respectable option. I’d definitely go back to taste more dishes both at lunch and for dinner. 

Other reviews:
 dineTO     |     NOW Toronto

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Dec 22, 2011

FRANK on Urbanspoon

JOEY: It’s a chain but…

647-352-5639    |    $13-$35 mains

 

…it’s very respectable food. I don’t usually review chains, but enough people in the downtown core are asking ‘what about this new Joey place?’. I figured I’d write a mini-review just in case people are on here looking for it.

Food

This menu has been designed with the masses in mind. It’s big: you can get anything from a rainbow roll to bombay butter chicken to steak & prawns. Generally speaking, if you see all three of those things on one menu you should get up from your table and run. But give this a place a chance.


Photo Credit: YUL to YYZ

I’ve had the pan-fried gyoza, rainbow roll, lobster ravioli and moroccan chicken across two visits, and I wasn’t really disappointed in any of them. As is to be expected, this won’t be in the top 5 best asian or moroccan food you’ve ever tasted, but it all tastes good.

I’ve also heard good things about the fish tacos, chicken burger, butter chicken, and the sandwiches. I’ve yet to hear someone tell me what they had was ‘bad’. 

I think the key takeaway is that if you walk in expecting to eat Moxies food, you’ll walk out a very happy diner. 

Service and Ambience

This place is huge inside and there are a ton of servers. That said, during a busy lunch hour, don’t expect to be in and out quickly. On my most recent visit we were there an hour before our mains got to the table and we weren’t checked on frequently enough by our server in the meantime. 


Photo Credit: Stephanie Dickinson, One More Bite

The look of the place fits with what you’d expect: modern, open, trendy, lots of TVs, a good central bar area, and a ton of seating. It’s what a nicer chain restaurant should look like.

The Reco?

It’s not a destination restaurant. It’s not a specialty restaurant. It’s not the best food you’ve had in a while. BUT, it’s good. If you’re going to be near Yonge-Dundas with a few people who can’t all agree on what to eat, I think this is a respectable pick.

Other reviews:
 Plato Putas    |     Food Lover 360    |  YUL to YY

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Nov 18, 2011

Joey Eaton Centre on Urbanspoon