6099 McNaughten Center
Columbus, OH 43232
The first time we ate here, it was called ‘Noni’s’ (the sign out front still reads as such) and, to be frank, we felt ourselves to be unqualified in trying to evaluate a cuisine (Filipino) that none of us had had much experience with.
We had, however, been to our fair share of small ethnic start-up restaurants and have had the opportunity to observe the ways in which they typically succeed and fail early on. From that perspective, Noni’s was off to a good start. The space is bright (think acid green with electric orange trim), clean, and well sorted, and the service was solid. Perhaps even more impressively, when our large group ordered all of the most unusual sounding dishes off of their huge menu, we didn’t hear ‘we don’t have that today’ once. For a restaurant that was all of a couple of weeks old, that’s no small feat.
But still, what to think about the food?
Upon finishing our meal, we recalled that we had a resource in Carl Acampado, owner of Rogue Bakery and beneficiary of many a home-cooked Filipino meal. He agreed to accompany us on our next trip, though not without perhaps a slight hint of pessimism about the venture.
The oddness of returning to find a restaurant of a different name (now Chuchay’s) with a somewhat different (but still Filipino) menu didn’t add exactly serve to brighten the outlook.
Fortunately, most everything that followed that did. The space was unchanged, and the service was equally competent. Everything that was on the menu was available, and we suspect that access to the Filipino grocery a few doors down (also called Chuchay’s) is no small part of that.
We started by browsing the menu items with the suffix ‘-silog‘ – which simply means ‘with rice and eggs’. Anything before the suffix indicates the accompaniment – cornsilog is corned beef with rice and egg, longsilog is longaniza sausage with same, and if you want it with a hotdog you’ll order… you guessed it… hotsilog.
At Carl’s suggestion, we selected the longsilog. It was a great choice. My first taste of the longaniza reminded me of a perfect bite of pineapple-topped Los Guachos al pastor – Sweet and salty, porky and garlicky, and with just a hint of char. Unsurprisingly, eggs and rice accompany wonderfully.
The chicken adobo, often considered the national dish of the Philippines, was also thoroughly enjoyed. Soy, garlic, vinegar, and peppercorns gave a nice, slightly tangy flavor to the tender chicken.
The lechon kawali (fried skin-on pork) was reasonably good, but may have suffered in comparison to the big flavors that came before. The skin was crispy and a bit tough, while the unadorned pork flesh below was notably mild in flavor. Not bad by any means, but a bit of a wallflower in this party of type-A tastes.
Which brings us to the crispy pata, described on the menu as deep-fried pig knuckles (pig knuckles, the small end of the ham, are also known as ham hocks). There was no mistaking this for anything other than pork – deeply gamey pork – and it was so intense in flavor that its potency became divisive. There was very little in the way of actual meat, mostly crispy fried skin… which was OK by me.
Finally, for dessert, we tried the halo-halo, one of the few Filipino dishes I’d actually heard of before coming here. ‘Halo’ means ‘mix’ in Tagalog, and that’d seem to refer equally well to the mix of unusual ingredients and the act of mixing this layered treat up before eating it. The specifics of the ingredients themselves seem somewhat open to interpretation, but it’s fair to say that one should expect at minimum, more-or-less, the following: shaved ice, evaporated or coconut milk, tropical fruit, sweet beans, and ice cream (often a brilliantly lavender ube ice cream, not unlike taro in flavor).
And that’s exactly what you’re getting at Chuchay’s. And it’s good. And sweet beans and ube strike some as unnerving ingredients… and they shouldn’t. Simply put, if you have a sweet tooth, you want this.
So, once we had chewed the last pig knuckle and slurped the last of the halo-halo slush, we asked of Carl the question that was on everyone’s mind: “Would you bring your mother here?”
“Yes”, was his unhesitating response.