Brothers Chad and Chase Valencia aren't doing offal-laden, blood enhanced dishes such the stew dinuguan or liver-seasoned caldereta or pinacbet, which requires bagoong (shrimp paste) and bitter melon.
You might not even recognize their food as Filipino, because they are freeing up traditional concepts in favor of new ideas that please rather than scare off the uninitiated.
Take the sour soup sinigang (above). LASA’s version isn’t soured with the usual tamarind but with rhubarb from the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Rather than filling the bowl, the soup is more like a sauce for grilled octopus, accented with braised daikon, sliced pickled Fresno chiles, mustard greens and a few grains of crisp, puffy white rice. Additional rhubarb goes into a sparkling soda to sip with dinner.
It may be one more step toward a permanent restaurant for Chad, the executive chef, and Chase, the general manager. That's Chad in the photo above.
They already have earned a following from dinners they’ve been staging locally. When Chef Alvin Cailan opened Unit 120 in January as a restaurant “incubator,” they were ready to step in. Cailan, founder of Eggslut in the Grand Central Market, is also Filipino-American.
LASA’s four-course menu changes every four to five weeks and offers vegetarian options. The sinigang dinner started with crisp pork chicharron on a mung bean and yogurt dip with a dusting of powdered red chile and annatto.
Knobby kohlrabi underwent a Cinderella like transformation into a cake seared in brown butter and set on its own greens, cooked in coconut milk (above). This is an adaptation of Filipino laing—taro leaves cooked in coconut milk. Pairing the warm seared cake with the coolly flavored greens was inspired.
The dessert, avocado semifreddo (above), might have been outside the average comfort zone. In Southeast Asia, avocado as a sweet is not a novelty. A home economics text from the 50s that I picked up in Manila includes recipes for avocado ice cream and a frozen avocado creme to serve in sherbet glasses with meat or as a dessert.
Before you say yuck, thinking of sweetened guacamole, you would have to taste LASA’s delicate semifreddo, which merely hints at avocado rather than shouting “yes, you are eating avocado for dessert.” It helps that the pale green semifreddo is almost buried under snowy milk granita and crumbs of pistachio polvoron--three different textures and temperatures.
Otherwise, Unit 120 is totally bare, no art on the wall, no cozy cushions. Its only decoration, at least for now, is a view of the kitchen through a large window (top photo). To read more about the Valencias and for updates on their LASA menus, check their website.