When Chad and Chase Valencia popped up around town with their Filipino cuisine eatery, Lasa, in 2015, the response was enthusiastic.
Landing in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza, as a part of Chef Alvin Cailan’s incubator kitchen, the brothers staged the final pop-up that propelled them into an ongoing residency.
Named for the Tagalog word for “taste” or “flavor,” Lasa was an elevated tribute to Filipino cuisine. With the ensuing recognition and attention, the restaurant quickly became an enduring star in Downtown’s fine dining scene.
A veteran of Canele and Jessica Koslow’s Sqrl, Chad ran the kitchen and Chase minded the dining room and served as general manager.
Lasa exemplified the vanguard of a new wave of Filipino cooking locally that included Ma’am Sir, Park’s Finest and Sari Sari Store at Grand Central Market. In 2018, Lasa pulled out from the pack when it was named as one of 10 restaurants of the year by Food & Wine Magazine.
However, sadly, due to the pandemic, Lasa held its last service in December.
“The restaurant kept pivoting and pivoting and pivoting and removing itself from what it was, which was more of a chef-driven, seasonal restaurant with a sit-down experience,” Chase explained.
“We took a hiatus at the end of the year. During that time, there was a lot of soul searching as to what would be the next direction. In a nutshell, we just pivoted to a whole new concept.”
Valencia had been conferring and collaborating with his chef de cuisine, Nico de Leon, on a more manageable and accessible concept, focusing on Filipino-style rotisserie.
“This rotisserie idea was something I had been working on with Nico, in the background, for a few years already,” Chase said.
“I thought ‘Hey let’s just give it a shot’ and we went for it.”
Lasita opened in the Lasa space at Far East Plaza as a takeout window in February. At the launch, Chad said he was withdrawing to devote more time to his growing family.
“It was best for his direction. It’s all good,” Chase said.
“We were excited by the response at the takeout window and said, ‘Let’s move forward as Lasita.’”
The operation then shuttered again in early June for an extensive rehab of its interior space. It recently reopened on July 22, with de Leon in charge of the kitchen and Chase hosting and managing the operation.
With a new, bright and sparkling dining room designed by Preen and a vibrant abstract, painted panels by local artist Teebs, Lasita is seeking to reposition itself in the new post-pandemic landscape as the elegantly casual and vibrant offspring of its slightly more formal, now quiet parent Lasa.
The hours at Lasita are limited to 5 to 10 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
The menu at Lasita is intentionally simple with a direct focus on the rotisserie: chicken inasal (half $14/whole $28) and the pork belly lechon (half pound $9.50/full pound $19). Both dishes are served with toyomansi dipping sauce, a combination of soy and calamansi (lime), as well as a vinegar-based garlic mojo sauce.
The chicken is marinated overnight in coconut vinegar and calamansi juice spiked with lemongrass, ginger and Thai chilis. Once rolling on the rotisserie, the chicken is basted with a spiced mixture of butter and annatto seed oil. The lechon is like a Roman porchetta using a seasoned skin-on pork belly slab rolled tightly, trussed and stuffed with a blend of lemongrass, ginger, garlic cloves and red onion.
There are also plate specials: Quarter or half chicken plates with pickled vegetable atchara and chicken fat rice ($12/$18); a half-pound lechon plate with garlic rice ($14.50); and a vegetarian pancit kang kong ($14) with yakisoba noodles, water spinach, oyster mushrooms, garlic calamansi and chili crunch.
There are three sandwiches all served on fresh ciabatta from local Bub and Grandma’s Bread: chicken ina’sando” ($13) with chilled chicken inasal, shaved cucumbers, lettuce shred, chicken skin chicharron and garlic aioli; lechonsita sando ($14) with pork belly lechon, red onions, a charred scallion and cilantro salsa verde; and a vegansita sando ($12) with the same prep as the lechonsita, but with sautéed mushrooms swapped in for the pork belly. There are more sides as well, including long beans ($4.50); eggplant ($4.50); cauliflower inasal ($5); smashed cucumbers ($4.50); and a wedge salad ($5.50) with a coconut green goddess dressing.
There are four tempting snacks on the menu, all priced at $6: adobo marinated olives, smoked eggplant crostinis, spicy cashews and housemade shrimp chips. These might be best considered when perusing the drink menu and the accompanying wine list for the Lasita bottle shop.
Chase serves as beverage director and his list for Lasita’s bottle shop is far more extensive than the food menu. It features a diverse and creative international selection of natural wines, each bottle priced for on-site consumption or takeout.
It includes a section of 21 macerated white skin-contact, natural orange wines as well as seven chilled reds. “These wines really find a nice harmony with the food that we’re serving and (they’re) still fun,” Chase noted.
By the glass, the wine selection is limited to single labels for red, white and rosé and two for the macerated white variety, all priced between $13 to $15 a glass.
There are also five craft ciders, including one from LA-based 101 Cider House ($20). Four bottled beers are offered, including the Pinoy standards San Miguel lager ($6) and Red Horse malt ($7) and two from Mexico: Tiniebla wheat beer from Ensenada; and Piedra Lisa, session IPA from Colima ($7).
The tight, mindful curation behind the wine and beverage lists reflects the care and attention that goes into the food. While Chase and de Leon successfully leveraged the same elements at Lasa, with Lasita there’s an implicit, accessible informality that encourages languishing in the placid dining room with a glass of wine, basking in a haze of summer lassitude, tinged with the aroma of roast pork.
“As an operator I really enjoy seeing guests more often,” Chase said. “With Lasita, from the takeout window, it really solidified that feeling I had. I was seeing guests every other week now and that kind of frequency was exciting for me. It was really inspiring and motivating for me, to say the least.”
Suffice it to say, there’s a mastery here that has been well tested.
“I didn’t want to sacrifice my ability to showcase and to share my culture and my cuisine. I was just trying to figure how I do that and felt with Lasita we really hit that mark,” Chase said.