A look at Chicago’s only Filipino tasting menu restaurant in Kasama

Ahead of the opening last year, Tim Flores and Genie Kwon wondered if the restaurant that would become Kasama would include a gastronomic aspect. Both partners were concerned about accessibility, especially for those who are not used to fancy dishes and elaborate tasting menus. This includes their Filipino and Korean families, two cultures that gourmet chefs often draw inspiration from, but rarely focus on entire tasting menus.

Flores, originally from Chicago, never dreamed that he would have the opportunity to cook the food he grew up with in this setting – he envisioned a modern Filipino tasting menu in a city where such a restaurant did not exist. not. That changes Thursday as Kasama officially unveils a tasting menu featuring kare-kare, pancit and lumpia and ingredients like foie gras and wagyu A5. This makes Kasama the only Filipino tasting menu restaurant in Chicago, and among a select few in America (Bad Saint in DC and Archipelago in Seattle are two that come to mind).

Dinner at Kasama is already a hot ticket with reservations nearing completion in December following Wednesday’s announcement.

Talaba (kusshi, green mango and mezcal.

The wife and husband team opened Kasama in July 2020 as a casual morning French bakery with croissants, unique eclair-shaped danishes, and baked goods with ube and other unique toppings. A lunch and early-evening menu would include Philippine barbecue platters to be enjoyed on a patio – the couple didn’t offer an indoor meal until this fall due to COVID-19 concerns. As people searched for comfort food during the pandemic, the restaurant gained popularity. Last week he was appointed to List of Eater’s best new restaurants, and previously the New York Times placed it on his List of America’s Favorite Restaurants. There’s even a 37-minute documentary, No place like Kasama, which aired for the DOC NYC Festival. Neighbors from the Ukrainian village flocked to support the restaurant, while other members of the Fil-Am community from across the city and suburbs planned to make a pilgrimage to one of the country’s best-known restaurants.

But as the pandemic lingered, concerns about health and staff retention also arose. Over the past year, the service sector’s workforce has grown, demanding higher wages and more benefits from a sector reluctant to change. Restaurants like Kasama have had to evolve by offering better wages. With that in mind, Flores and Kwon revived the idea of ​​a tasting menu as a way to limit the flow of customers (and possible exposure to COVID-19). They could then charge higher prices and pay workers more, like Deputy Chief John Lupton. Flores would also have the stage to cook the food that her mother, Lolita, would prepare for her family.

“The idea is to try to get people to look at Filipino food in a different way,” says Flores.

Tim Flores says he can’t believe how unfinished Kasama was when he opened compared to now.

Chef Tim Flores and his team work at the Kasama kitchen during a preview service.

The chef says he feels responsible for inspiring the other Pinoy chefs and also feels pressure to keep the momentum of the acclaimed day operation going, Flores jokes that if the dinner service fails, he imagine smug internet trolls disguised as critics telling them they should have just stuck to pastries and longganisa.

The initial menu consists of 13 lucky dishes (Flores’ birthday falls on November 13 and her father’s home address in the Philippines was 13 Barretto Street) and food and wine pairings created by sommelier Oriole Aaron McManus. The selections are meant to satisfy both food lovers, those who have visited Michelin starred establishments like Oriole – where Kwon and Flores have worked.

The painting on the left is of chef Kimski Won Kim whose art is from restaurants like Bixi Beer and Wazwan.

People who frequent Michelin circuit restaurants will see familiar ingredients used in different ways: caviar in lace and kinilaw – a cold Filipino seafood dish similar to ceviche. A5 wagyu feeds the nilago, a dish with cabbage and short grain sushi rice. Wagyu reappears as bistek, a classic Filipino dish. Flores says most countries have a beef and onion version. Calamansi juice enhances its dish.

For diners familiar with Filipino cuisine, Flores also wants to satisfy them, but he also wants to challenge their perceptions. He mentions the pancit dish: it’s made with squid, squid ink, and canned scallops – the recipe is inspired by his mother. Flores says some people may be put off by using Spanish preserves, but points out that the Spanish colonized the Philippines. This gives him the right to cook as he pleases: “I’ll take what I want if you take what you want,” says Flores.

Kwon is a pastry master and has worked early in the morning – with the help of baker Martha Lemus – to make sure Kasama’s products are ready for the breakfast crowds. Her days will lengthen thanks to the evening service and she plans three desserts including black truffle croissants. She doesn’t need to be reminded that croissants are not Filipino. For those who protest, halo-halo ends the meal. The iconic Filipino dessert was easier to dress up for fine dining than some might think.

“Fortunately, it’s just a heap on a plate,” Kwon said, adding with a laugh, “It’s authentic. “

Halo-Halo with Asian pear granita, pandan and flan de leche from Tita Lolly.

For many, the gateway to Filipino cuisine is lumpia, and Kasama’s tasting menu will feature two versions: a deep-fried Shanghai version and a fresh version served with an oyster (talaba) that uses spring roll wrappers. Vietnamese. Flores is prepared for critics who will say lumpia is a humble street food and has nothing to do with a tasting menu.

“We will always fight this battle,” he said. “People are so upset that it costs a lot, but no one questions a meat ravioli. What is the difference? They are both wrapped things.

Bar manager Josh Daws moved from Charleston, South Carolina with his partner, General Manager Kara Czaplicki, to work at Kasama. Czaplicki will oversee a dining room that has been altered to look less like a cafe at night. They will accommodate 18-24 people with a maximum group size of six in a space that has undergone modifications. Flores remembers when the benches were nothing but covered plywood; they have since been topped with cushions. A friend donated a painting by Chef Kimski Won Kim. They added plants to give the space a warmer atmosphere. Flores knows that lovers of fine dining have high expectations, and when he charges $ 185 per person, he wants to deliver. Afternoon service will now be interrupted at 2 p.m. with baked goods available until 4 p.m.

“We absolutely wanted two distinctly distinct concepts,” Kwon said. “And so far, I think we’ve been able to do it, or we have started to do it.”

Kasama, 1001 N. Winchester Avenue, open for dinner Thursday through Sunday; dinner $ 185 per person, food and wine pairings $ 95, reservations via Resy. COVID-19 vaccines or negative test required for adults within 48 hours of eating.

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