In case you hadn’t heard, Columbus got its first full-service Filipino restaurant recently, Bonifacio. The eatery is from the same owners behind Red Velvet Cafe, a coffee/cupcake/sandwich spot downtown that featured Filipino dishes on their weekend brunch menu. We got to sample Bonifacio’s menu in a preview event, and last week we visited for their first monthly kamayan night. A kamayan is a community meal, eaten with the hands. The event is ticketed, so there’s a smaller group of guests for the experience.
We bought tickets with friends and showed up to find three community tables lined with banana leaves. As this was their first regular kamayan (they did a special one during their preview week), they still seemed to be getting the rhythm of it, and we often needed a little more guidance, but we figured it out. Each seat at the table had a small woven fan with a rock on it, and we were told we could exchange the rock for a drink at the bar. They had a small menu of cocktails crafted by the Reno Reserve. Many of them are adaptations of popular drinks but with a Filipino twist, like the Kamayan Old Fashioned with pineapple rum (pictured at the very top) or the Kalamansi Honey Fizz (pictured here).
After we settled down at the tables, we were given a brief introduction on how the evening would proceed. They encouraged us to get up and move seats, in an effort to get people to mix and meet someone new. We shifted over a bit, but ultimately we were there as a foursome, and we didn’t want to split up (that was the point of buying tickets together!).
Before the full spread was laid out, we were treated to a Filipino specialty that we all knew was coming: balut. Balut is a fertilized duck egg that’s hard boiled in the shell. We were each served one in a little ceramic cup. It came out piping hot, and it smelled like roasted chicken.
Scroll past the next four photos if you want to skip it.
We were given instructions on how to eat it: crack the shell with a spoon and scoop out the insides.
The shell and outer membrane of duck eggs are thicker than chicken eggs, so it took a little cutting to open it up. They put little ramekins of different salts on the table, to sprinkle on the balut.
Around the room there were varying degrees of eagerness to try the balut. Some were seasoned pros who tucked in, many (like myself) pried cautiously at the egg.
I ate maybe of third of mine, digging into most of the yolk and the meat. What did it taste like? Not gonna lie: it tasted like chicken. Like dark meat chicken with some fully cooked egg yolk. I couldn’t push into the, well, juicier parts of the egg.
Am I glad I tried it? Absolutely. Would I try it again? We’ll see.
After the balut adventure, it was time for the main event. Without much introduction, the servers started coming to the tables and laying out the full spread, beginning with a row of sticky rice and tiny pitchers of sauces and vinegars.
Then they came back with handfuls of lumpiang – little crispy egg rolls – and bok choy.
And then it just kept coming: pickled vegetables, roasted eggplant, these wonderful little sweet pork sausages called longanisa.
And then there was shrimp.
And then grilled chicken on skewers. And then more grilled chicken, and then whole fried tilapia. We kept jumping up to take photos, assuming everything was out, but then servers would show up and lay down more meats or veggies.
We weren’t given a clear go-ahead to start eating, so one-by-one we began tucking in. Fortunately, sitting next to us was Mico Cordero from Hai Poke (more on them soon), and he showed us how you typically gather rice, meats, and veggies into your own personal pile and eat from that.
And let me tell you: it was a delight. Everything was fantastic, with a wonderful mixture of flavors, meats grilled just right, sweet and tangy pickled vegetables, tart vinegars. There wasn’t a bad taste in the bunch. And once everyone got past that “We’re using our hands?!” moment, there was no hesitation. (We’ve long been fans of Ethiopian food, which is eaten by hand, so it was no issue for us.) My personal favorites included the grilled chicken on skewers, the longanisa, the shrimp, and the tilapia. So… almost everything.
As the meal wound down, we were offered a dessert called halo-halo, a concoction of shaved ice, sweetened condensed milk, flan, purple yam ice cream, and a base of candied fruits and sweet beans. We didn’t know at first that it was meant to be mixed all together (owner Krizzia Yanga said “halo-halo” essentially means “mix mix”). The dessert made for a nice sweet ending to the meal, although many of use were so full we couldn’t finish it.
There were mounds of leftovers, and fortunately they didn’t go to waste. The chef came out and showed us how to wrap up piles in the banana leaves, and then they tied it together.
And believe me when I say they made for an excellent lunch the next day.
Despite the tentative start with the balut, the kamayan ended on a high note. The food was excellent, and in abundance. The whole experience made for a joyful night out with friends. I think as this becomes a regular event, the overall proceedings may even out. We could have benefited, because there were so many first-timers, from some clearer instruction throughout the night, but I’d still highly recommend it. There’s nothing else like it in Columbus, and I’m a big fan of any meal that’s focused on bringing people together.
Visit Bonifacio for lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch, and keep an eye on their site and social media for the next kamayan night.
1577 King Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43212
Find them on Facebook, Twitter (@bonifacio614), and Instagram (@bonifacio614)