Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Girls' Night Out, French-style

Sommelier Selection’s France Wine Festival is probably one of the most highly-anticipated foodie events in the metro. This year’s month-long event is composed of wine dinners at the restaurants of four of Manila’s most popular and distinguished chefs: Chef Marc Aubry’s Je Suis Gourmand; Chef Colin McKay’s Sala; Chef Cyrille Soenen’s Cicou; and Chef Alain Raye’s La Regalade. Being a perennial Marc Aubry fan, I instinctually decided that I shall attend the dinner at Gourmand. Although, after a lengthy deliberation with my food posse for that event- which consisted of Bluefrog and Pannacotta Princess (PP)- we have decided that it would be fun to try the newest “kid” on the block, Cicou.

Chef Cyrille Soenen is not exactly a newbie in Manila’s dining scene. Before arriving in Manila to become the chef at Hotel Inter-continental’s Prince Albert Rotisserie, he was chef de partie at the Ritz Hotel, Duc d’Enghien, Le Drouant and Le Grand Hotel Inter-continental- all of which are Michelin-starred establishments. Later on, he became executive chef at Intercon Manila, as well as in Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn Galleria. After several years of working in Manila’s top hotels, Chef Cyrille finally decided to open his own restaurant called Cicou (pronounced see-SOO) at Makati’s newest boutique hotel, Hotel Celeste, on Arnaiz Ave.

As PP and I arrived at the venue that evening, we were informed at the front desk that we had to pay immediately in either cash or check. Since I was planning on charging my dinner to my credit card, I did not have enough cash on me, so we I had to take a short trip to the nearest ATM. When we returned to the restaurant, Bluefrog has arrived and was chatting with Sommelier Selection Big Boss Jerome Philippon at the lobby. After some photos, we were immediately whisked away to our table for three.

The dining room was small but not confining, thanks to the use of floor-to-ceiling glass panels instead of walls as enclosure. The seats were comfortable and plush, the ceilings curving gracefully like waves. It got pretty loud in there, so they should do something about their acoustics so diners would not have to scream at each other. But then again, it was a wine dinner, which could be the reason why the decibel-level was higher than usual.

While waiting for our amuse bouche, we were poured glasses of Drappier Champagne, Carte d’Or (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier). The first glass we had was not chilled, and we got the impression that they were being stingy with the bubbly. Bluefrog immediately reports this to Jerome, and he graciously pours our second servings of Champagne, this bottle properly chilled and the pour was of a more appropriate amount. “It’s nice to see you girls outside of Gourmand”, Jerome says. I defensively reply, “Well, you know we’re VERY loyal to Marc”. “But of course,” Jerome nods knowingly, and then adds, “It’s nice to try something different once in a while”.

Finally settled in, we sipped the luscious bubbly with an Amuse Bouche of Salmon Mousse and Lentils. The mousse was silky and delicate- not too thick- with just a nuance of fish. The lentils were a good contrast, with its earthy flavour. The champagne went wonderfully with this dish, with its balanced acidity, its slight vanilla flavours and hazelnut finish.

With the Duck Liver cooked in Madiran Red Wine, Crispy Pain de Campagne, Ginger Bread and Marmalade of Pomelos, we were poured our first white Burgundy for the night, the Vire Clesse, Domaine de la Bongran, Cuvee Tradition EJT 2003 (Chardonnay). This lovely wine is proof that a well-balanced Chardonnay can be refined and dainty, unlike its heftier Californian counterparts. The Vire Clesse has a bold golden color with a “great nose of fruits” and is syrupy and full in the mouth, excellently-paired, I believe, with the Foie Gras appetizer- with the sweetness of the ginger bread, the jammy-ness of the marmalade, and the richness that you can only get with Foie Gras.

The next course was the Prawn Bisque and Sea Urchin Flan, my personal favourite for that evening. This soup was rich, not in texture, but in flavour- with the dense prawn aroma and the smoothness of the flan. I am not a big soup fan, but I could have this Prawn Bisque everyday for the rest of my life. I hope the server did not “go to town” on it with the mechanical peppermill, though.

This was followed directly by the second white Burgundy, a Pouilly Fuisse from Domaine Robert-Denogent, Le Reisses 2005 (Chardonnay), where Jerome got to brilliantly portray the importance of terroir (“The direct environment of the vineyard, the land and its chemical composition, as well as the climate...”). Although both whites were from the same region (Burgundy) and the same grape variety (Chardonnay), the two wines could not be more different in character.

The Pouilly Fuisse was much lighter than the Vire Clesse, but was surely not lacking in complexity. It had a floral and citrusy nose and minerally palate, which I enjoyed very much. I love whites with pronounced “minerality” (is that a word?) and this particular wine illustrates it with much aplomb. The wine was paired with a Roasted Sea Bass, Red Wine and Lime Sauce, Oysters and Green Cabbage Ravioli, which I was not a big fan of. No particular reason- it was just, for lack of a better adjective, blah. This is surely one situation where the dish was incredibly overshadowed by the wine.

The girls and I were most excited about the next dish, which was a Veal Rack cooked in Cocotte, Gratin of Pasta, Duck Liver and Truffle, Wild Mushroom. The veal was perfectly medium-rare, so tender that we could have swallowed it whole without much chewing. The red wine accompanying the dish- Chinon, Domaine Bernard Baudry, Croix Boissee 2000- was perfectly-paired. On my first sip I thought that the firm tannins might overpower the delicate meat. But, as I took another sip with a bite of the veal, the wine became a bit more rounded, releasing wonderful red berries in the palate with just the slightest oaky-ness. Indeed, “a great food wine”, as the wine notes promised.

The cheese course (Shavings of Goat Cheese, Pear Cooked in Sweet Wine and Mint Salad) was paired with a Beaujolais-Villages, Domaine Lapalu, Le Rang du Merle 2006 (Gamay). This was Bluefrog’s favourite. I myself was pleasantly surprised by this wine, having been more familiar with “festival-quality” Beaujolais Nouveau. The usual Gamay characteristics of strawberries and jam are wonderfully enhanced with deeper, darker aromas of blackcurrants and plum. Again, a great example of how expert winemaking can bring out the complexity in any wine. After this, there is no way in hell you could make me drink Beaujolais Nouveau again.

Before we had our dessert, we were distracted by a bit of light-hearted chatter with some of the other diners while having a smoke outside. This is what I love about wine dinners- even the shyest of introverts eventually come out of their shells and participate in discourse that they would normally not have with strangers. After finding out about my upcoming nuptials, I got some shocking love advice from some of the more “matured” diners. Another European couple even said that my fiancé would have to receive their “seal of approval” before I marry him. I’m pretty sure though that if I walk past them in the future, they would have no idea who I am.

When we walked back into the dining room, we were given a treat: a tour of Cicou’s kitchen. I honestly cannot remember what we were laughing about, but the pictures show us having a good laugh with Chef Cyrille as we poked around his spotless kitchen. Everything was nothing less than state-of-the-art, that much I could I remember.

Finally, we had to end our dinner with dessert- Chocolate Milles Feuilles, Ganache and Mousse. This was paired with an equally decadent dessert wine, Monbazillac, Domaine du Petit Paris, Cuvee Grains Nobles 1998 (Sauvignon, Muscadelle, Semillon). The wine was rich and syrupy, like liquid pie. Enough said. The dessert also hit the spot with this chocoholic- the mousse was what really got me. Rich and flavourful, it was simply delicious.

The food for that evening was nothing short of exceptional, despite the fact that- in typical haute cuisine fashion- the servings were minuscule. More than tipsy from all that superb wine, Pannacotta Princess and I were kidding about finding the nearest Dencio’s and devouring some Crispy Pata and rice. I understand that it is all about the flavour, but, come on... Maybe they can make their portions a teensy bit bigger next time. As for the wine, we expected nothing but the best, and we were happy that that was what we got. A diner from the night before complained that some of the wines were not served in their proper temperature, and it seems that Cicou’s and Jerome’s staff made the proper adjustments.

It was a wonderful dinner with the girls, despite a little “Matt drama” (Totally my fault... I was having too much fun and was not answering his calls. He got worried.), but that’s another story. Congratulations to Jerome for a successful event, and to Chef Cyrille for finally opening his own temple of gastronomy. Cicou is truly a welcome addition to Manila’s dining scene- something that the metro’s foodies should be really excited about.

Cicou at Hotel Celeste
Arnaiz cor. Makati Aves.
(outside San Lorenzo Village main gate)
Makati City

Sommelier Selection
Unit 203 Jannov Plaza
Pasong Tamo Ext.
Makati City
tel. no. (632) 8404211


Miguel said...

Must have been a great dinner. Is Cicou already open to the public?

Cosmopolicious said...

Matt drama!?! Madrama! Hahahaha... well, he's from hamburg you know ;-) they're weird over there.

Chinkee said...

Hi Miguel! Nope, they're not yet open to the public. I think the lobby's not done yet, but I saw a guest room and it was really nice. The dinner was delicious but portions were ridiculously small! We were joking that the "ginger bread" in the Foie Gras dish was actually ginger bread CRUMBS. Hehe. I'm excited to try their regular menu though...:-)

Chinkee said...

Hi Cosmo! Oh well, it would not be a fun night without a little Matt drama. Hahahaha! He was out with his friends so I thought he wouldn't really mind if we stayed longer. Oh well, I'll tell you more about it next time I see you... Its a really funny story:-)

Noel said...

A diner from the night before complained that some of the wines were not served in their proper temperature....

Sounds like some wierdo to me.

Chinkee said...

Hi Noel! Yup... total wine freak. Hehe.