Filipino and Cuban food have a lot in common according to Lawrence Letrero, a chef who’s worked at acclaimed restaurants including Perennial, Sable, Karyn’s On Green, and Per Se in New York. Letrero, a Filipino-Canadian, notes how both cultures have a version of lechón, a consequence of Spanish colonialism. Letrero’s fiancé. Raquel Quadreny, is Cuban-American, and the couple plan on serving dishes from Cuba and the Philippines at Bayan Ko, their new Ravenswood restaurant.
This isn’t a fusion restaurant. Cuban and Filipino cuisines have enough in common where they can complement each other without blending flavors. Bayan Ko takes over the Mad Love Rock ‘n Roll Noodle Emporium space at 1810 W. Montrose Avenue. Mad Love closed earlier this summer. Letrero said he hopes to open Bayan Ko — which translates to “my country” (it’s also the name of a famous patriotic Filipino song) — in late September or early October.
Letrero and Quadreny’s mothers influenced the menu. Letrero’s mother has a killer dipping sauce they’ve dubbed “Sally’s Garlic Sauce.” Yes, if anyone doubted, Bayan Ko will serve lumpia.
“C’mon, what kind of place isn’t going to have lumpia?” Letrero said.
The menu will feature 20 to 25 items — about 60 percent Filipino — and it’ll have vegan options. The restaurant will serve a traditional Cuban sandwich and Letrero is working on a Filipino-style burger or slider. If he stays with a full-size burger, it will feature a banana ketchup, achara (green papaya pickle), queso, and two thin-griddled patties. He is experimenting with a Hawaiian-style bun, too.
Quadreny will run the front of the house as she’s served at restaurants including Ronero in West Loop and Big Star in Wrigleyville. The space is small but it will have full table service. Artist/chef Won Kim (Kimski) is helping decorate it.
Letrero appeared on a July 2017 episode of Food Network’s Cooks Vs. Cons and a dish he used on the show will be served at the restaurant. It’s a pancit that his mother made. He mixes in uni, which helps emulsify the dish to make it taste more luxurious, and uses bay scallops and saffron broth. He won’t use the traditional boiled egg, electing to use a poached egg. The dish is finished with chicharrones: “It’s one of those dishes the my mom’s made for years,” he said.
Quadreny and Letrero have been together for years and have a daughter. When will wedding bells ring?
“Well, we’re going to be first married to the restaurant,” Letrero said.
Bayan Ko will soon open near the CTA’s Montrose Brown Line station.