As a huge fan of Filipino cuisine and huge supporter of Asian excellence, I was through-the-roof thrilled to see that Kasama, a Filipino restaurant located in Chicago, received their first Michelin star this year, the very first Filipino restaurant to do so! Yes to more appreciation for delicious foods and amazing cultures!
It was as if the stars had aligned because I found myself planning a trip to Chicago earlier this year and Kasama was the #1 item on the list of food to try. (It would not be inaccurate to say I planned the entire trip around whatever day I could get a Kasama reservation)
If you haven’t yet heard of Kasama, check out their website www.kasamachicago.com as well as their socials to learn more about them!
By day they are a casual traditional Filipino breakfast spot with rice dishes, adobo, sandwiches, and pastries. By night they are a fine dining restaurant like no other, with intimate lighting, old-school Filipino tunes, and the most attentive service. I was lucky enough to experience both of these Kasamas on my first trip to Chicago, both of which were excellent.
If you’re looking to read about a specific experience, feel free to jump to the one that interests you more!
I’ve experienced a few tasting menus in the past, but I wouldn’t consider myself someone well-versed in fine dining. My partner, who was my dinner partner for the evening, had never experienced one before this evening. But contrary to our concerns, there was no pretentiousness to be had at this establishment. Even though this was a fine dining experience, it felt so welcoming and comfortable that there wasn’t anything to be intimidated by. +1 for Kasama.
We were a few minutes early for our reservation, but were seated right away. The server was kind and welcoming, giving us an overview of the evening, also informing us that we were going to receive our menu at the end of the night so that each dish could be a surprise. If you’re also holding out for a surprising evening at Kasama, I’d recommend skipping through the photos so you don’t spoil yourself. But honestly, even if you prepare yourself by knowing the menu, you won’t be prepared for the explosive flavors that come from it!
First Course: Kinilaw
Our first course was the Kinilaw, which was a hamachi ceviche with caviar and coconut cream. It came in a cute bulb-looking glass dish with a lid that encapsulated the smoky flavor of the cherry wood they used to smoke the hamachi. Each of the flavors were so prominent from the brininess of the caviar, the tartness of the marinated hamachi, and the creaminess of the coconut cream, followed by that lingering smokiness that adds a whole new depth of flavor.
Second Course: Lumpia
Who knew something so simple could also be so interesting? Many Asian cultures have their own take on egg rolls/spring rolls, but did anyone else ever think to put them together?? I picked up the spring roll thinking it was a simple spring roll that I grew up eating only to experience a crunchiness that I wasn’t expecting! Lo and behold, within my spring roll was a deep fried egg roll! Lumpia-ception! Together with their chili oil, this small dish was absolutely delightful. So familiar but so unique.
Third Course: Talaba
This oyster may have been small, but it was packed with flavor. Topped with mango and mezcal, the kusshi oyster was so sweet and flavorful, and so fresh. But it was interestingly not at all briny. It also had such a nice mouthfeel because it had the smoothness of an oyster but wasn’t too fleshy and was completely clean - no sand or shell bits to be felt at all!
Fourth Course: Nilaga
Possibly one of my favorite dishes, here and everywhere. The presentation was so fun and enjoyable. The beef soup was placed in a teacup to be sipped with the meal along with a small bowl of short grain rice topped with bone marrow, A5 wagyu beef, and torched cabbage. If there was a dish that truly exemplifies “umami” I think it would be this. The broth was so full of flavor while also not feeling too heavy or greasy or at all. The rice was cooked perfectly and was slightly vinegar-y that it was like sushi rice. The beef was so tender and flavorful. Even the cabbage had a “meatiness” to it that was likely from the bone marrow. I couldn’t get enough of this dish. The broth was so good, I wish I had a full cup of it. (Just kidding, I think the amount we got was just right. More and I would have been so over-satiated)
Fifth Course: Siomai
Another familiar childhood dish with a new and surprising twist! This siomai was made with duck, foie gras, and pickled mushrooms. I sure never thought foie gras and siomai would ever go together, but I’m so glad I got to try it! The siomai itself was very savory, but was in a sauce that was quite tart, which I thought balanced it out very well. The two flavors went really well together. And even though I’m not quite sure what soup the siomai was in, I absolutely loved it.
Sixth Course: Adobo
Elevated adobo. Yum. I really loved how they used mushrooms in their dishes, especially in this one. The marinated mushroom was so flavorful and yummy. The scallops were cooked perfectly. The mussel emulsion was so interesting, my brain was definitely confused at how a foam could taste so strongly like seafood. All of the elements individually were so tasty, and together they were even more delicious.
Seventh Course: Sinigang
Another one of my possibly favorite dishes. If you’re familiar with sinigang it is typically a tamarind-based soup with protein like salmon, shrimp, pork, etc. Kasama’s sinigang is not that. It’s not even a soup. And yet every sinigang flavor is there. This dish has a perfectly poached piece of salmon covered in a tamarind sauce and smoked roe with a side of salmon skin chicharron, perfectly crispy and coated in tamarind salt. I can say for sure that I was eating sinigang because it tasted exactly like it, but it was not at all in the form factor I was used to. But I loved every piece of it. So tasty, so flavorful, so yummy! I kid you not, my partner almost cried because of how touched he was that this dish that he grew up his whole life eating could be presented to him in this manner, and it could still evoke such memories. Eating this was truly a gift.
Eighth Course: Pancit en su Tinta
I love a yummy squid ink pasta. The color is beautiful and the flavor is subtle and nutty. The miso sauce was also very tasty and went really well with the pasta noodles. The chicharron bits also added a nice crunchy texture to balance out the smoothness of the noodles. The oysters were full of flavor and bouncy.
Ninth Course: Kare-kare
Another dish that I reacted to with slight confusion and much awe. Kare-kare is another dish that typically comes in stew form. It has a thick peanut-based stew that is usually made with oxtail or beef, but Kasama’s kare-kare was made with lamb. The cut of lamb was so tender and flavorful (if you like the gaminess of lamb, you’ll absolutely love this). It was drizzled in peanut sauce that was so yummy and the plate was dotted with bagoong, a savory shrimp paste that pairs perfectly with the kare-kare sauce. This dish also came with a flatbread that was great for wiping up all the leftover sauce, because you can’t let a single drop go to waste!
Tenth Course: Bistek
Bistek? More like bi-STEAK. This A5 wagyu steak cut was cooked so perfectly. The center was pink but not bloody and the meat was so melt-in-your-mouth smooth. The caramelized onions were so sweet and fragrant and went so perfectly with the steak. The steak was also placed in a calamansi sauce that was tart and balanced out each of the flavors of the onions and steak so well. Combine each of the elements from the steak, the onions, and the sauce, and you have the perfect bite.
Eleventh Course: Truffle Croissant
After all those delicious savory flavors, it was time for dessert (3 courses of it!) We started off with their famous truffle croissant. These were miniature glazed croissants that had crunchy bits of salt and were filled with a creamy honey and cheese filling, topped with generous amounts of freshly grated black truffle. It was a really well-balanced dessert with mixtures of saltiness from the cheese, salt, and truffle, to sweetness from the honey and croissant glaze.
Twelfth Course: Banana-cue
The banana cue was so simple and fun, an homage to the traditional Filipino street food of the same name. The banana slice was cooked in brown sugar so that it was well glazed and came with a side of diplomat cream that was light and airy.
Thirteenth Course: Halo-halo
The final meal of the night, and one of my favorites: the halo-halo. As soon as the server placed a long-stemmed spoon on our table, I knew we were going to be enjoying a creative twist on halo-halo and I was so excited! Growing up on Vietnamese cuisine, one of my favorite desserts of all is the chè ba màu which is basically the Vietnamese version of halo-halo, so it’s always been a favorite of mine. This halo-halo used a pandan ice cream with honeydew granita, fresh and freeze-dried rambutan, and puffed rice over a delicious slice of sweet and creamy leche flan. The rambutan was so light and refreshing and the ice cream was also very light on the sweetness so it wasn’t too overwhelming, which allowed the leche flan to really shine. It was so yummy and refreshing, and just a great way to end a great meal.
Tea: Litchi Noir
At the conclusion of our meal we were presented with a coffee and tea menu and opted for one of their Rare Tea Cellar teas to close out the evening. Both my partner and I love lychee so we tried their litchi noir tea as a separate add-on. The tea was absolutely delicious and so fragrant. The lychee flavor was so prominent and the tea was very comforting.
Bonus Course: Ube Huckleberry Basque Cake
But it didn’t end there! We were kindly given a to-go back with one of their most popular pastries, the ube huckleberry basque cake to take home, along with our menus from the evening! The cakes were so cute with the Filipino sun in dusted powdered sugar on top. The texture is crumbly and the ube and huckleberry filling was sweet but with a hint of tartness that was very yummy! The ube was pretty subtle though, so I mostly tasted the huckleberry.
Throughout the meal, we got to interact with many individuals from the staff. I thought it was a nice touch to have different members present us with the dishes so that we could see who actually made up the team at Kasama instead of just seeing a single person throughout the night. They were all so courteous and kind and it was nice to be able to even have small conversations with them too!
And at the very end of the night, our server offered to introduce us to Tim Flores, the chef of Kasama! We were thrilled to meet him and share with him what the meal meant to us, especially my partner who has been yearning for more Filipino representation and recognition. It was great to hear from Tim what sharing his food means to him as well. He was so humble and kind, and it warms my heart to see him and his team garner so much attention for a job well done. This meal alone elicited the comfort of a home-cooked meal along with the wonder and awe of a truly fine dining experience.
An experience like this comes with a cost, of course, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge the amount of privilege I have to be able to enjoy a meal such as this, something not everyone may be able to / want to have. The tasting menu without the additional beverage pairing cost was $235/person. The beverage pairing option would add on an additional $125/person for alcoholic beverages or $75/person for non-alcoholic beverages (I love that they have a non-alcoholic pairing option, by the way). The pot of litchi noir tea that we had at the end of the meal was an additional $6, which after tip and tax put us at a little under $650 for the meal for two people. This was probably the priciest meal I’ve ever had, but also one of the best, so I’d say that it was well worth it, especially since it’s such a rare experience.
On a Wednesday morning, my group and I headed to Kasama for a classic Filipino breakfast meal. We arrived around 10:15AM to a line right outside the entrance. The wait was around 40 minutes before we got to the front and were able to order our food. I was honestly expecting a much longer wait since I knew we were arriving somewhat around peak breakfast/brunch time, so I was pleasantly surprised at the wait time all things considered! Again the staff was very courteous and the woman at the cash register was patient as we decided what we wanted and was also great about offering suggestions since we just couldn’t decide what pastries we wanted to try!
Because it was busy we also had to wait for a table after ordering our food, but that didn’t take too long, and we were served our drink orders right away, which was nice!
We received our food shortly after we were seated and were presented with some great home-y breakfast dishes!
Two of the people in our group ordered the Filipino breakfast, one with tocino, and one with both tocino and longanisa. They were both pleasantly surprised at the cook and cut of the tocino and longanisa. As my partner puts it, most places burn them to a crisp, but Kasama had the char just right! And of course, what Filipino breakfast plate is complete without garlic rice and a sunnyside up egg?
The other dish was a longanisa, egg, and cheese sandwich, a super casual and simple, but yummy breakfast sandwich. Am I slightly sad it came wrapped in aluminum rather than plated on a cute dish for the purposes of aesthetic food photos? You could say so, but it does also feed into the vibes of it.
I ordered the Kasama combo sandwich, which was like a Filipino take on a Chicago-style hot dog. So a Filipino-style Chicago-style hot dog. The sausage was a longanisa sausage, and the sandwich was topped with shaved pork adobo and pickled vegetables along with some chili peppers that gave it an extra kick and put it definitely on the spicy side. The longanisa was sweet and juicy and the pork adobo was very well marinated. The sauces seeped into the baguette making it extra flavorful as well. I really liked the creativity of the dish and enjoyed all the different flavors. I probably could have done with a little less spiciness though.
As for pastries, we also got the chocolate chip cookie and the Boston creme brioche. The Boston creme brioche was like a Boston creme donut, but with a yummy caramelized bottom reminiscent of a creme brulee. The was just the right amount of filling so that it was tasty but there wasn’t too much of it, and the caramelized bottom was probably my favorite part. The chocolate chip cookie was nice and chewy with lots of chocolate. Would definitely get these again!
It was very interesting to see the hustle and bustle of the place in the daylight, so different from the intimate experience we had just a few nights prior. It’s almost hard to believe this place could be so different in just a matter of hours!
As a breakfast spot, this place is definitely on the pricier side. Each dish was around $15+, with the exception of the longanisa, egg, and cheese sandwich which was $9.50. The presentation is beautiful and I thought the Kasama combo sandwich was a fun and creative dish, but Filipino breakfast is the pretty standard meal you would be able to find at more casual Filipino spots. Coming from California and specifically areas with large Filipino neighborhoods, that’s something that’s pretty accessible to me on the regular, but I can definitely see Kasama being a great place for those looking for that home-cooked meal who might not be able to find it quite so easily. That being said, I’d still definitely come back to visit at any time of day because I think their food is awesome through and through.
I hope you enjoyed this not-so-quick rundown on my first (and second) experience at Kasama! I would for sure recommend this spot to anyone looking to visit Chicago. I am now a forever fan and am definitely excited to see what new creations Tim Flores and Genie Kwon have in store for the future of Kasama!
If you're planning a trip of your own for the tasting menu, be sure to keep an eye out for reservations through Resy. They come out 45 days in advance at midnight Chicago time, and they sure go fast!