When Lawrence Letrero and his fiancee, Raquel Quadreny, first began cooking at home together, they realized that Letrero’s Filipino food and Quadreny’s Cuban food shared flavor profiles. The restaurant veterans agreed that if they ever got to open their own, it would be Filipino-Cuban.
They opened Bayan Ko on Oct. 10, and as with many food origin stories, Letrero and Quadreny will pay homage to their grandmothers with dishes like empanadas and lechon.
“They’ve had a lot of influence on our background in terms of food culture, but we’re going to elevate it a little more,” Letrero said. “We’ll take dishes that my grandma and mom used to make and just clean it up a bit.”
Letrero and Quadreny have each worked for more than a decade in the restaurant industry. He was most recently executive banquet chef at Waldorf Astoria, while she worked front of house at Wrigleyville’s Big Star. The name of the restaurant means “my country” in Tagalog, and Letrero said it signifies their intent to make food from their own countries.
“We’re doing our countries’ food, the food we enjoy cooking every day,” Letrero said.
Recently, the duo hosted a pop-up at Kimski, testing out Bayan Ko’s dishes, like pancit lug lug, a rice noodle and seafood dish with lots of garlic. Letrero’s version features scallops, egg yolk, saffron and uni (in the broth and fresh on top). Calling it a “riff on a carbonara,” Letrero said he’s proud to use “nicer ingredients” while still staying true to the original dish.
Letrero also believes the Cuban sandwich will become an instant favorite. Made with pork shoulder marinated in mojo and roasted slowly, the Cubano will be done “the right way,” he said.
Other menu items include pork belly and adobo chicken wings, but served with plantain chips instead of French fries. “If you’re open-minded, you’ll be able to enjoy it,” Letrero said.
Don’t skip the halo halo, Letrero said, a Filipino dessert of ube ice cream the duo will make from scratch with purple sweet potatoes, heavy cream and eggs. The dish is topped with fresh flan, young coconut, red beans, corn and mango, which Letrero said will be a fun, colorful way to finish off a meal.
“I’m a cook at heart,” Letrero said. “Everything that comes out of the kitchen is going to be from us. … I want people to taste what Filipino and Cuban food can be, done in a really chef-driven style.”
1810 W. Montrose Ave., 773-689-6373, www.facebook.com/bayankochicago/
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