The Chicago-based bakery and modern Filipino restaurant called “Kasama” and Seattle’s Archipelago made it to the New York Times’ list of “50 most vibrant and delicious restaurants in 2021.”
According to the NYT article, the publication’s food desk sent out “reporters, critics, and editors” to different parts of the US to come up with this year’s roster, which is not necessarily ranked. The list, says the feature, reflects “the rich mosaic of American dining—from the melding of Thai curry and Texas brisket in the Pacific Northwest, to heritage crab rice on the South Carolina coast, to vegan soul food in the East Village.”
The writer Tejal Rao commends the pandesal (“pulls apart effortlessly, filling the air with a sweet, buttery perfume”) as well as the chef’s gesture of checking on his diners after a tasting menu at Archipelago—although he didn’t mention if it was Aaron Versoza or Amber Manuguid, the two chiefs of the Seattle resto’s kitchen.
“You could easily get lost in the deliciousness of the modern Filipino food” in Archipelago, says Rao, but the duo goes beyond serving great dishes. “They tell complicated, expansive stories about the Pacific Northwest and the many ways that Filipino immigrants have shaped it, using words, pictures and even some unexpected dance moves.”
Writer Priya Krishna particularly praises Kasama’s “delicate, inventive treats,” which include their ham-and-cheese croissant that is “replete with raclette and topped with dainty shavings of serrano ham.” She also describes the restaurant’s lumpia and adobo as “unpretentious and soul-warming.” She likewise gives a huge thumbs-up to Kasama’s version of the “Chicago-style Italian combo sandwich, made with longaniza.”
Behind this neighborhood café is a talented husband-and-wife tandem—Chefs Genie Kwon and Timothy Flores. Kwon handles Kasama’s baking operations and is responsible for Kasama’s Instagram-worthy creations. She finished a culinary management program in Newbury College Massachusetts and obtained further baking experience working at Flour Bakery & Cafe, Nobu Fifty Seven, and Eleven Madison Park in New York. She later ran the pastry wing at GT Fish & Oyster, where she met her future husband and business partner Flores who whips up takeout-friendly Pinoy food items like lumpia, pancit, and chicken adobo at Kasama.
Flores was born to Filipino parents who migrated to the US from the Philippines in 1975. He got his training as a line cook at Senza restaurant under Chef Noah Sandoval. Flores and Kwon eventually opened the two Michelin-starred restaurant, Oriole, with Sandoval.
It was in 2018 when the ex-Oriole chefs conceptualized Kasama (the Tagalog word for “partner” or “companion”), a laidback contemporary restaurant dedicated to Filipino cuisine and delicious pastries. When they opened in July last year, there was so much built up anticipation that customers bought all of the food prepared for their Day 1. Kasama was originally thought of as a bakery by day and a restaurant at night but Covid changed all that. Kasama is located in the East Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago.