In recent years, we’ve seen Filipino cuisine move out of humble house setting, and out into the upper rim of the culinary scene. From warm and homely broths and meaty, hearty dishes being shared with the family, to the upbeat and fast-paced world of commercial dining, our sinigangs and adobos have allowed themselves to be a canvas of creativity for this generations’ host of chefs. And there’s a new addition to the line-up along with the likes of Abe’s, Mesa Filipino Moderne and Serye Bistro. As the southern border of the Metro graces its evening dinner tables with the fresh and exciting, it also houses the unique twist in Philippine cuisine that is LASA Bistro, in Commerce Center Alabang.
Upon entry, a gentle, appetizing scent of soy sauce and vinegar will present itself, reminding one of crispy pata being dipped and crunched away. Look up and you’ll see dark wooden framing as colorful panels and lime green lanterns line the ceilings, bringing a fun fiesta feel of the humble bahay kubo to the restaurant.
Those brightly lit steps seem to lead to a second dining area with a wide window allowing view to the rest of the area. Bamboo lined the walls, bringing height and depth to the round white lanterns and dark wooden panels above. All of it’s enclosed in the clean lines made by the golden cream and white walls. Everything feels like an appropriate representation of what the chef has to offer: tradition in a world of contradiction. And somehow, it totally works.
Also, gotta take a moment to say that the staff is attentive and quite knowledgeable about their offerings. They’re more than willing to answer any questions, and are perfectly comfortable speaking in either Filipino or English. So if you’re visiting the country, that’s a plus. You could, however, play a game of spot-the-tired-waiter, where there are few, brief moments when servers would have that look of “I just wanna get home” on their faces. But it’s easily swiped away, just before they move on to their next task. Bravo for them.
Puto and Strawberry Butter (complimentary)
The boyfriend and I went here for our anniversary dinner. The meal began with a small batch of complimentary puto (Philippine rice cakes), with a bit of their specialty flavored butter. They switch it up every now and then, but when we were there, they served up some strawberry butter. On other days, they put aligue (crab fat) butter on the table. The puto is, other than a unique alternative to complimentary bread, a bit more dense and moist than some of the usual ones, almost like Puto Calasiao. My favorite.
Gambas Al Ajillo (369PHP)
Gambas usually comes on a sizzling plate with a freshly cracked egg, and a puddle of chili garlic sauce. LASA’s gambas offering is more like Shrimp Scampi, with prawns in garlic butter and olive oil. Light, fresh, and flavorful are definitely the right combination of words to best describe this little number. We liked it so much that we decided to keep the sauce it was sauteed in, for the rest of the dinner.
If there are any flaws to mention, it’s that it’s the second-most expensive thing we ordered. Granted, it is seafood, but the shrimp is hardly anything as special as tiger prawns. Definitely a great appetizer that we still would order again for someone else to try, but it is merely an appetizer. And if you compare it to the rest of the main dishes on the menu, it’s pricier than a good lot of them. (3.5/5)
Sinigang na Lechong Kawali (380PHP)
We Filipinos absolutely love our warm broths, as much as we love sour food. Without a doubt, sinigang na baboy sa sampalok is the king of the sour broth category. LASA takes it up a notch by combining the second best thing to pork in sour broth–crispy, deep fried pork belly. Served in a double-top lacquered palayok (clay pot) to keep the heat of the broth throughout the course of the meal.
The broth is deliciously sour, exactly how we love it. Despite being pork broth, it isn’t at all sickeningly fatty, but perfectly bright and flavorful. All the vegetables are cooked perfectly well–kangkong, sitaw, aubergines, and even the radish doesn’t betray with a bitter bite. The pork itself is tender, and amazingly retains a crunch despite being drenched. Again, LASA shows its faithfulness to the tatak Pinoy, with the minor tweaks here-and-there come only to enhance classic flavors. This dish is definitely a new favorite.
Complaints? Only that we couldn’t get enough of it. The sinigang is good for two people, except if you’re a heavy eater, then you could definitely take this on your own. No big issue on the portion size, but take it as a soup, and order something else to eat with it. Still, 5/5.
Adobong Batangas (300PHP; off-menu)
What is Filipino cuisine without the famed adobo? My boyfriend is a self-proclaimed adobo-gobbling monster, himself. And seeing that LASA didn’t have any adobo offering on the menu, he absolutely had to ask. And we were offered something else: Adobong Batangas, which uses achuete instead of soy sauce, and a kind of vinegar that finds its roots in Batangas. We’ve never had anything like it, so we just had to give it a try.
Definitely not what you expect to see when you say adobo, but we were promised a unique twist on things. From what I understand, there is in fact an existing Adobong Batangas, just not the one Manilenyos like myself are used to. Like all classic Filipino dishes, we take the flavor profile and modify it by each region’s homegrown goods. After all, if sinigang can be made with tamarind, guava, miso, and what have you, then you can definitely take an adobo and use achuete, right?
Adobong Batangas is the happy in-between of a pork adobo and a beef kare–kare. You absolutely cannot deny that achuete taste, and how well it comes in with garlic. The sour tones that you expect to have in an adobo aren’t so pronounced, even with a squeeze of lemon. But the beef is fork tender and breaks apart so gently, that you could already imagine how soft it’ll be in your mouth just by looking at it.
The vibrant presentation of the achuete red, lemon yellow, and plated greens match perfectly with the ambiance of LASA Bistro, and it’s a dish that embodies this unique and bold dining experience that stays true to its roots. (4/5)
Bagoong Rice (235PHP)
Now what kind of meal would you expect a Filipino to have without rice?
With all those lovely dishes, we had this star on the center of the plate. LASA offers a variety of rice preparations that they serve in big, beautiful portions, including Chorizo rice and Tinapa rice, and the usual garlic rice and plain white which both can be taken as a solo order.
Their Bagoong rice definitely looks like a fiesta on a plate with multi-colored nachos scattered about. The rice itself is packed with that crab and shrimp flavor–exactly what you expect from a good bagoong alamang–but without the extreme saltiness or pungent fishy odor that usually comes as a downside. The rice is clean of the bad stuff, and is loaded with nothing else but good flavor, even with some visible strands of beef in the mix to give it a meatier body. Bagoong‘s natural best friend, the unripened mango, joins this piece in thin slices to provide a bit of bite and to retract from the slight greasiness with its sour taste. (4/5)
Ripe Mango Shake (99PHP)
I do love the taste of summer, and mangoes are my absolute favorite. This shake, however, is a bit bland and disappointing. I’m quietly hoping that it’s just an issue of seasonality, since I did order this during the height of typhoon season.
I’m not putting a score on this one. (?/5)
However new, LASA Bistro should be a strong contender in the Philippine restauranteur business. It is a good place for any meal, at any time of the day. And whether you’re a local wanting a bit of a twist in the cuisine, or a visitor hoping to make an acquaintance with our food here, then this is a great place to start. With a budget of 500-800PHP per person, the dining experience you’ll have is definitely worth the price.
I’d have to say, this restaurant gets a 4/5 from me.