One of the city’s best restaurants proudly features the flavors of the Philippines, according to NBC 5's Food Guy Steve Dolinsky.
And as he eats his way through Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Dolinsky explains this local gem is the product of a dedicated husband-and-wife team
It’s a restaurant with two very distinct personalities. Casual during the day, 200 dollar-plus tasting menu at night. But it’s the first restaurant of its kind putting Filipino food on a pedestal, not unlike what Rick Bayless did for Mexican in the eighties, or Arun’s in Albany Park did for Thai food a decade later.
Genie Kwon and Tim Flores worked together in fine dining before creating Kasama in Ukrainian Village, which begins each day as a neighborhood café, albeit one with world-class pastries.
“So when you come in during the daytime you’ll feel a very different vibe when you come in for dinner,” Kwon said.
Her elongated ham and cheese Danish – an Instagram darling – is topped with raclette cheese fondue and shaved Serrano ham. Tart calamansi makes appearances in several drinks, like the Reggie Flores, which also has hibiscus. Then there’s ube – the beloved purple yam.
“Ube and huckleberry Basque cake that we do during the daytime. We also incorporate it in our lattes.”
Filipino breakfasts with rice and two-fisted sandwiches – with or without hashbrowns – contain steamed eggs as well as homemade sausage.
“Both of those feature our housemade sausage, the longaniza. Similar to Spanish chorizo except a little sweeter,” Flores said.
When the sun goes down, the restaurant transforms into a $215 tasting menu with 13 courses. Flores grew up in Cicero on a steady diet of home cooking, but his professional experience led him to this point.
“And that’s why it’s so meaningful for me to put this out and to introduce Filipino food to people who’ve never had it before. With having fine dining experience most of my career, wanting to elevate Filipino food and showing you can pair Filipino food with wine,” he said.
One example: adobo.
“Adobo is essentially the unofficial national dish of the Philippines in a way,” said Flores.
In Flores’ hands, it’s a black maitake mushroom adobo with mussel foam. Same goes for Sinigang, a typical sour soup.
“Then instead of doing a soup we’re making a tamarind beurre blanc; we throw some smoked trout roe in there and then it gets poured over poached salmon,” he said.
A piece of A5 Wagyu beef is grilled over charcoal, sliced and plated with caramelized onions in a calamansi beef broth. Like all of the courses, it’s just a few bites, always leaving you wanting more.
Kwon handles the three dessert courses, including a delicate French croissant smothered in shaved black truffles, but also a more Filipino ending in the form of Halo Halo.
“It’s traditionally made with shaved ice and sweetened condensed milk," she said. "It translates in the Philippines to ‘mix mix’ and it’s just this hodgepodge of really cool textures and flavors. I borrowed Tim’s mom’s leche flan recipe; our version has pandan ice cream, there’s Asian pear granita, some fresh and freeze-dried fruit and it’s topped with a little bit of toasted rice."
Flores says he wants nothing more than to elevate the appreciation for his culture’s cuisine.
“Brings a new idea and new perception of Filipino food. We focus on every little detail,” he said.
If you’re interested in dinner, you’re going to need to make reservations at least six weeks ahead, but remember, no reservations are needed for breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Sunday.
Here's where you can go:
1001 N. Winchester Ave.