Making Filipino Cuisine More Accessible - Ma'am Sir [Thoughts + Pics]

When one thinks about the direction that an alumnus of Guy Savoy, The French Laundry and former Executive Chef of Patina could take when tackling the Filipino cuisine of his heritage, one might think it would a fancy tasting menu format. Or, maybe go all the way to other end of the spectrum and open a food truck and do something that way. Or, a series of pop-ups.

What Chef-Owner Charles Olalia has decided to do with Ma’am Sir, his cozy flagship restaurant on the edge of Silver Lake, is make a neighborhood restaurant with an a la carte menu of dishes presented in a way that makes the Filipino cuisine of his heritage accessible to the multi-ethnic population of Los Angeles.

Walking into Ma’am Sir (whose name is a type of polite greeting by the service industry in the Philippines) on a weekend evening, and it’s at 100% capacity (with a waiting list to boot), filled with customers young and old, with the vast majority being Non-Filipino. It’s boisterous, buzzy, and if you didn’t know any better, this could look like the evening crowd at a hip new trendy American cuisine restaurant.

Moscow Mule:

Balanced, their Housemade Ginger Beer made for a pleasing, spicy start to the evening. :slight_smile:

Happy Birthday Fried Chicken (House Spice Mix, Gravy):

The curiously named Happy Birthday Fried Chicken was named as such due to the fact that when Chef Olalia was growing up, his mom would buy him Jollibee Fried Chicken on his birthday, which was a treat, so this dish is his tribute / interpretation of the Fried Chicken of his childhood.

While it’s an endearing story, in execution, the Fried Chicken looks a bit dark. The first bite is a salt bomb. :sob: Really salty. The batter is slightly crunchy. The Gravy just makes things even saltier.

Chicken Adobo (Adobo Rice, Roasted Tomatoes, Vinegar Glazed Onions, Roasted Garlic-Soy Vinaigrette):

When the Chicken Adobo arrived, it looked like a mistake at first: Was this a “Salad” sent to the wrong table? :sweat_smile: But digging underneath the greens, you’re greeted with moist, tender, delicious chunks of slow braised Chicken Adobo. There’s a pleasing balance of Soy Sauce and Vinegar and slow-cooking, and resultant Chicken morsels are just flat out delicious with the Steamed Koshihikari Rice that Chef Olalia serves with it. :heart:

Crispy Lechon (Lemongrass Sarsa, Pickled Papaya):

Absurdly decadent, Ma’am Sir’s Crispy Lechon (or Pork Belly Lechon) is comprised of slow roasted Pork Belly, with crisped Pork Skin. It’s luscious, super tender sections of lean and fatty Pork, and then you get a nice contrast with the crispy Pork Skin on top. It’s super rich, so a few bites were enough for me, but it was totally worth it. Highlight of the evening! :heart:

2nd Visit:

Walking into Ma’am Sir during the day is like you’re in another restaurant completely: Sun pours through the skylights above, you can see that there rows of plants growing up in the rafters, and it’s much more calm and quiet. :slight_smile:

Sea Urchin Lumpia (Savory Shrimp Mousse, Lardo, Spicy Vinegar):

Sadly, the Sea Urchin Lumpia were undermined by bad Uni: This was Uni that was super dank and briny, as if it was borderline rotting. :sob: The rest of the Filipino Egg Roll was sufficiently crispy, but the Shrimp Mousse filling was just OK, tasting a bit straightforward and basic.

Chef’s Soup (Chicken & Ginger Koshihikari Rice Porridge, Calamansi, Garlic Crumbs):

Chef Olalia’s interpretation of Filipino Porridge, using notable Japanese Koshihikari Rice, the result is a nice Rice Porridge that is not too thick, nor too watery, with nice bits of Chicken and Ginger spiked throughout. I really liked the Calamansi and Garlic Crumbs which made it standout from what we’re used to. :slight_smile:

Sizzling Sisig (Grilled Pig’s Head, Onion, Chili Vinegar, Egg):

The star of their Brunch menu might very well be their Sizzling Sisig, which is a searing hot iron plate arriving at your table with diced up bits of the Pig’s Head (including Pig Ears, Pig Cheek and more). Topped with a Raw Egg that you mix into the sizzling hot Pork chunks and Green Onions, the result is like a decadent “Corn Beef Hash” by way of the Philippines.

Garlic Rice:

When eaten with their Garlic Rice, you have a hearty Brunch dish that is mouth-watering delicious, savory, and decadent. :blush:

Coconut & Rice Pancakes (Pipinig Granola, Salted Coconut Cream):

This was way too sweet: It was really a Dessert, masquerading as a “Breakfast” dish. If our server had told us ahead of time that this was more like a Dessert to finish off a meal, we might’ve had a different impression, but maybe this is for those types that love their Pancakes drowning in Maple Syrup? It had a similar effect: There seemed to be a relatively light Pancake underneath, but the Coconut Cream and toppings just made the whole thing taste utterly sweet.

3rd Visit:

Fried Chicken Sandwich (Hawaiian Bun, Butter Lettuce, Tomato, HBD Gravy, Sweet Potato Fries):

While it seems like folly, seeing Fried Chicken or a Fried Chicken Sandwich on a restaurant’s menu that we haven’t been to makes me want to order it, in the hopes that it might be as great or better than Howlin’ Ray’s. (I know, I know @TheCookie, but I’m trying to stay optimistic!)

Taking a bite: The Hawaiian Bun is too sweet. The Fried Chicken fillet within is barely crunchy (no crispiness at all), and a bit one note and salty. :frowning: (Nowhere near Howlin’ Ray’s unfortunately.)

The Sweet Potato Fries are nicely fried and slightly crispy, with an inherent sweetness from the Sweet Potato. Tasty.

Fried Milkfish (Crispy Fried Bangus, Tomato, Egg, Atchara):

Ma’am Sir’s Crispy Fried Bangus is nicely executed. The Milkfish flesh is perhaps a touch overcooked, but still tender and flaky. The only challenge we had with it was the sheer amount of bones in the Fish. But it’s something our Filipino friends have grown up eating, and the amount of bones doesn’t bother them. Otherwise, I loved eating the Milkfish with the Atchara (Pickled Papaya) and some of the Garlic Rice.

4th Visit:

Beef Kare Kare (Oxtail and Tripe Peanut Curry, Shrimp Paste):

I’ve had dishes with Shrimp Paste before many times, but the Beef Kare Kare at Ma’am Sir is dank and funky. It almost tastes like there’s Blood or other Offal mixed in, as the Peanut Curry isn’t very nutty, nor as apparent as the funkiness.

The Oxtail was meaty, but not as tender as we’ve had in a variety of other Oxtail preparations recently, feeling like it could’ve been stewed for a bit longer to have the meat really fall off the bone. The Bok Choy and Okra both felt like they were thrown in quickly at the end, not really incorporated into the Kare Kare.

There are a lot of regional recipes and variations on Kare Kare and I’m no expert, but the various other times I’ve had Kare Kare at little mom and pop shops have tasted a bit more flavorful and less dank for my tastes.

Roasted Eggplant (Red Onion, Tomato, Miso Tamarind Sauce):

This was tasty, sweet-tart, rich tasting despite being vegetarian.

Happy Birthday Fried Chicken (Lettuce, Gravy, Chili Sambal, House Pickles):

I was holding out hope that this 4th visit would have an improved Fried Chicken. Thankfully on this visit, their Happy Birthday Fried Chicken was much improved. It was no longer the total salt bomb from the 1st visit. Still a touch on the salty side, but this was within reason. There was a nice light crunch from the exterior, with juicy Chicken meat within. At this point, this is a decent Filipino Fried Chicken option, but its basic marinade / flavor just doesn’t elevate this to anything but “fine.”

Adobo Ricebowl (Braised Chicken Thighs, Soy Garlic Broth):

They’ve changed the name and preparation of their Chicken Adobo slightly: There’s no longer a large “Salad” that arrives with the Chicken Adobo (which I enjoyed), but thankfully their slow braised Chicken Thighs are still tender, moist, and full of flavor. It has just the right amount of Soy-savoriness and tang from the Vinegar, and the Soy Garlic Broth over the Koshihikari Rice is delicious! :heart:

Service is typical L.A. casual: Servers are busy scrambling to deliver dishes, they rarely stop by, and sometimes you have to flag a busboy or other server for help.

Despite his fine dining and tasting menu background, Chef Charles Olalia has decided to present the Filipino food of his heritage in a more casual, a la carte format. The menu is smartly written to make it more accessible to those not familiar with Filipino cuisine: There are Pork Sliders (w/ Longanisa), Fried Broccoli (w/ Shrimp Paste), you see things like Happy Birthday Fried Chicken, or Pork Belly Lechon, and they sound relatively familiar enough to give it a try.

Perhaps the one thing that gives me pause about Ma’am Sir is that while the dishes we tried were generally enjoyable (some very good), they never tasted like they were a paradigm-shifting change from various mom-and-pop Filipino hole-in-the-wall restaurants we’ve tried over the years. The Oxtail Kare Kare here is something I’ve enjoyed more at a few other, simpler hole-in-the-walls around town. The Chicken Adobo is definitely delicious, but not “next level / Langer’s type of ‘Wow, this is what a Pastrami Sandwich should taste like!’” experience. Same for the Lechon.

But in the end, for this area to have a solid neighborhood spot like Ma’am Sir delivering quality Filipino comfort food like the luscious Pork Belly Lechon, moist, tender Chicken Adobo Bowl, Sizzling Sisig, and a warming Filipino Chicken & Rice Porridge along with a few other enjoyable dishes? That’s probably enough, and we’d be glad to stop by again if we were in the area.

Ma’am Sir
4330 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Tel: (323) 741-8371

http://www.maamsirla.com/

8 Likes

I went to Ma’am sir with some friends and we specifically ordered the Kare Kare. I had talked to Charles previously about it and he wanted to make this really earthy, funky, savory version - the opposite of the sugary sweet peanut butter version you get at almost every filipino take out spot. I thought it totally hit for that. BUT a few of my non filipino friends really didn’t enjoy the rusticity of the dish. On the flip side the couple of filipino guys I was with loved it. Reminded us of an Oxtail dinuguan

Great writing and thanks for all the follow ups.

3 Likes

Thanks for the additional info @Clayfu, good to know! :slight_smile: It just took us by surprise by how funky it was. I think now that I know what it’s like, I’d give it another try. Thanks.

Nice reporting @Chowseeker1999! The Chicken Adobo would be my go to. Too bad about the bad Lumpia. It sounds and looks like it’d be great. I wish we had more traditional not gussied up Filipino food locally.

1 Like

What part of the area are you in? There’s quite a bit of non-fancy Filipino food in SoCal

1 Like

Miracle-Mile area. We had a mom & pop cafeteria-style Filipino spot on Wilshire where Bushi by Jinya is now. But they’re long gone. :slightly_frowning_face:

Aw dang, that area’s kind of a black hole for me, sorry! That’ll teach me to open my big mouth.

1 Like

No worries. Thanks for tryin’.

In the 80s, my girlfriend and I and another couple went to a filipino place in SF. I was adventurous and ordered the sausage. They played it safe and ordered the pork stew.

I got hot dogs. They got blood.

2 Likes

What’s that supposed to mean ?

Dinuguan was on the menu as “pork stew.” I guess they were trying to make it more accessible.

3 Likes

I lost this in all the news this week, but this is such a bummer.

2 Likes