Filipino cooking has Los Angeles enthralled these days as a handful of L.A. chefs turn their attentions and haute skills to the gastronomy of their heritage. While we’ve long coveted the occasional pork adobo burger at Andre Guerrero’s Oinkster or a towering halo halo dessert at Jollibee’s drive-through, some of the city’s most in demand tables these days are found at Silver Lake’s Maam Sir and Downtown’s RiceBar from former Patina executive chef Charles Olalia and 2018 Food & Wine Best New Restaurant winner LASA in Chinatown, no doubt topped with plates of sea urchin-slathered lumpia, studiously crafted noodles and pork with an audible crackle.
But traffic being what it is today, the locations of a lot of these places are out of the reach of busy Westsiders in L.A. So ENTRÉE was naturally excited to see a Pinoy concept called Kain popping up every Thursday evening in August at the Intercontinental Century City, less than a minute up the street from the nicely remodeled Westfield mall and its triple-decker Eataly location. Having dined at its excellent restaurant, Mari, we took it as a great sign when we were escorted into an adjoining courtyard, wide with green grass that coordinated with the banana leaves propping up our paper menus.
As this charming location worked its magic on us, we eagerly toasted with Calamansi Gin Lemonades, cocktails laced with Filipino herbs and a shifting flavor profile that we swear, at one point, was a dead ringer for butter popcorn Jelly Bellies.
The most flavorful bite of the night was our first, a sisig toast appetizer, covered edge to edge in liver pate and chopped pork belly. This was followed by a soft gnocchi, colored purple by ube, the lifeblood yam of the Philippines.
Saving chef Brian Bellicourt’s equally intriguing chicharrón-crusted sea bass and chicken adobo for another night, our eyes popped out of our heads when a mammoth plate of spaghetti covered in crispy pork skin, pork ragu, soft egg and meaty shrimp the size of skipping stones arrived as an entrée. In addition, we ordered a beautifully cooked beef cheek, supposedly prepared in the style of a meat stew called kaldereta, though it didn’t seem to veer too radically from what we’d expect from most sound beef cheek presentations. Overall, the dishes were comforting, their more clever touches and permissive ingredients accenting, rather than driving or dominating, what were mostly homage to straightforward, good home cooking. Nothing wrong with that.
Nor with the delicate, notable end to the evening arriving in the form of a tiered, flower-speckled calamansi almond sans rival, each layer lightly sweet with just enough tartness to emerge from an irresistible nebula of chewy meringue.
Dusk taking over, strings of light coming to life over the trunks of tall trees, we said goodbye to the enchanting courtyard and its secret glimpses of forgotten Fox Studios murals through the undergrowth, another beautiful night passed with good food and good people. Kain at Mari, August 23 and 30, $55, at Intercontinental Los Angeles Century City, 2151 Avenue of the Stars, Century City, 310-284-6500. http://www.marilosangeles.com/kain-pop-up-restaurant.aspx