Most of you will be familiar with LASA through the deluge of rave reviews they have received recently – indeed, they are booked fairly solid for the next month thanks to Mr. Gold’s recent writeup – however, I have been eating their food since before Rice Bar ignited a the foodie/hipster spark of Filipino cuisince; they even sent me food while I was in the hospital. I have been long overdue in stopping in to see how they are cooking now that they have a place that is mostly their own. It appears that things are only getting better and better, and the current summer menu has several of my favorite things from old times on it.
The snapper kinilaw was deftly plated, and start things out on a high note. The red snapper was hearty, and cut so that each bite could be taken with a slice of lemon cucumber, black plum, some fried garlic, and a dab of fresno chili puree with a touch of sugar cane vinegar. Sort of cool, crisp, vegetal, mixed with acid and slightly funky spice from the fermented chiles. Maybe it’s not fish cut by an itamae like Shunji, but it’s a remarkably comforting, fun plate of fish to eat that seems to have a bit of everything you would like in each bite.
Pancit is basically just a word for “noodles” or “noodle dish”, and LASA’s version are some of my favorite noodles anywhere. Thick, hearty, chewy egg noodles caressed by calamansi butter, sieved egg yolk, and scallions. It’s a Pinoy aglio et olio, or a version of spaghetti and butter you sometimes see on Italian kids menus, made more exciting for adults. Incredibly simple, but utterly delicious. The calamansi adds an acidic bite to the back palate that cuts the buttery, egginess of the pasta along with the slight snap of the scallions. It is rich and comforting, yet not overly much. I am not sure I have ever had another noodle dish like it anywhere.
Twice cooked pork belly with an assortment of veggies, and smoked eggplant puree was interesting. A lot of char on the belly and the vegetables. The green beans and bitter melon in the dish provide a necessary astringency to play against the serious fattiness of the pork belly. It is nicely done belly, nearly as good as it gets, if falling a somewhat below the stuff at Taco Maria.
As tasty as the pork belly main is, I added on an order of the Kesong Puti dumplings from the vegetarian menu for an extra $15, because this is one of my favorite dishes in the world. They sent me some of these in the hospital when I was in quite a bit of pain, and I swear they were more effective than the morphine. They did not disappoint me tonight. Creamed corn made with coconut milk, king oyster mushrooms, a bit of garlic confit, charred shisitos, and magical cheese dumpings. Utterly spectacular, and beyond craveworthy. Sweetness and savor from the corn and garlic, buttery fungi explosions from the rich mushrooms, astringent vegetal snap from the shisitos, and a chewy, slightly sour cheesy dumpling…this is something you MUST try at least once.
They concluded my meal with a simple, but highly effective dessert. Tres leches cake was incredibly moist even before soaking up the milk at the bottom that was steeped with fig leaves. The black mission figs themselves were divine, and coated with just a touch of salt that made them absolutely sing. The whole dish was bathed in the essence of fig, and it had a lot of that saccharine/savory thing going on. I was stuffed by the end of the meal, but still wanted more of the dessert.
Note: I boxed up half of each entree, so I would say that a standard menu is enough food for most people.
Second note: the place is BYOB. I sincerely hope they get a license so they can do pairings at some point though.
Overall, for $82 (including tax + tip + additional entree), I thought this was a fantastic meal. It is the kind of meal that makes you excited to see what else the kitchen will do in the future. It certainly made me look forward to a future where LA has a more full-time restaurant run by these guys. I think the only thing I could complain about is that I wish Unit 120 had a better AC unit, and that the lighting was a little different (it is remarkably yellow), but neither of those things detract from the warmth of service, the soul of the cooking, or the bounty of flavors on display at LASA. One of the most interesting, exciting places to eat in LA, and also one of the most economical!