Country 017 – Philippines (Lamesa Filipino Kitchen)

lamesa1
Location
: 669 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lamesafilipinokitchen.com/

I was really looking forward to trying Lamesa — specifically, I was looking forward to trying their take on sisig, a dish that looked especially compelling on the Philippines episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show.

I came at brunch, and sadly, despite its presence on their website’s menu, the sisig was M.I.A. — apparently there’s a new chef in the kitchen, so I’m guessing what’s on their website and what’s in the restaurant might not match up for the next little while.

I ordered the Silog breakfast instead, which comes with your choice of boneless bangus (also known as milkfish), pork belly tocino (which the waiter described as their take on back bacon), or pork longanisa (a sausage), along with cassava hash, fried eggs, garlic rice, and salad.

I went with the fish, which had been fried, giving it a nice crispy exterior — but either this type of fish just naturally lacks any type of moisture, or it was way overcooked.  I’m going to guess the latter.

It had an overt (though not at all unpleasant) fishy flavour, but was puckeringly salty and unpleasantly dry.  Without the runny yolk to lubricate things it would have been nigh-inedible, but combined with the perfectly-cooked eggs, it wasn’t bad.

The cassava hash (which was also fried, and which lacked anything even remotely resembling any hash-like properties) was fine — nice and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside — but I wish they had taken some of the salt out of the fish and put it here instead.  If it had been seasoned at all, you couldn’t taste it.  It was exceptionally bland, though the tangy house-made ketchup certainly helped.

The salad was the standard boxed mixed greens with a basic vinaigrette that you can find at so many restaurants; fine, but nothing to see here.  Move along.

I feel like I’m being overly negative; nothing here was particularly great, but nothing was outright bad, either.  Certainly, I had no problem cleaning my plate.  So I’ll end on a high note.  The garlic rice — fragrant with garlic that’s right on the verge of being burnt — was an intense flavour-bomb, and easily the highlight of the meal.  The garlicky taste from that rice lingered on my palate for the rest of the day, but it was totally worth it.  I’d be tempted to come back just for that.

Lamesa - the outside Lamesa - the restaurant Lamesa - the Silog breakfast

Advertisement

Country 015 – Taiwan (Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine)

mama
Location
: 324 Highway 7 East, Richmond Hill
Website: http://www.mamabeartaiwanesecuisine.ca

Unlike most of the countries I’ve written about so far for this blog, I’ve actually been to Taiwan.  While I was there, one of the dishes I was looking forward to trying was minced pork rice.  But when I got to the restaurant, it was packed, there was a surly-looking man behind the counter and a total lack of any pictures for me to point to.  I wound up loitering for a couple of minutes before finally losing my nerve and leaving sad and pork-and-rice-less.   Yes, trying to order food when you don’t speak a word of the language can be a challenge.

And now I’m sad all over again, because the version of this dish at Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine was pretty damn good — so I can only imagine how good the real deal in Taiwan must have been.

It doesn’t look like much, but with a surfeit of tender, perfectly cooked fatty pork in a richly flavourful, sweet sauce (served on a heaping mound of rice), it’s easy enough to see why it’s such a treasured dish in Taiwan.

We also ordered the Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken, which was crispy, juicy and well seasoned, and easily on par with the fried chicken I had in that country.

The oyster omelette, sadly, was like it came from a different kitchen altogether.

This was another dish that I tried in Taiwan, and the one I had there was almost transcendentally good, with super fresh, perfectly cooked oysters melding with the eggs in a way that was downright magical.   Those eggs, which were lightly crispy on the outside (thanks to a judicious amount of starch mixed in) and soft and creamy on the inside, were among the best I’ve ever had. Served with some sweet sauce on the side to cut the briny richness of the oysters and the eggs, it was pretty much perfect.

I knew this omelette wasn’t going to be as good as that one, but man was it bad.

More starch than egg, the omelette was chewy, gummy, and crammed with overcooked oysters that tasted fishy and canned. And it was absolutely doused in a gloppy sauce — though in this case, the abundance of sauce was probably necessary to disguise the off taste of those oysters.

Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - the restaurant Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - minced pork rice Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - popcorn chicken Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - Oyster Omelette

Country 003 – Cuba (La Cubana)

cubana
Location392 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lacubana.ca/

I wasn’t even sure if I was going to write about La Cubana — it feels more trendy than authentic, but I’ve got 196 countries to get through, so I’ve got to take ’em where I can get ’em.

I started with the Corn Frituras, which are kind of like hush puppies, only way lighter and fluffier.  Dipped in the perfectly tangy sauce that came on the side, they were addictive and amazing.  I could eat about a million of them.

One of the reasons I wanted to check this place out was the episode of You Gotta Eat Here that featured La Cubana.  In particular, the Medianoche, which comes with braised short rib, looked quite enticing.

Apparently the brunch Medianoche is completely different, because I got a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top.  I googled it, and it seems like this is a more authentic version of this dish (sans the fried egg).  I probably wouldn’t have ordered it if I had known, because I’m not a huge fan of ham and cheese, but yay for authenticity I guess?

Anyway, it was a fine ham and cheese sandwich; there just wasn’t anything particularly interesting about it.  My biggest issue was the bun, which was unpleasantly dense, and honestly just got in the way.  The sandwich was also a huge, greasy mess, so after a couple of bites I tossed the top half of the bun and ate the rest of the sandwich with a fork and knife.

The sandwich comes with rice and beans, red cabbage slaw, and tostones.  Rice and beans has a tendency to be a bit dry, but not this version. It’s definitely above average.  The slaw was kind of like a much more subtle sauerkraut — also tasty.  The tostones (essentially a mashed and fried plantain) had a pretty good flavour, but had the approximate texture of rubber cement that’s just about to harden. I’ve never had tostones before, but I’m going to assume something went wrong there.

La Cubana - Corn Frituras La Cubana - the brunch medianoche

Country 002 — Colombia (Las Delicias)

delicias
Location: 59 Dundas Street West, Mississauga
Website: None

Hidden away in a sketchy little plaza in Mississauga, Las Delicias is pretty much the very definition of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

The friendly proprietor quickly sussed out that it was my first time in the restaurant — and my first time eating Colombian food, period.  She recommended the Bandeja Paisa, a decadent smorgasbord that pretty much dares you to finish it (I did).

Clockwise on the picture above, starting at 12:00 – a fried egg, Colombian sausage, fried plantain, crispy pork belly, corn biscuit, and steak, all served atop white rice and beans, with an addictively spicy bowl of hot sauce served on the side.

Nothing here was particularly great — in fact, I suspect that almost all of it is probably better served elsewhere.  The pork belly was tough, and bordering on leathery.  The corn biscuit was almost rock hard. The steak was overcooked and chewy.  The plantain was soggy.

And yet I enjoyed it more than you’d think.  Everything taken together, and topped with that great hot sauce, added up to something surprisingly satisfying.

The sausage — which had an odd, yellow colour on the inside and a unique texture — was a highlight.  And it’s hard to mess up a fried egg.  The beans, too, were quite good — kind of like a less dense refried beans.

I was disappointed at first, but the dish slowly won me over.  It was a huge amount of food and I cleaned the plate.  Of course, that probably speaks to my gluttony just as much as it does to the quality of the food, but still.  I enjoyed it.

Las Delicias Las Delicias