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 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 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



What an upsetting story! Thanks for sharing, was planning to dine there one of these days.


graey eats said...

I know, thanks for commiserating! it really was such a disappointment :( Good thing La Regalade made up for it! Review to follow...

Francis Acero said...

It's APAHAP, not apaap, and it really is sea bass.

See, the term "sea bass" does not describe one fish species, in much the same way that the word grouper can describe a variety of fish that inhabit coral waters. It's a large umbrella under which several fish species can fit.

What is sure, is that the fish station fucked up. In no way is that fish supposed to be flaky.

That being said, to put fish on your menu is pretty ambitious. I see the chef even tried to be Ferran Adria by placing foam. FOAM! That's not food, IMVHO.

If anything, this restaurant experience highlights the danger of being ambitious without mastering the basics. From what I gather of your meal it was a pretty creative attempt. As with all creative attempts, you can really suck if things go wrong.

Let this be a lesson to all wannabe restaurateurs: proper fish prep takes years to master. It may very well be that you ordered fish on the day after they went to market - see Bourdain's masterful dissertation on when to order fish.

Let this also be a lesson to those who fail to heed a chef's advice: never ever eat at the hotel restaurant.

greay eats said...

Hey Francis!

I do know that sea bass isn't just one kind of fish, in as much as they previously coined the term to make this certain fish that really look ugly sound appetizing (forgot what its name was though, but it had a hideous-looking face).

Anyway, I guess it's just the first time I've come across the apahap kind, and because of this experience, I just might steer clear of it for a while. We call this in my psych undergrad as "taste aversion," haha!

Thanks for the insight, francis! I'll tell you when our next foodieventure will be. Sayang cos we went to Sala recently, and the food was absolutely divine! but I couldn't msg you about it because it was a review for an org newsletter, and I wasn't inclined on inviting anyone on that trip.

But we might try either Establishment or the new branch of Lolo Dad's in 6750 next week. Fill you in on the details ASAP :)

Francis Acero said...

Looks like I'll have to save up for it, though. Unless raket yan, edi ok. :P

There's a joke among New York restaurants - get any white fish, call it "sea bass", and charge a zillion for it. :P

Which Sala did you go to? The one in Greenbelt or the one in the PLDT building? The difference can be that between Lolo Dad's Brasserie and Lolo Dad's in Manila. I had a lamb shank at Sala, and it was just okay for me.

Anonymous said...

It's so funny to see people thinking that they know everything about food.

I don't know everything about food nor do I pretend to. Which makes eating a very nice thing.

Apahap is local sea bass. Look it up. Type it on google. Let me help you.
look at this:

or this:

Those are just random things about the existence of LOCAL sea bass.

The menu at cicou specifies that the sea bass is the LOCAL kind. If you wanted Chilean Sea Bass - then that's what you order next time.

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE KIND OF SEA BASS. You should read more books.

Oh and by the way, Bangus meat isn't brown either.

Such a pretentious child you are. Have you ever even been to France? Do you have any clue at all? At least be responsible enough to not pretend to know it all. Madami ka pang madadaanan sa buhay. Bata ka pa.

Happy Eating!

graey eats said...

to Anonymous:

1. Please read the previous comments again. I specifically mentioned:
"...sea bass isn't just one kind of fish..."
Unlike what you're stating, I DO KNOW that sea bass is just a term for several kinds of fish. And I didn't have to Google on it to know so.

2. Please click on page 3 of the menu in the Cicou post. it NEVER mentioned that the sea bass is LOCAL. Please look at the menu at the time we visited before writing this FALSE statement:
"The menu at cicou specifies that the sea bass is the LOCAL kind. "

3. My friends and I likened it to Bangus because of its taste, not its color.

4. I don't pretend to know it all. But just so you know, yes, I've also been to France.

5. After being treated that way, no one is expected to write a good review on Cicou. Yes, I may be in my late 20s, but as PAYING customers, we have every right to be treated on the same footing as every other person in that restaurant. The main reason why I criticized this place was because of the horrendous service. If you are in any way implicated in this, shame on you for being condescending towards ANY customer, pretentious or not!

Anonymous said...

Exactly. We never claimed to know everything about food despite the fact that we travel regularly and are exposed to good food all the time (especially grace). We just really didn't like how we were treated. The waiters and the cyef could've just explained everything nicely, because we were very polite when we sent the dish back.

graey eats said...

Hey, Francis! :)

In reply to your comment:
"Which Sala did you go to? The one in Greenbelt or the one in the PLDT building? The difference can be that between Lolo Dad's Brasserie and Lolo Dad's in Manila. I had a lamb shank at Sala, and it was just okay for me."

We went to the PLDT one. Just posted it recently :) Didn't have the lamb shank, but my beef tenderloin and shoulder was sooo good, the latter being better! Nothing beats Gourmand's lamb shanks for me. And we didn't get to push through Establishment. To much conflict with the sched, what more pa with you and all your pleadings and cases. Will message you though as soon as one pushes through. And maybe I can post some of your reviews here! I love the way you write, what do you say? :)

banonymous said...

Cicou is short for Ci-supot.

graey eats said...

banonymous: you're a bebi chix, aren't you?

graey eats said...

corrected it to "apahap"

Nastasja said...

Hi Grace, just read this review along with the comments. Oh my lord, I can't believe someone just called you pretentious. Whoever the heck that was, he/she has got some nerve. Not once in that entire review did you claim to or even appeared to "know everything." In fact, you even called up chef-friends to confirm your suspicions. You didn't just get up and complain without verifying the facts. So what was that person talking about? And I agree with you that the real issue with that resto was not the fish, it was their unprofessional chef. What a pity. That hotel seems really nice, the resto will probably drag it down. Thanks for this review, Grace. Will never set foot in that resto ever. I won't spend money to get that kind of treatment. -- Nashie

P.S. I know you posted the review a long time ago, but I just couldn't help it! I HAD to comment on that idiot's comment. ;p

Walter Piping said...

Tanga naman pala kayo e. Apahap is really sea bass. Did the menu say Chilean sea bass? It doesn't. I'm not in any way connected with CiCou, just a hearty eater who has eaten in many restaurants here and abroad. Blog ka ng blog, di ka naman marunong kumain. Uy pwede ba, magsulat ka nalang ng private journal. Don't foist your untrained palate on the rest of the ignorant lot who reads you. And yes, most of the better restaurants give out complimentary amuse bouche or desserts. What an ungrateful, feeling smart bunch you are!

graey eats said...

to Walter Piping:

At the point of sounding redundant, the main reason why I criticized this place was because of the horrendous service. The food was merely incidental to the manner in which we were treated.

we DO know that the better restaurants give out complimentary amuse bouche AND desserts (it's an AND, not an OR since they refer to DIFFERENT things, as it is easily misinterpreted by your phrasing). But in this instance, the fact that is WAS a complimentary small dessert and not a token of their apology was the insulting part. By the way, not ALL better restuarants give out complimentary desserts!

So before you go accusing my "untrained palate" and the "rest of the ignorant lot who reads" me, it would be best for you to reread the comments once again.

And it's quite easy for you to claim that you're not in any way connected to restaurant without disclosing your true identity, isn't it?

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