Review by SuSu
And that would be too bad, since the food here is great. The owner/chef is Romy, who recreates dishes from his youth, fusing it with New York palates to create light but substantial fare. Their salt-roasted duck is incredible -- succulent meat, roasted flavor and a crisp, thin skin completely devoid of fat. The accompanying sambal was tasty and hot, but the tomatillo chutney was so good that I asked for more after the first bite! It's served on a mixture of stir-fried vegetables and glass noodles, and it's wonderful. They also have a braised lamb shank served in a light coconut curry sauce, and on the specials menu, they offered wild King Salmon, and a grilled hangar steak. The salmon came on a bed of beans and black rice which was wondrous all by itself. The hangar steak featured a grilled half banana!
Even the appetizers were tasty and were served small, as they should be, since they are meant to whet the appetite, not overwhelm it like so many restaurants err to do. We had a couple of specials, a seviche of fluke and oysters served with a radish slaw, and grilled octopus salad. Both were great, I especially loved the octopus. It's a difficult shellfish to cook, so why don't more restaurants just cook it properly rather than being overly creative about it?
They have a very nice and reasonably priced wine list, offering bottles and half bottles. They also have a whole menu of teas by the pot, with descriptions and tips on what to look for when you sip it. It's actually very nice to have a cup of tea while waiting for guests to show up, rather than the inevitable cocktail. Others got some nice pan-Asian style drinks; one of the drinks had rum and roasted coconut juice. The juice is hard to get around here, but it's made by putting a while coconut over an open fire till the outside chars, then pouring out the milk. It has a nice, toasty, slight caramelly flavor that goes quite well with rum.
Speaking of rum, the chef has an obsession with it. He collects rums from all over the world and offers it to discerning customers to sample. He's a man riding his hobby, and he's happiest when other true aficionados can adequately appreciate his stash. He seems happiest with customers he likes ... and he seems to like everyone, and everyone seems to love him. We saw him sitting at customer tables, explaining the specials, or how he cooks a particular dish. I really wish I'd asked him about the tomatillo chutney.
The desserts are creative and a bit unexpected. I ordered a coconut and purple yam pie, served with vanilla bean ice cream. The crust was awesome -- tender and flaky, almost like puff pastry but "shorter" in texture. There were big "noodles" of coconut in the creamy filling, with a dollop of sweet purple yam pulp in the bottom. It wasn't too sweet and the textural sensation alone was worth ordering it. We also ordered a chocolate cake with cinnamon ice cream, and it came as a combination of soufflé, flourless chocolate cake, and hot mousse -- a wondrous combination resulting in a crispy top (like a muffin!) with an almost-liquid rich chocolate heart. Wow!
The prices here reflect it's location, meaning they charge way less than expected for the quality of food. The service, other than Romy's personal touch, is a bit clumsy, but it's more than adequate. The bathroom is decorated like the rest of the restaurant, with Philippine motifs and paper and bamboo lanterns. It's got exposed brick and a recovered-hardwood floor, very SoHo, but it also feels like you are in Manila, with better food. There are 3-sided booths and nicely sized tables with comfortable chairs for dining, and a funky bar along one wall. The design of this narrow space is very evocative of many Asian restaurants.
I will have to get back here regularly, if only to figure out how to make the tomatillo chutney! But everything from tea to appetizers to dessert was awesome, I'm hungry just writing about it!
Photographs courtesy and property of Cendrillon.com
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