LASA: Rescuing Filipino Cooking from the Doldrums

 Chad and Chase Valencia of LASA Restaurant Project (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

Chad and Chase Valencia of LASA Restaurant Project (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

On Santa Monica Boulevard the newest restaurant has a sign as large as its tall windows. “CHINESE FOOD” beckons with bold letters. That boring name would have exhibited marketing brilliance if the address crossed the screen when Googling “Chinese food West Los Angeles,” but Hop Li bought that nod.  The underlying message was all Chinese food is alike; just tell me where I can get a box of chop suey. 

At least Chinese fare can claim variations of dim sum worthy of a tux and tiara. Filipino food has a greater risk of becoming sucked into the flotsam of generic adobo, pancit and lumpia fully tanned from hours in their shiny tin tubs under heat lamps.  That inglorious fate may be dodged if a trend led by brothers Chase and Chad Valencia at their LASA pop-up restaurant catches hold.

First Reserved, First Served

On May 20, 2015, a Los Angeles Magazine blog posed the question: “Is 2015 the Year of Filipino Food in Los Angeles?” The article mentions LASA as a refreshing example of what the Chef Chad and Chase, the restaurant’s general manager, termed “new wave Filipino cuisine.”

LASA’s co-owners host a dinner each month at Elysian, a private venue located at 2800 Clearwater Street in Atwater Village.  Interested diners sign onto the mailing list at this website and reserve tables as soon as an alert goes out. Elysian seats a little over 100 guests, and LASA has consistently filled every table since its doors opened in 2013. Upcoming 2015 dates are June 27th and July 31st. 

  "Pancit"  egg noodles,  calamansi  butter, scallions, chives and  patis- cured egg yolk (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

"Pancit" egg noodles, calamansi butter, scallions, chives and patis-cured egg yolk (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

Chef Chad, age 29, specializes in Filipino food but not by the conventional definition.  When referring to the menu he and Chase invent near the end of each month, Chad says, “We are not cooking traditional Filipino food. Our food differs through our lens of California seasonality, or bicultural upbringing as Filipino Americans, presentation and most importantly, our technique.”

After completing culinary school, Chad spent the next five years learning on the job at two Los Angeles institutions of California French cuisine starting with Canelé and later Sqirl. In between those gigs, Chad sought the mentoring of Chef Brett Emerson of Contigo in San Francisco to grasp the link between California Spanish and his Filipino style. Back home in Los Angeles, Chad credits Sqirl Chef Jessica Koslow, its Pastry Chef, Meadow Ramsey, and WILD’s Ria and Matt Wilson with giving him and his brother the confidence and competence to launch LASA. 

Chase, 31, worked his way up from busboy to assistant manager of Owen’s Bistro in Chino.  He and Chad have fond memories of bussing tables and serving at Sqirl before going into business together.  When he’s not planning the next LASA dinner, Chase is a server at Forage in Silverlake, and Chad assists in the kitchen at other Elysian events. 

 Beef tartare, salt and vinegar taro chips, and marinated egg yolk (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

Beef tartare, salt and vinegar taro chips, and marinated egg yolk (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

The name “Lasa” has no connection to Lhasa, the utopian Shangri-La of Tibet, though some customers leave with a youthful spring in their step. It was Chase’s invention. “I noticed that the Tagalog word lasa for taste or flavor has a similar meaning to the more commonly used sabor in Spanish. Lasa was a word often used in our household because in Filipino culture, food is everything. Since food was the centerpiece of a family gathering, taste or flavor had a great influence not only on someone’s opinion of a certain dish but on her overall experience at the party.” 

Meaningful Food

Northeast Los Angeles offers Chad a natural environment to sharpen his techniques. “The customer base is aware of good produce, seasonality and clean flavors,” Chad observes. “These are foods we, ourselves, enjoy eating and can fit into our medley of ingredients.  The area has a sensibility that isn’t yet fully explored.” 

Chad and Chase were initiated into Filipino cooking by their parents, Romualdo Valencia from Minalin and Priscilla Valencia from San Fernando in the Pampanga province of the Philippines.  

 Red grouper and Manila clams, braised  daikon,  tamarind  dashi,  baby  tatsoi,  and Fresno chili (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

Red grouper and Manila clams, braised daikon, tamarind dashi, baby tatsoi, and Fresno chili (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

Chase explains, “Kapampangan cuisine is varied because of the influence from Chinese, Spanish, Malay and Mexican dishes and techniques in addition to our indigenous ingredients and cooking. Kare-kare (stew) and sisig (meat or fish hash) are believed to have originated in Pampanga. Then we have dishes such as fermented crabs, stuffed frog legs, sautéed crickets and water buffalo tocino (cured meat) which I’ve experienced only in Pampanga.  The flavors are sour, savory and sweet. There aren’t many spicy dishes in our cuisine.”

LASA’s popular San Miguel Steamed Manila Clams with Longanisa conveys the brothers’ ability to unite distant regions on a plate. “It was one of the first dishes ever created at LASA,” Chase says. ”It’s very Spanish with chorizo joined with Manila clams and San Miguel Beer.”

 Soy-vinegar braised octopus, coconut oil confit kamote, chicories, and black garlic & cilantro vin (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

Soy-vinegar braised octopus, coconut oil confit kamote, chicories, and black garlic & cilantro vin (Photo courtesy of LASA Restaurant Project)

A Crusade with Profit Potential

Chad and Chase view their pop-up as one step on their journey to owning a full restaurant.  “We’re two hardworking and passionate brothers who want to elevate Filipino cuisine, make delicious food and create a sense of community. We’re just not in the position to do this on our own and need to seek support to make this dream happen,” Chase laments.   

LASA might be the ultimate adventure for newly minted millionaires searching for the place to park their Apple stock windfall. With two years of past success, an investment in the Valencia brothers may be a safe risk and will definitely yield a better return than the other idea for a restaurant: “FILIPINO FOOD.”

Click here for LASA's San Miguel Steamed Manila Clams


 Anthony Maddela

Anthony Maddela

Anthony Maddela is a regular contributor to Positively Filipino when he’s not working on fiction or writing grants for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. He has a family of four.  


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