Tuesday, October 20, 2009


4.5 out of 5 stars

I may be a bit rusty with my descriptions, but I'll give it my best with this restaurant that I've visited again quite recently after the Bar. La Regalade is located in Pasay Road, home of several well-established restaurants such as Milky Way or Nihonbashitei. But it also has relatively new restaurants like Azuthai and fellow French eateries La Cabane or Cicou. Certainly, this strip of road will never die out of places to eat when restaurant ideas fizzle out of your head. And gratefully, La Regalade is also open on Sundays, where most other fine dining restaurants remain closed for weekly cleanings or days-off. It gives families with busy work schedules options for other places apart from mall or chain restaurants.

There is nothing too striking with the ambiance of the place, compared to the cozier feel of Cuillere or cool modern spaces of La Cabane. But it has made its mark by gracing us with a menu created by Chef Raye, a two-star Michelin chef. The food is rich and hearty, far from the frilly and overtly fancy French dishes that one expects. Yet, in as much as people have reviewed their portions to be hearty, my friends and family say otherwise. But hey, maybe French food in general have small servings...and this may probably be why "French women don't get fat" as quoted from M. Guiliano's title.

La Regalade has finally given out its own menus, apart from the last time I visited where its offerings were posted solely on chalkboards and chalkboard pillars. Yet, the chalboard remains for daily offerings that change with seasonal ingredients as well as transitory dishes.
warm, crusty bread

One of the dishes I ordered on my first visit was the Salad Foie Gras (490 PhP), which was actually a simple but clean-tasting salad of mangoes, nuts and mixed lettuce on vinaigrette. Unfortunately, they don't serve it now, but for that pan-seared foie gras craving fix, you can actually order it on its own by request, since the one on the menu is terrine accompanied by country bread and house salad (that does not serve people like us who aren't fond of terrine well). Their pan-seared version is accompanied by cooked mangoes with a balsamic reduction. Even with the fruit, it was so rich that I asked for lettuce to munch it with. They were quite agreeable about it and gave us some salad lettuce with a mild dressing that made the starter all the more delicious.
Salad Foie Gras (490 PhP)

Along with the salad, I remember ordering the Duck Leg Confit (980 PhP) and Lamb Navarin (865 PhP) as main of our first visit. It's been so long ago, but I do remember enjoying the duck, and a tad less for its Lyonnaise potato siding since its lard-y taste was overpowering. However, I can't help but compare it to the confit of Aubergine, which has consistently had a crispier skin and juicer meat the three times I've ordered it.
Duck Leg Confit (980 PhP)

Indeed, the star of that meal was the Lamb Navarin, where the sauce was light and flavorful, and the meat firm enough to hold its shape, but practically melted in your mouth. Even the vegetables absorbed the rich flavor the sauce, and was a treat to eat. This traditional lamb stew tasted almost like caldereta, but a richer one, with hints of wine and rosemary.
Lamb Navarin (865 PhP)

At another instance, we got three orders as starters: the Escargots en crouton (290 PhP), Assiete de fromage (400 PhP), and Pan seared foie gras (by request). My parents loved the escargot on tomato confit, with herbed butter sauce and served with sourdough crouton. They said it was tasted better than the order that they got in Lemuria. The cheese platter was also simply presented with a side salad with radish sticks and some walnuts. The cheeses were goat cheese (the white balls), bleu cheese (the triangular spotted ones) and brie (the clear and rectangular cheese). We liked the goat cheese the most, since it was so fresh and creamy without any sour aftertaste.
Assiete de fromage (400 PhP)

Foie Gras de Canard Poelé (Pan Seared Duck Foie Gras)

For main, we got four pieces of Piece de Boeuf, sauce a vin rouge (steak, 6 oz. at 1050 PhP), Grosses Crevettes aux Poires et Oignons (Roasted Prawns with Pears and Onions, 870 PhP) and Boeuf Bourguignon (solo at 400 PhP) with a side of couscous (100 PhP). I find it amusing how my family always gets steak in whatever restaurant we go to, even if it’s not a steakhouse, and this is no exception. The rib-eye was served with a bed of roasted garlic and onions and a small tower of French fries. The steak was succulent, and though it had big chunks of fat, the family says it tasted a lot like Elbert’s. High praise indeed, for steak amounting to less than a third of Elbert’s price. The steak was very meaty but could be sliced easily with a butter knife, the flavor also coming from its high marbling of yummy fat. It still tasted good even without the sauce, and the family actually preferred it without, choosing the peppercorn sauce from time to time when it arrived.
Piece de Boeuf, sauce a vin rouge (steak, 6 oz. at 1050 PhP)

Dad said the prawns were just okay, and we all laughed when he said that manang could whip up something like that. Of course, he was just kidding. The Beef Bourguignon was also just okay, especially compared to the Lamb Navarin which was also a stew that tasted much better. Considering that they simmered the beef for several hours in wine, it was still kind of tough, and the sauce was lacking but overpowering. Good thing there was couscous, and it was very good to scoop up the sauce which also counterbalanced its strong flavor.
Grosses Crevettes aux Poires et Oignons (Roasted Prawns with Pears and Onions, 870 PhP)

Boeuf Bourguignon (solo at 400 PhP)

I forgot to take pictures of the desserts, but we did order the Puit d’Amour (Baked meringue, 220 PhP), Ile Flotante (soft poached meringue on crème anglaise, 180 PhP) and the La Tarte au Chocolat Tiede (warm chocolate tart, 250 PhP). They were all good, but we liked the tart the most, and the baked meringue the least. The latter was served with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. We though this would be the best dessert, but when it came, there was just too much hard meringue for the chocolate syrup frozen on a small portion on the center of the plate. Could say the same for the ice cream stuffed inside the meringue. The Ile Flotante was good, the soft meringue being topped with crystallized caramel and almonds. It tasted like a fancy brazo de mercedes, and I liked it because it wasn’t too sweet unlike the previous dessert. Finally, the icing on the cake was the warm cocolate tart. It was actually molten chocolate cake served on a hard chocolate cookie crust. It was warm, gooey and perfect to top off our French food feast.
Ile Flotante (180 PhP)
picture care of allanko.net

All in all, the dining experience was great and fun; not mind-blowing, but very pleasant. The staff was very attentive, though may not know all of the menu; some of the food were just average, but the remarkable dishes of escargot, steak and chocolate tart more than made up for it; the portions were not as big as expected, but the food is truly warm and hearty comfort food. This is a place where one would be excited to take a date to, bring an intimate group to celebrate some event, or take the family to have those fancy Sunday dinners.

Menu. click below to magnify.

French Bistro, Makati
820 Arnaiz Ave.
Makati City, Metro Manila
Su, M, T, W, Th, F, Sa: 11:30 am - 2:00 pm
Su, M, T, W, Th: 6:30 pm - 11:00 pm
Su, Sa: 12:00 mn - 1:00 am
F, Sa: 6:30 pm - 12:00 mn

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I won't be adding any entries, from 2 months ago, adding another two from this note. Should keep priorities in check... much to my disappointment of updating this site.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Momofuku Noodle Bar

5 out of 5

** Didn't have time to write a complete article on this, so I just consolidated some articles (NY Times, NY Metro Dining, etc) that wrote good articles on it already, which also reflect how I felt when eating here.

The biggest star to emerge from the casual-dining scene is David Chang, named 2007 chef of the year by GQ and Bon Appetit for running Manhattan's Momofuku empire, consisting of three tiny restaurants right near one another that often play Led Zeppelin loud and have posters of John McEnroe on the wall. "So much in the late '90s and this decade was about service and serving mediocre food. I would rather be in an uncomfortable environment serving delicious food," says Chang. "I remember working at a restaurant, and they told us these statistics that the thing diners care about most was service and second was décor and third was food. And that made me mad. I said, 'Screw it.' That was the motto. Screw everything else — just worry about the food."

Chang compares the trend toward smaller, casual-dining restaurants to what happened to retail clothing 10 years ago, when department stores got destroyed by boutiques. "You're going to find funkier little restaurants that aren't for everyone, just like clothing stores aren't for everyone," he says. "Look at the jeans stores. There are 25 different stores that just sell jeans." His menu reflects his background as a Korean-American chef who came up through the seasonally obsessed kitchen at Craft doing his take on Japanese noodles plus, it seems, whatever else he feels like cooking. Thus, the “Momo" ($16) or Momofuku ramen was born—a large bowl of ramen noodles laden with impossibly tender Berkshire pork belly and shredded pork shoulder, showered with market vegetables, topped with a lightly poached egg. Its broth was very rich and dark, as it was simmered with roasted pork bones, shiitake mushrooms and bacon. By a mile, this is the specialty of the house. Cecile, my NY banker friend, was quick to order this for us, telling me how much she loved this restaurant that she would order this when she needed some comfort food.
“Momo" ($16)

But before we gobbled the ramen, we started it with Hanger Steak ($22), which has nugget potatoes, kimchi and butter. It was perfectly cooked, very moist and pink on the inside, the marinade of kimchi giving it a unique flavor. Unfortunately, the serving was also small for sharing alone, so we also grabbed another appetizer before our ramens.
Hanger Steak ($22)

Since Cecile chose, it had to be the equally famous pork buns ($9): A sock-puppet of steamed bread filled with thick-sliced pork belly dressed with hoisin sauce, cucumber, and scallion. Hot sauce optional. It is phenomenal.
Pork Buns ($9)

Anything that gives more people easier access to David Chang’s steamed pork buns is a humanitarian advance. So if that were all that had been accomplished by Momofuku Noodle Bar’s recent move into a larger space — there are 65 seats, up from 27 — it would be enough. But that isn’t all. With squat stools at communal tables in addition to tall stools at counters, the new Noodle offers a little more comfort. It’s set up like its more lauded sister, Momofuku Ssam Bar, though it has a paler hue and a perkier spirit, playing the blonde to Ssam’s brunette.

The menu has expanded, especially in a section titled “Cold,” where you find dishes including hamachi with blood orange ($16) and smoked duck with cinnamon ($14). Kitchen equipment has also been upgraded.

And there’s now soft-serve ice cream ($4), from a machine at center stage. It stands as an emblem of the polymorphous, mischievous Momofuku spirit, whereby East, West, high and low matter less than what strikes Mr. Chang’s fancy, like a cold braid of pistachio and cannoli flavors in a cone.

If the florid praise that has flowed Mr. Chang’s way is starting to grate on you, here’s your palliative: there are numerous miscues at the expanded Noodle, which competes with Ssam and now Momofuku Ko for Mr. Chang’s attention. Kevin Pemoulie, a partner in Noodle, runs the kitchen day to day.

The grilled octopus ($13) was rubbery. Duck confit rested on eggs that were billed as “soft scrambled” ($24) but that registered as an unappealing porridge. Although the noodles in the ramen dishes ($9 to $15) had a terrific mouth feel, the broth on occasion lacked spirit. And none of this struck me as any bargain in the context of a first-come-first-served operation that remains cramped.

But service was expert, and so, in the end, was most of the kitchen’s output: hefty, succulent prawns ($18) on buttery grits enriched by a poached egg and pork stock; a new dish of deep-fried chicken ($21 for a half, $40 for a whole) that’s not encased in batter, so it has an un-oily crunch; those famously plump smoked chicken wings with garlic and pickled chili ($11).
Steamed chicken buns ($9 for two) were better than ever, the pulled dark meat crisped on a new high-heat griddle. Will they challenge the hegemony of the pork buns? I think not. But that’s only because there’s nary a sandwich in this city that could.

menu. click to magnify.

171 First Avenue
in between 10th and 11th street
New York, NYC

noodle bar hours of operation

sun - thurs:
12pm - 11pm

fri - sat:
12pm - 12am

Sunday, March 8, 2009


5 out of 5 stars

The first thing you think of Sala, when going to this place, is how inaccessible it is. Sure, it may be neighboring Greenbelt 5, but the only way to get here is to walk through a maze of streets, nary a parking slot available next to it. But don’t let its inaccessibility deter you --- it’s a small sacrifice for what could probably be your best restaurant experience.

When you go up the stairs of the building and see the big banners spelling Sala per letter, you wonder how you could have missed their signage driving through Makati Avenue. And then when you reach the top, you are pleasantly surprised at the building you see in front of you. It’s actually quite small, a one-storey building sandwiched in between the PLDT Building and Locsin Building (where the British Embassy is). To even call it a building would be ironic, because it looks more like a room with glass and cement walls and a thick metal ceiling. But instead of detracting from its ambience, it only adds to it, making it more charming and intimate despite its modern furnishings.

Sala used to be in Malate, Manila. But they relocated to Makati, making it more accessible to yuppies and professionals in the business district. To make things easier, Sala was divided into both Sala and Sala Bistro, the first being their fine-dining version and the latter being the more laid-back branch in Greenbelt 3, which serves up Sala’s famed Sunday Champagne Jazz Brunch. These restaurants, along with People’s Palace, are owned by chef and entrepreneur Colin McKay. He hired Chef Carlo Miguel, of Mezzaluna fame, to be its Executive Chef early 2008, who started cooking up new dishes, keeping old Sala favorites.

Sala is simple, yet contains sophisticated hints of luxurious upholstery, smoked mirrors and shell-shaped sconces. It is mainly in white, with its floor, tablecloths, walls and raised ceilings. And it is complimented by the warm brown colors of the wooden side paneling and chairs. There is nothing which stands out architecturally, because they expect the setting to be a blank canvas for its food. Service is on spot, with the waiters being attentive but not hovering. Upon entering, they even offered me a bag hook to hang mine by the side of the table.

There were only 13 dishes to order for that day covering both appetizers and entrees, fitting in one page. Changing their menu every several weeks make up for the small number dishes offered, so that next time you visit, you’d have a fresh set of choices. While we placed our orders, we were offered bread from a metal basket carried by the waiter, which for that day was a chewy rosemary bread sprinkled with sea salt as well as sesame lavosh, which is a crisp, unleavened flat bread. They also set 3 small quiches in front of us, our amuse bouche. It looked deceptively plain, a normal pie with cheese melted on top. But when you bite into it, there was a burst of flavors that told you what you were eating wasn’t just any quiche. The phyllo pastry crust was perfectly flaky, which grounded the other flavors of portabella mushroom, cream spinach and cheese. It was meaty, yet light; creamy yet zesty. Eating something like this raised the bar for the dishes that we ordered.

And we were not disappointed. Far from it. Our appetizer of Twice Baked Souffle with Prawns, Feta and Dill (420 PhP) as well as the Portabella mushroom, ricotta and thyme ravioli with parmesan and white truffle oil (460 PhP) were both divinely inspired. The soufflé has been a best-selling mainstay since Malate, and has never failed to please. The soufflé has been baked hours ahead of time, and baked once again to form a crispy, cheesy crust, where the chef surrounds the plate with even more parmesan and feta cheese, garnished with basil, to make it more decadent. While the crust is crisp, the inside remains creamy and delicate, with the feta, prawns and dill blending seamlessly with the beaten egg and flour mixture.
Twice Baked Souffle with Prawns, Feta and Dill (420 PhP)

While the soufflé is rich and decadent, the ravioli is refreshing and savory. Homemade ravioli pasta is stuffed with light ricotta cheese and portabella mushroom cooked in truffle oil, its mild-smoky flavor giving way to the tart flavor of fennel and orange slaw that beds the pasta. Rocket microgreens is used as a garnish, as well as a side of basil oil and another side of truffle oil. When you bite into the perfectly al dente pasta, its delicate ricotta flavor is played up by slaw, teasing you with its light, acidic notes. You feel revived, yet satisfied, and all the more expectant of your main course.
Portabella mushroom, ricotta and thyme ravioli with parmesan
and white truffle oil (460 PhP)

The entrees were a sight to behold, its plating quite brilliant. The Minted Lamb Loin and Confited Lamb Shoulder with Eggplant Mashed Potatoes, Roast Peppers and Pomegranate Molasses jus (960 PhP) was the most experimental and playful. The Lamb Loin was seared and baked perfectly medium rare. It was pink on the inside and it was so tender and juicy. Mint encircled the lamb loins to offset its aftertaste. It was accompanied with a bed of diced zucchini and pomegranates, the latter picking up the sweet flavor of the lamb dripping sauce that was spiked with the same fruit. The entire thing was topped with the confited lamb shoulder, where the process involves it roasting duck fat after marinating overnight in spices. It was well worth the process because it brought a rich, earthy side of the lamb. We all loved how the sweet flavor of the zucchini and pomegranates lent itself to the rich taste of the meat. There were much textures and flavors involved, and you can’t help but leisurely savor every bite.
Minted Lamb Loin and Confited Lamb Shoulder
with Eggplant Mashed Potatoes, Roast Peppers
and Pomegranate Molasses jus (960 PhP)

We also picked the special of the day, which was a type of special Australian Tenderloin (900+ PhP). It was seared before putting in the oven. It was also very tender and it matched its side dishes of mashed potatoes, French beans and portabella mushroom well. We actually loved how they grilled the portabella mushroom to make it stay so soft and flavorful. It almost melted in your mouth, and brought a new dimension to the meat when you ate the mushroom with it. However, its jus was overpowering (maybe from the wine mixed with it) and we preferred eating the tenderloin with the side dishes alone.
Australian Tenderloin (900+ PhP)

Finally, we also chose the Grilled Australian Bobby Veal Tenderloin with Green Pea Risotto and Braised Veal Cheek with Smashed Root Vegetables (980 PhP). We loved how the taste was almost a yin-yang of flavors. The veal cheek to the left had an intense flavor, braised in a sauce that stood up to the strong flavors of the root vegetable siding. It was braised for such a time that it was literally fork-tender. I never even had to use a knife! Meanwhile, the veal tenderloin to the right had a mild taste, that was matched by the soft, pleasant flavor of the pea risotto. A sauce that was slightly sweet encircled it. It was fun alternating from the cheek to the tenderloin, then back, loving how the same ingredient could taste so different from the other. However, the tenderloin wasn’t as tender, and it was even sort of dry. But that may have been my fault since I told the kitchen to grill it medium well.
Grilled Australian Bobby Veal Tenderloin with Green Pea Risotto
and Braised Veal Cheek with Smashed Root Vegetables (980 PhP)

We were so stuffed from our appetizers and entrees that we didn’t even have room for dessert. But I heard that the panna cotta laced with berries is one to die for! If only we had more room to eat more of their creations. Good thing there’s a second visit, a third visit, a fourth visit….

p.s. pictures care of my photographer friend, Keisie Marfil :)

MENU. Click to magnify.

Sala, Makati

Podium Level, Locsin Bldg., 6752 Ayala Ave. cor. Makati Ave.
Makati City, Metro Manila
(02) 750-1555
M, T, W, Th, F, Sa: 11:00 am - 2:00 pm
M, T, W, Th, F, Sa: 6:00 pm - 11:00 pm

Saturday, February 21, 2009


4 out of 5 stars

Has Peter Luger grown tired of us, or have some of us simply grown tired of it? This venerated and venerable New York institution opened in 1887, and visits to the steakhouse around its 120th birthday suggested an inconsistency at odds with its legend. When Peter Luger is on its game, the gruffness of its waiters is pitch-perfect — more amiable than obnoxious — and the charred, sizzling, butter-doused porterhouse is a steak more breathtaking than any in the city. But sometimes the service is just plain chilly, and the steak misses its mark, and that's when you notice the flaws in other menu items and wonder why you shouldn't just visit one of Luger's rapidly expanding number of clones, which are less brutally illuminated, more consistently courteous and, unlike Luger, take credit cards.
---Frank Bruni

I begin the review by a passage from Frank Bruni, one of my all-time favorite food critics. Apparently, most of the reviews on it in the NY Times has been written by him, who maintains a love-hate relationship with Luger’s.

And I can understand why. Service can be pretty erratic at times, efficient the next; steak can taste breathtaking at one visit, the meat not so great the next, masked by a truckload of butter for its sauce.

I heard a lot about Luger’s ever since I was a child. Bar none, the steak place of choice would be Luger’s. Sure, we may have up-and-comers Craftsteak and BLT Steak, and even similary old and established places like the Strip House or Keens Steakhouse, but nothing comes close to the porterhouse whose taste has been imitated even by Wolfgang. In own country, the prized steaks of Mamou copy their technique, serving the platter on top of inverted plates, with the steak cut into long strips, drowning in butter.

Upon entering, you’re confronted with a bar up front, the dining rooms dividing into two at the corner of the bar. Lots of traffic up front, waiters talking loudly, moving through crowds impenitently. The place has rich wooden accents, the place brutally lit, the dining rooms even brighter with its light-colored walls.

We reserved a table weeks ahead, but we still weren’t able to get one within 30 minutes. The service is brusque and slightly peevish, to the point that you feel apprehensive on inquiring about the table duly reserved for you.

Regardless, the food is supposed to make you forget everything. But before we get to the steak, maybe it would be best to elaborate on the ritual that is Luger’s. My friend told me in all seriousness not to order from the menu…in fact, not to even ask for the menu. I looked at her in a weird way. No, it’s really like that, she assures. It is standard to get the porterhouse, calling it steak for 2, 3 or 4. That was the only choice that made sense, along with the creamed spinach (of course) and the German potatoes (naturally). If one ordered off the menu, you’d get sneers from the staff and people coughing out “tourist.”

Not wanting to be made fun of, we did exactly as was told. Some of us still took a chance and tried asking the waiter what pair of side dishes would be good with our steak for 4. With a suggestion that sounded more like an order, he barked “German potatoes” and the “creamed spinach.” And yes, we’re back where we started! Adding only a slab of bacon as appetizer, we were set for our dinner. Before the waiter placed our orders, he brought two breadbaskets, containing various white and wheat bread, some with oats, rye or salt. They were huge and hearty, much like how the rest of their food would be, with the only complaint that they weren’t hot and probably have been out of the oven for the past hour.

The slab of Canadian bacon came way before the steak did, and it was literally just a big slab of bacon. More of a fatty teaser, the four of us merrily picked on it while we ate our bread and chit-chatted on their NY moments. And after probably ten minutes, our steak came, along with the spinach and the potatoes.
Canadian Bacon

The waiter put two inverted plates in front of us. Then he set the steak on top of it. It was already sliced, ready for serving,. He then put some of the strips of meat on each of our plate, then scooped up the juice and butter and drizzled it over our steaks.
(after the waiter served out steak)

(our half-eaten steak for 4)

What left us awestruck though was the size of the meat. My picture (with my point and shoot camera) could do it no justice, as it was of more gigantic portions in real life. My closest estimation would probably be thirty inches in diameter. Yes, thirty inches of sizzling meat, charred on the outside, and medium-rare on the inside, with its own cattle flag proudly stuck in front of the meat. It was USDA Prime Beef, family selected and dry aged in their very own aging box.

up close and personal

Porterhouse is similar to the T-bone, both containing two valued portions called the tenderloin and the short loin found on the middle-rear back of the cattle. Between the two, the tenderloin is the better area of beef, which the porterhouse contains compared to its T-bone counterpart. Because of this, an extra muscle is located in its center on the upper side. Needless to say, it is a choice cut of beef.

(picture off of the NY Times)

As much as the presentation was great, beef gigantic and its magnificent appearance, there was something off about it. The meat wasn’t as tender, with a big chewy part due to the muscle in the middle. Perhaps it wasn’t properly aged, and the meat was slightly overdone in the tenderloin area (it cooks faster than the short loin). Our friend apologized for the visit, and said that it wasn’t like the last time she ate here: where the beef was luxuriously rich, crunchy on the edges, but tender near the bone, its intense meaty taste melting in your mouth and giving in to the slightest movement of her knife. Also, I read a later review which said that “If you have more than 2 people in your party, order multiples of steak for 2. If you order the steak for 3 or 4 you won't get the same cut and you'll miss out.” I wished I got to read this before going there and blowing off around a hundred dollars.

I liked its steak sauce, though. It was very tangy, with strong hints of tomatoes, onions, horseradish and molasses; slightly sweet, but with a zesty kick at the end. My friends loved the creamed spinach, but detested the Germen potatoes, saying that the latter was overcooked. On the other hand, I preferred the German potatoes to the spinach, because the latter had this aftertaste that didn’t match the flavor of the steak sauce. Besides, I liked crispy potatoes, and even if it was slightly dry, the steak’s sauce compensated for it. Oh well, each had their own preferences, but the consensus was that steak looked better than it tasted.
Steak Sauce

Creamed Spinach

German Potatoes

All in all, Peter Luger’s was an experience that I wouldn’t mind trying again for a better steak experience. It might have been off because there were too many people at that time, with nary a chair empty in both dining halls.

Bring cash and leave your sensitivities at the door. This is an institution that one HAS to go for that great NY steakhouse experience.

ate in:
Brooklyn, NY
Peter Luger, Inc.
178 Broadway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
(718) 387-7400

other branch:
Great Neck, LI
Peter Luger of Long Island, Inc.
255 Northern Blvd.
Great Neck, N.Y. 11021
(516) 487-8800

Sunday, February 1, 2009


.5 out of 5 stars (for me)

Heard a lot of buzz about this French bistro. Mostly good, compared to La Regalade, which is why I convinced a couple of my girl friends to accompany me there on a food trip. One of them agreed with much approval, after coming from a dinner with her family giving them the "vip" treatment. She even suggested good picks, such as the uni soup, the pork kurobota, the sea bass and the millionaire's pasta (not on the menu).

The restaurant is housed in Hotel Celeste, and one wouldn't notice that there was a restaurant to its front side. I mean that in a good way, because the restaurant blends effortlessly within the quirky modern-baroque feel of the place. The restaurant, though, contains more classic pieces, muted yellow lights (compared to the bright cheery whites of Celeste) and even wall fabrics.

There is only one page for the menu, and we were quick to order because our friend had already narrowed the choices down for us, picking the "Tomato" under their Hot Appetizers, as well as the "Sea Bass" in the Main Course. The waiter also highly recommended it, claiming it to be their best-seller. We couldn't request for the Millionaire's pasta (pasta with all the expensive trimmings, such as lobsters, foie gras, etc) since they didn't have any pasta to cook with.

It was refreshing (literally and figuratively) that our amuse bouche would turn out to be ice cream. In an "Iron Chef" twist of fate, it turned out to be balsamic ice cream with parmesan shavings in it. There was also a large circular puff pastry on top, just to balance off the tartness. I got bowled over with my first spoonful, the flavors were very intense...and tart! Actually, it's very good, but I'm not a fan of things tart and acidic in general. I was hoping to get to the middle of the scoop, thinking the vinegar flavor was stronger outside since I saw dark balsamic swirls ringing the sorbet glass, but when I dug deeper, it had the same tart concentration.

The Tomato (250 PhP) looked like a pizza of some sort, only that the crust was a puff pastry. Its "sauce" was eggplant caviar, which actually lacked taste. The mozarella and olives only brought color while adding nothing to the eggplant. Perhaps the only ingredient which brought it to life were the sun-dried tomatoes circling the pastry. As well as the parmesan shavings, though I didn't taste much of that, either. My friend and i had to add much salt for good measure. It was alright, but nothing to rave about just yet.
Tomato (250 PhP)

So their best-selling Sea Bass (680 PhP) arrived with much expectation. I was thinking that it must be good since the fish wasn't exactly that big. I was even able to take a picture of the entire plate without anything else just to make the fish look a little bigger! As I was eating it, I was relishing the sauce...truffle oil just makes everything taste good, especially if it's loaded with cream! I just slathered the sauce over the mashed potatoes and the fish, eating the leeks sparingly because it was a little tough.
Sea Bass (680 PhP)

I had a great time talking with my girl friends, and i really didn't have much to say anymore about the dish I was eating until...the sauce ran out! I guess that wasn't much of a problem, I mean, the fish must be good anyway, right? But I remember this incident distinctly, because my friend Julia was talking about Boracay when I chewed into something FISHY. Sea bass isn't supposed to taste like this! Wait a minute....I skimmed my fork over and through the fish....it was flaky....and brown! I've been so used to meaty, succulent, white sea bass without any fishy aftertaste whatsoever. As far as I was concerned, was it even sea bass to begin with? I stopped eating, and handed my plate over to Julia, asking her if I was just imagining that fishy taste. Her eyes start to widen in recognition, as my other friend Myta also grabs a forkful.

"I know! It tastes like Bangus! It probably is bangus!" exclaims Julia.
Myta interposes, "yeah, sea bass never looked this brown. It wasn't like that the other time." The other time being when she ate here with her family.
"I know, right?" I agreed.
Julia goes on to say that her mom eats that for breakfast with tomatoes and onions, making calls to her aunts and uncles about how weird this sea bass tasted.
I ask Myta to call one of our chef friends to ask if sea bass really look and tasted like this.
In the meantime, I was debating on whether to ask for the chef or not. I was never a confrontational customer, but I was really upset with the fish. The least I wanted was an explanation if I were to pay that much for something I disliked.
Myta just came from talking with our chef friend, and he ended up saying that we were being fooled if what we described to him was sea bass. Sea bass usually didn't flake, nor was it brown with such a fishy taste. That bolstered our courage to ask for the chef and ask him about it.

So I called the waiter, explained to him our situation, and asked him to call the chef. There we were, leisurely chatting and eating, waiting for the chef to come out. Lo and behold, rather than the chef coming out to answer our queries, another waiter comes out with a BOWL OF RAW FISH ON ICE. He then goes to say that the chef was showing us the fish he prepared our sea bass with, and that it was called "Apahap," a "local" sea bass. All of us were flabbergasted....to bring the customers a bowl of raw fish???!?!! What were we going to do with it???! We just nodded and the waiter left us.

At this point, my friends and I were furious with the treatment we were getting. Julia all the more called relatives and friends, telling others about that incident. All of us were in agreement when it came to still wanting an explanation from the chef. So one of us calls the waiter to ask for him AGAIN, and the waiter just nodded his head and disappears through the kitchen doors. They most likely called the pair (the chef and his wife), but I think the latter didn't even feel the need to talk to their customers? I don't know... but suffice to say, we ended up waiting for idle time.

Julia adamantly insisted not paying for the fish should the bill arrive. As much as I wanted to, I knew that I'd pay for it in case the restaurant asks, just so that they wouldn't think I'm mooching off a meal. Worse part is, I was too full to eat another bite in a different restaurant, even if I wanted to just to make up for that awful fish. Our patience was wearing thin, and we finally called for a waiter one last time. I think the chef arrived only because we were teetering to the edge of losing our tempers. What fanned the flames was when we saw Chef Cyrille and his wife dilly-dallying around the place schmoozing and talking with their friends, both knowing that we wanted to call either of them, but none of them responding to our requests.

When he came, he shook our hands and asked what the problem was. So we repeated our "fishy" story, and how we never came across that kind of sea bass, let alone "Apahap." He goes on to explain that it's a local fish, that even other countries like Singapore call it "Asian Sea Bass." Fine. Okay. But then I went on to explain that the fish had a fishy taste, and that I was surprised that sea bass would taste like that. He just let that statement go with a, "Sorry you didn't like my recipe," without looking the least apologetic or concerned. I added that we were a bit offended because we tried calling them several times, but he was quick to reply that he was busy preparing the food in the kitchen. He said this with such ease, knowing that Julia saw him just around the corner entertaining his friends.

Not feeling mollified one bit, we just asked for the check. The waiter comes in with a plate of some pastries. When we said that we didn't want it, he replied, "Hindi, talagang binibigyan namin yan." At this point, we all just wanted to go since we were so angry, adding insult to injury in that the dessert given wasn't even one to make up for the unsatisfactory service.

We left in a hurry, Julia giving added info that all the more compelled us never to go back (I'm telling this story with her permission). Her Tito, who's a doctor in Makati Med, mentioned to the wife of Chef Cyrille one time that he's good friends with the owners of Celeste. He was planning on bringing the Board of Directors to have dinner there, and was half-joking when he asked for a discount. Much to his shock, she said, "You should have told me ahead of time. We could have planned a budget menu."

In so many words, it is apparent that my companions nor I have any intention of returning to this restaurant. Even assuming that the fish was indeed apaap, or a kind of sea bass, or even if we were wrong, there may have been ways which could have salvaged our disastrous trip:
  1. They could have offered to replaced the dish with another one to our liking.
  2. They may have offered to waive the expense of that dish, which we would have refused to do, but at least there was an act of good faith.
  3. A simple and sincere apology would have even been acceptable (without any qualifications) because, as this phrase has always been used, "The customer is always right."

Restaurant Cicou
, Hotel Celeste
San Lorenzo Drive cor. A. Arnaiz Ave., San Lorenzo Village
Makati City, Metro Manila
(02) 887-8080 loc. 242
M, T, W, Th, F, Sa: 6:00 am - 10:00 am
M, T, W, Th, F, Sa: 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
M, T, W, Th, F, Sa: 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm

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