6/28/07

Cendrillon

My friends and I recently discovered a gem in Manhattan. For a long time, we've been looking for a decent place that celebrates Philippine cuisine, somewhere we can bring uninitiated friends and visitors into. Our cravings for Pinoy food has usually brought us to the uninspired ambiance and the mass-produced offerings of the restaurants in Woodside, Queens. This one in Manhattan - in Soho at that - doesn't even sound Pinoy at all. It's been called Cendrillon (French for Cinderella) since the day it opened in 1995.

New York has seen many restaurants that close for business as soon as it open. If the 12 years behind Cendrillon is anything to go by, then the husband and wife team of Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa has certainly made a strong foothold in downtown Manhattan. This despite the other fact that Filipino food, unlike other popular Asian cuisine, has not really found its niche among New Yorkers unless someone is married to a Filipino. With its good location, one is inclined to think that Romy and Amy is wooing the snooty Manhattanites into eating Pinoy food.

Interestingly, the couple has authored "Memories of Philippine Kitchens", a coffee-table style cookbook with photos by renowned photographer Neal Oshima. This book is available at Barnes and Noble bookstore and online through Amazon.com.



Cendrillon's interior is long and narrow with exposed bricks on one side and a partially open kitchen running parallel to the wooden booths. There are more tables at the back which has a loft-like feel due to the high ceilings. The decor is thankfully not an Asian overkill. The lighting is soft and funky but one will hardly miss the gorgeous Oshima photos hanging on the wall - they're there as if to whet your appetite. I'm famished anyway, having just stood the whole day watching a parade on 5th Avenue.

A quick look at the dinner menu shows a rather limited entree. One realizes here that not everything served in Cendrillon is traditionally Pinoy. We settled for the Chicken Adobo, Kare-kare and Striped Bass with Hijiki Crust. For starters, we ordered Ukoy - vegetable and shrimp fritter - and Lumpia Shanghai. If not for the fresh pineapple sweet and sour sauce that came with the Lumpia, I wouldn't have been pleasantly jolted. It was a nice counterpoint to something that has been deep-fried.

Adobo is undoubtedly the Philippine's most popular dish. I've eaten Chicken Adobo all my life and I was surprised at Romy's own rendition. With a kick that renders the vinegar as sublime, Chicken Adobo comes with a dramatic entrance to my palate. The chicken is moist, soft and chewy and that unmistakable blast of vinegar proclaims this isn't another chicken food you find elsewhere.

The Kare-kare is the high point. Romy made sure he only used peanuts ground in his kitchen. The effect is that the peanut sauce took a backstage to the tartness of the shrimp paste that came along with the dish. I truly wonder how Romy's Caucasian customers deal with this blend of flavors.

I was disappointed with the Striped Bass with Hijiki Crust. Though Japanese inspired, I somehow expected it to shine but the fish came soggy, having drowned in its own soupy aquarium. Not even the contrasting seaweed crust could spring the fish back to life.

We got Halo-halo and Bibingka for dessert. I find nothing memorable with the iced dessert but the Bibingka is divine. Romy's version of Bibingka is not overly sweet and it sweeps your palate subtly like cotton rubbing against a cheek.

Given its pricey location, Cendrillon is surprisingly affordable. Main courses start at $18.50. Atypical of most Asian restaurants, both Romy and Amy will drop by customer's tables for a little chat. Service by the wait staff is quick but not-too-intrusive. Overall, this restaurant is highly recommended.

2 comments:

  1. Got their book.... i've heard they've closed... tama ba?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Nomadic Pinoy6:37:00 PM

    Yes, they've closed last year due to rent increase. They move their business to Brooklyn & renamed it Purple Yam - I still have to visit it though.

    ReplyDelete

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