This is that restaurant where your meal is stretched out across the table, over banana leaves. All the photos we’ve seen on Instagram had us making a reservation for ourselves.”Kulinarya” is an authentic filipino restaurant with two locations, each with a slightly different menu. Thus giving you a reason to travel out to both their homes in Coquitlam (the original) and Commercial Drive (the new). Today we were at the latter because it was a closer location to all of us, as both host the Kamayan-style dinner we were here for.
“Kamaya” is a traditional meal eaten with no plates or silverware, just you digging in with your bare hands. So popular that the restaurant built a separate sink outside of the washroom, to wash your hands before and after your meal.
But first, there are some requirements to meet before you can lunch. This isn’t a last minute walk-in meal, you have to make reservations 48 hours in advance, with a minimum seating of six adults. The price is set, varying between days. Tuesdays-Thursdays adults pay $25 per head, kids under 10, $15. Fridays-Sundays adults pay $30, and you pay $20 for kids under 10. Their website states that pre-payment is required to reserve the date, however this was not the case for us, as we simply emailed our request and order, then paid after our meal concluded.
When ordering you select one dish out of the five categories they offer, and they assemble it all together for you with steamed rice, lumpiang shanghai (Pork and vegetable spring rolls), longganisa (Filipino sausage), fried sweet potato and chopped vegetables. These I really enjoyed with the three varieties of sauces provided per person, The spring rolls were crispy and tasty, the sweet potato slices were crispy like chips, and the sausages offered savoury mouthful with spices.
Although once again their online menu differed from what you actually get. Most notable and disappointing was lack of “halo halo” that was promised as dessert. I wish this would have been communicated during the many email exchanges I had with the owners, while securing our table and meal. What they did deliver on that the website promised was the 20% service charge.
The five categories to choose one item in are pork, beef, chicken, veggies, and seafood. Basically these are all things available off the regular menu, gathered together like a feast. We chose the following.
- The “Crispy pata” was our group’s favourite. Deep fried pork leg with house-made dipping sauce. It offered a crispy skin with salted meat, the stand out flavour of the assembly.
- “Kaldereta” is hearty beef stewed in a tomato sauce with potatoes and vegetables. It gave the feast some sauce, and the rice that sat below it was the tastiest.
- The chicken brined in tamarind and then deep fried was a little dry. I didn’t taste any tamarind, and instead found myself reaching for one of the 3 containers of sauces we to help add flavour and offer some sweet or saltiness to our meal.
- I liked the vegetables for the freshness they provided. The “pinakbet” was described as “mixed asian vegetables” in shrimp paste. The “mix” included okra, japanese pumpkin, corn on the cob, green beans, sweet peppers and even bitter melon (that was a surprise). There were also semi raw and tart fruit in the mix like mango and pineapple for some sweetness and juice.
- I enjoyed the “Bangus” as is, fried boneless milkfish with a crispy skin. It came with a salsa of corn kernels, diced tomato, red onion, and green onion.
They only give you 2 hours to finish, so the latest reservation you can make is at 7pm, as they close earlier at 9pm. So you actually walk into the restaurant and your reservation with the table already set, and your party ready to eat. However this was unbeknown to us, and I was planning to be late all along. So sadly my dear friends and I had the above cold, as it was nearly 30 minutes after our 7pm reservations; by the time I drove down, found parking, and took the above photos. However, despite that the food still tasted great. So much so that we quickly crammed our faces, not having to worry about the politeness of using cutlery, shovelling meat and veg with pinches of rice to follow into our gaping mouths. There is no better way to get friendly with another than to eat so forward, especially towards the one you end up facing.
When it came to discarding bones and rind I did feel bad for creating a little pile on the leaf, as this was a shared serving of sorts. None-the-less with no other way this is what everyone else resorted to. We also all carved out our own serving by scooping rice and meat towards ourselves, indirectly creating a divide between the line of food. Although the servers did a great job in ensuring everyone got a bit of everything before them when they laid out the “Kamaya”.
In the end, what was left was plenty of rice. There was so much that even after we took most of what was left home in a doggy bag, that there was enough rice to feed 4, left undressed on our used leaves. But when it came time to clean up they simply folded in the ends and rolled the sheet of leaf up for easy tidying and discarding.
Here, our included dessert turned out to be canned fruit mixed with fresh condense and coconut milk. It wasn’t as expected, but it was the kind of refreshing dessert that our bodies were craving. It helped to cleanse the palette after such a rich meal before.
I was eying the full menu before, and after we wrapped up our “Kamayan” style meal, I was contemplating on getting a few of the more unique menu items to try. However the decision was made for me, when I was informed that they ran out of one and the other was only available in the AM. The desire to try was strong enough that I immediately made reservations with the group to return and try more what they had to offer on their regular menu. I did this, taking to heart the sign they hung by the door reading, “I just don’t want to look back one day and think “I could’ve eaten that”!”
On our second visit I was early, and better able to take in the decor and the setting that surrounded us, not to mention, they weren’t all that busy during a late afternoon lunch service on Sunday. The exterior is a simple white with a black lined sketch of leaves surrounding their restaurant’s name in bold cursive. It stood out when compared to its more colourful neighbours.
Inside the restaurant was a long stretch that felt like two restaurants melded into one. On the right brown and white brick wall, hung framed art. The left, a splotchy pattern and booths upholstered with green and yellow patterns, giving the restaurant a more exotic feel. This was more complementary of the artwork that greeted you at the entrance.
As I mentioned earlier, this time around we ordered a few of their more curious items off their regular menu. But first, our meal began with some complementary nuts. The way they were seasoned and shaped, and how crunchy they were, reminded us of corn nuts.
The “Pig ears chips” are thinly sliced pig ears, battered and fried for a nice crunch; served with a house made soy and vinegar dipping sauce. Some pieces were fattier, I preferred the “chips” that were more thoroughly dried out for a better crunch. They were similar to pork rinds, but without the gristle or the guilt. You don’t often see pig ears prepared like this, more often it is smoked or marinated. Like this they made a great snack, and something easy to chomp down on with beers.
The “Pandan chicken wings” where the main reason I insisted on returning, and the item on their menu that I wanted to try the most. Though sadly they did not live up to the hype I gave them. I am a big fan of pandan, it is one of my favourite flavours and seeings as you don’t find it often on many restaurant menus, I was overjoyed to see it used in a new application that I have ever heard of or tried. First, I was utterly disappointed that they were not coloured bright green. Second, I didn’t taste any of it, which immediately had me skeptical of its presence. Third, this was described as “Crispy chicken wings tossed in avsweet pandan sauce”. It was more like a tangy and vinegary fish sauce, or at best a loose interpretation of honey garlic wings using pandan as a mild flavouring. It was good, but without its name sake ingredient prominent, disappointing. Plus, they weren’t crispy, but instead, more saucy.
I was also excited to try the “Ube pancakes”, but like the wings above, I couldn’t make our the taste of the purple yam/sweet potato in the pancakes. But at least they got the colour right: a bold royal purple. I also wished that they kept all the sizes of the pancake consistent. It was like one guy started making one, and when the next guy took over decided to do them his way. Also to make this something special they could have ditched the maple syrup side, and made it their own with a coconut or condense milk based sauce. Texture wise they were good, denser than a regular pancake, but still light.
We then also shared some dishes with more substance, for a fuller meal. The “Pork belly and chicken adobo” was listed under the “one plate meal” section of the menu. It was white rice topped with vinegar braised pork belly and chicken, garlic, potato, and onions. Then finished with half a boiled egg. It was tasty, but incredibly dry with all the rice. You just wanted some gravy for moisture and to make this a complete comfort dish.
Luckily we were able to borrow sauce from the “Kare-kare”. This is beef, tripe, and vegetables in a creamy peanut sauce. Half the group didn’t like the idea of tripe and given that there was the word “option” in brackets after it, we decided to forgo it all together. However, mid way through our meal we noticed a piece of tripe, and then another. Had this been an allergy related request it could have gone side ways. Luckily it was not and we were good to enjoy how delicious the sauce was. It was the most memorable of our meal, and we all agreed we would come back for it. But be warned, if you decide to check this place out for yourself, it is cash or debit only.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Despite my critiques everything was good, and as their website mentions, they aren’t many other filipino restaurants in the area, or many in the lower mainland for that matter. So all that in itself makes them something special. Then you add in the unique cuisine interpretations and the ability to eat with your hands apologetically, this was a fun review to write and a great experience to have twice in two weeks. Don’t deny your cravings.
1134 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5L 3X2