Over the years, Filipino food has remained largely under-explored in New York. Filipino chef Woldy Reyes—a caterer who runs his own business called Woldy Kusina—hopes to change that with a new pop-up he’s co-running at the Flatiron’s Made Hotel. The series of dinners will be called “Departure Kamayan,” served kamayan-style. Kamayan feasts are known for being celebratory and communal: in the Filipino tradition, dishes are served on banana leaves and diners eat with their hands.
This style of intimate dining is a way to bring people together, and in this case, perhaps, push them out of their comfort zones. “We titled this ‘departed,’ because, here, you're departing from using utensils and you’re departing from your preconceived notions. And, yeah, it's cold out; we want people to come into the indoor tropical scenery and feel transformed,” Reyes says.
The dinner will take place at the hotel’s upstairs bar Good Behavior, which is already cloaked in verdant accents with hanging plants and bright colors that will interplay with the banana-leaf covered table and transportive flavors. The ticket price is $100 (+ tax and gratuity) and reservations must be made in advance via Resy (see below).
While aromatic and delicious, much of Filipino food is largely meat-based. Reyes, alongside his erstwhile collaborator, pastry chef Lani Halliday of Brutus Bakeshop and the chefs from the hotel’s in-house restaurant, Ferris—Tyler Heckman and Charles Seich—will transform the staples of his childhood with plant-based swaps. Some of the included dishes will be as follows:
- a version of pancit made with vermicelli noodles, carrots, rainbow radishes, herbs, tamari-maple dressing
- kabocha squash lumpia
- marinated Hen of the Wood mushrooms served adobo-style
- a spicy cashew salsa verde
- a version of kare kare with a winter squash peanut butter stew
- a selection of pickled vegetables such as bitter melon
“A lot of the Filipino food that I’ve known from growing up with it is indulgent,” says Reyes. “I wanted to think forward with what Filipino food can be and have it reflect the way that I’ve been eating over the past years, which is vegetable-forward and plant-based and generally kind of healthy.” For dessert, Halliday has designed an interpretation of bibingka (a coconut-rice cake) made with tamarind cream cheese, sweet curd and peanut brittle for a result that's not too sweet.
The meal will begin with a ceremonial washing of the hands, a notion that Reyes and his team have adapted from Jewish traditions. “It’s a spiritual way to start,” he says. “It’s also nice because you’re sitting with strangers and they know they’ve washed their hands.” Guests will be greeted with a beverage (it's made with pineapple rum, ube, coconut cream, cacao, lime) and Reyes and his team will encourage guests to say “Mabuhay,” which means to “live” in Tagalog, a lively way of engaging the guests in unison and leaving behind the nerves of meeting someone new.
When guests enter, the banana leaves will already be set as the de facto table cloth or plate for the meal, and, overtime, a procession of dishes will be brought out to build the experiential tablescape. “We first weigh [the leaves] down by bringing out warming rice. It’s traditionally a jasmine rice, but we’re using basmati with things such as bay leaves, star anise, cloves.”
Departure Kamayan joins a small but fervent group of Filipino restaurant experiences in New York, focusing on a new wave of cooking. Downtown, the East Village has become a hub for a new wave of restaurants. For years, Maharlika and Jeepney have brought notoriety to the cuisine, but Maharlika closed late last year. The neighborhood also gained a new stand-out Filipino restaurant called Tsismis, which is expanding next door with a casual coffee shop, too.
Dates for the dinners at Good Behavior bar are as follows:
Departure Kamayan will take place at Good Behavior, the rooftop bar at the Made Hotel: 44 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001.