Despite L.A.'s sizable Filipino community, the city hasn't been home to nearly as much experimentation with Filipino cuisine as it has to next-generation Korean and Mexican food. L.A.'s Filipino restaurants serve comfort food that typically centers on a rainbow of braises, which are often vinegar- or calamansi-based.
Brothers Chad and Chase Valencia are among the handful of chefs and restaurateurs determined to expand Filipino cooking in L.A. At their January dinner, a soy-and-vinegar-braised octopus — a nod to adobo (a stew made with soy sauce, vinegar and garlic) — was slow-cooked for two and a half hours, seared to a slight crisp upon order and plated as a tender tentacle atop black garlic, coconut oil confit kamote, chicories and a splash of cilantro vin. Of the four à la carte dishes offered at a LASA dinner hosted earlier this year at event venue Elysian, it was the first to sell out.
The most recent installment of the series of LASA dinners at Elysian was booked solid, and the next dinner will be April 24. The dinner series continues until October.
Expect a range of snacks, small plates, mains and sweets including kamote chips, pancit egg noodles with fish-sauce-cured yolk, crispy pig ears, beef tartare with salt and vinegar taro chips, steamed Manila clams and Santa Barbara ridgeback shrimp with house-made longanisa, and coconut pan de sal bread pudding. Chad Valencia will also bring back the soy-and-vinegar-braised octopus as a main.
The Valencia brothers' style of cooking is true to their upbringing as second-generation Filipino Americans with a Pampanga ancestry. (Pampanga is a province of the Philippines known as the country's culinary capital.) “I hate the word 'fusion,'” says Chad. “I like to think that I’m a California chef pursuing Filipino food. I take a lot of pride in that.”
In Tagalog, “lasa” can mean either “flavor” or “taste.” “Depending how 'lasa' is used in a sentence, the meaning or feeling of the word can change,” says Chase, who understands conversational Kapampangan (the language of Pampanga) as well. “I then thought about how powerful that change can be. A light bulb turned on and I fell deep into a rabbit hole of ideas and memories. 'Lasa' was a word often used in our household because food is everything in Filipino culture.”
Filipino cooking often highlights acidity grounded by a sweet, salty or earthy ingredient. This could be vinegar or calamansi used with fish sauce (patis). The Valencia brothers have been showcasing these familiar Filipino flavors as filtered through their bicultural upbringing. They also have significant restaurant experience. Chad trained at Le Cordon Bleu and has cooked at farm-to-table restaurants including Canelè, Contigo and Sqirl. Chase's background centers on the service side; he at one point helped manage the logistics of Wolfgang Puck’s catering arm.
“We grew up just eating what we had at home, at family parties and at turo-turo style restaurants,” Chase says. “That's all we knew, what our parents and what our parents' generations were cooking. Now our generation is in the kitchen.”
The brothers launched LASA in August of 2013, and with each iteration their casual, sit-down dinners have grown in scope. The dinners evolved from backyard get-togethers to the current, larger-scale event at Elysian. “It has been a testing ground,” Chad says. “If someone came to us with all the money we needed, we'd [open a restaurant] right now. Until then, we're just going to keep doing pop-ups and keep getting better.”
The Valencias are not the only Los Angeles-area chefs reinterpreting classic Filipino dishes. Last November their friends Ria and Matt Wilson launched Wild, a weekday brunch and lunch service at Canelè with a changing menu that features items like fried chicken pan de sal sandwiches and adobo duck with eggs. Visiting chef A.C. Boral dished longganisa Scotch eggs and maja blanca pancakes under the banner of Rice & Shine at Escala earlier this year. Charles Olalia, chef at mar'sel, helmed Papille's kitchen for a one-night prix-fixe Filipino pop-up dinner last month.
“The food at Wild is different from Rice & Shine, Belly & Snout, Park's Finest, Salo, Filipino Kitchen and so forth,” Chase says. “We all have different ways and interpretations. There is not just one type of Filipino food experience out there.”
The next LASA pop-up takes place Friday, April 24, from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Elysian. Reservations are required.