It’s easy to find Filipino pop-ups dinners especially since they are lots of them through the culinary kitchen – restaurant hub, Unit 120, in Chinatown, Los Angeles. A month ago, I was fortunate to catch one called Cubiertos by Lord Maynard Llera. A Filipino, Chef Llera is currently a Sous Chef at Bestia where he works under Chef Ori Menashe, a 2014 and 2015 Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef honoree. Prior to his current kitchen, Chef Llera honed his culinary skills around the world. It was a real treat to see and taste how Chef Llera reinterpreted Filipino food with the culinary techniques that he acquired through the years. I anticipated that his interpretation of the Philippine cuisine would be good, but I found extraordinary.
The first course was Kinilaw; a ceviche dish of the Philippine cuisine. It was prepared with pearl-sized cuts of Ono Fish; a Mackerel, which was then lightly coated with a coconut creme curry and some Sili Labuyo (a Philippine version of a Thai chili). Each bite was a popcorn burst of coconut curry flavor. This course was also accompanied with a Guacamole with Sweet Potatoes and Plantain Chips.
The second course was my favorite dish of the evening, the Dinuguan Longganisa. I had a preview of this dish on Chef Llera’s Instagram page so I knew that this dish will be on his pop-up dinner menu. For those of you who don’t know what Dinuguan is, it’s a traditional Filipino dish prepared with pork meat and pig parts stewed in ample amounts of vinegar, ginger, and fresh pork blood that gives it a dark, velvety color. Longaniza is the Filipino-version of the Spanish Chorizo, but prepared sweeter than spicy. Unlike it’s Spanish counterpart, Longaniza can be made with various types of meats. Chef Llera version was basically a Spanish Morcilla (Blood Sausage) that tastes like Dinuguan. It tasted like it was roasted. At the table, it was served with a Frisee Salad tossed in a light vinaigrette dressing made with Patis, a Filipino fish sauce. Lucky for me, my friend @pleasurepalate told me to eat the last few pieces left on the plate.
The Pancit Palabok, a Filipino noodle dish, was Chef Llera’s third course. What he did was totally different from the traditional Philippine version. His was actually a very lustful Uni Pasta with the basic toppings of the Pancit Palabok. There were bean sprouts, some dehydrated pork for the savory component and a little dried fish for an added seafood flavor. The herbs of mint and basil rounded this noodle dish.
The fourth course from the pop-up dinner menu was a slow braised, Lamb Rib Humba. This dish was my second favorite dish of the evening. Traditionally, Humba is usually prepared with pork hocks or a pork belly. It has all of the ingredients of adobo, but with the addition of sugar and sometimes banana blossoms. I have never had a Humba dish made with lamb before and loved what Chef Llera has done with his version. It’s an amazing contrast to taste how the strong, gamey flavors of the lamb seemingly stews nicely with soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar, The sauce was extremely rich and the meat fell off the bone. A polenta made with Filipino cheese and wok-tossed Chinese Long Beans were a perfect pairing with the Lamb Humba.
The last and final course of the evening was dessert, a Pandan-flavored Panna Cotta with a mango coulis and a coconut Latik. It was all in good humor when the desserts were delivered to each table packaged with a banana leaf string tied around a plastic spoon. In a sense, Chef Llera reminded us of how Filipino desserts are cleverly packaged with banana leaves.
The Filipino pop-up dinner, Cubiertos by Chef Lord Maynard Llera, was a fun dining experience. I truly enjoyed every moment. The exceptional fine dining service and the energy from his Bestia staff who helped him along the way was infectious. I’ve attended quite a few Filipino pop-up dinners in the past two years around the LA area and I must say that this dinner was one of the best that I’ve had. Chef Llera’s showmanship and culinary techniques in Italian and French cookery were encapsulated into his version of Filipino dishes. I was quick to notice this, which is why I really enjoyed his take on Filipino food.
It’s unfortunate that Filipino pop-up dinners like Chef Lord Llera and other Filipino chefs are a limited engagement thing at Unit 120 in Los Angeles. However, one can hope he has another pop-up again in the future.
727 North Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Limited beer and wine menu. Metered street parking, parking lots, and underground parking available. Filipino pop-up dinner reservations require advanced payment for the meal only.