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Preview Event: Cocktails & Pulutan - Bonifacio Restaurant

I admit to a little bit of culture shock moving from the Bay Area to Central Ohio when it came to population makeup: I basically moved from an city where nearly 25,000 people were of Filipino heritage to a whole region where there were 2,500 or so scattered around.

Not surprisingly, Filipino food has been a little harder to find in the wild here. I learned shortly after my arrival of a Filipino restaurant near the Columbus/Reynoldsburg border in Chuchay's, but their location wasn't the most convenient to where I was living and the eatery shut down soon afterward. Other encounters have been rare but very welcome: the original Red Velvet Cafe in Reynoldsburg, and two food trucks in the form of Mya's Fried Chicken (courtesy of special pop-up events by owner Mark Tolentino) and, more recently, Asian Persuasion.

Perhaps the most welcome addition for me (and many other area diners) has been the downtown Columbus branch of the previously mentioned Red Velvet Cafe. Owned by Krizzia Yanga, the cafe not only brought the very appealing original cupcake/coffee pairing that fueled the original location for so long, but also brought local diners a taste of Filipino cuisine with their weekend brunch service.

The Bistek brunch dish once served at Red Velvet Cafe; Bonifacio is
planning to bring back these dishes for brunch at their new eatery
These dishes, combining proteins like Bistek (thinly sliced marinated beef steak), Longanisa (a Filipino blood sausage), and, yes, Spam (hey, I'll own that no problem) in combination garlic fried rice and silog (an over-easy egg) brought back some fond childhood memories. My spouse has been an eager culinary explorer with me, ready to try almost anything in the traditional Filipino meal spectrum.

The brunches no longer held at Red Velvet, but not due to lack of popularity. Rather, Yanga has taken the bold move to the next level with a full service restaurant named Bonifacio, due to open up soon in the old Thai Basils space on King Avenue. After months of planning, the restaurant is on the verge of opening to the public, and three special preview events to introduce the concept to the Columbus public at large were offered.

As appealing as all three events were, our love of a Filipino staple, the calamansi lime, and our growing interest in cocktail drinks keyed us in on the "Cocktails and Pulutan" special event.  Held at the Green Olive Company space in the Short North, we found ourselves with an enthusiastic group of locals who were incredibly eager to sample Bonifacio's wares on this warm midweek evening.

Derek Reno of The Reno Reserve passes out one of the unique
communal cocktails planned for Bonifacio's menu
Pulutan are essentially Filipino dishes that are best enjoyed while drinking, and Bonifacio provided five of their planned offerings for the new restaurant. Looking at the list, I keyed in on the Lumpiang Shanghai (fried egg rolls, typically filled with either pork or vegetables), which are pretty much a mainstay of any Filipino gathering I've been to. Lousy and/or lack of lumpia is something of an unofficial "party foul" when it comes to these type of parties, but I'm glad to say that Bonifacio served us plenty of lumpia (with the requisite sweet chili sauce) and that they were just about perfectly, with a nice crackly exterior and golden brown color.

My other perhaps surprise favorite (as someone who isn't a big seafood fan) was the Kinilaw, something of a Filipino ceviche with fresh tuna chunks cured in a variety of citrus juice, mango, red onion and ginger.

Other dishes sampled included the Crab Fat Fried Rice (very distinct crab flavor, best served with a protein of some sort), a credible open-faced Asado Siobao with pork belly, and a Lumpiang Sariwa (essentially, a Vietnamese-styled spring roll.

For the cocktails, Bonifacio hired the talents of local mixologist Derek Reno of The Reno Reserve, and the creativity and research that Reno put into these recipes is very hard to deny. Using locally produced liquors from distillers like Middle West Spirits as much as possible, the cavalcade of mixed drinks presented this night covered the gamut of individual and communal blends; unique constructions (the bubble tea styled cocktail with no official name yet); incorporation of ubiquitous Filipino cuisine staples such as ube (purple yam), lychee fruit, and bitter melon; and novel concepts (such as the Boozy Halo Halo cocktail, which contains mix-ins that you'd find in the famous Filipino icy dessert treat as well as the spoon to scoop them out.)

From Top to Bottom: the Kamayan Old-Fashioned, Boozy Halo Halo,
and the Calamansi Honey Fizz
It was a bit hard to keep up with the exact ingredients in each of the eight cocktails presented this night (even Derek himself had to refer to his cheat sheet more than once), but it made my spouse and I think we might be barflies the first couple visits. Our particular favorites this night were the Calamansi Honey Fizz, perhaps the most traditional drink this night being based on the Ramos Gin Fizz, and the Mayon Volcano, a beguiling blend of strawberry and almond flavors with herbal notes. But in truth, we'd be willing to give all these drinks a second shot (no pun intended), especially the Halo Halo cocktail with a scoop of Bonifacio's own in-house created ice cream.

Based on this very enjoyable sneak preview, we look forward to Bonifacio's official arrival onto the Columbus eating scene.

After one more preview event (Friday's Kamayan communal-style, eat-with-your-hands meal - and yes, there is one ticket remaining based on my last check if you're interested), Bonifacio currently plans to officially hold its grand opening date mid- to late-August.

1577 King Ave (Fifth by Northwest - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH
(614) 221-1889
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