Monday, January 30, 2012
Boudin Noir et Moi
I don’t like to be disappointed, especially with food. And with French food, I have become quite picky. Not because my palate has become so refined (read: maarte), but that I do have my favorites. Those who follow my blog know that I have my go-to French bistro here in Manila and I am fiercely loyal to it, to the point that I befriended the snooty French chef/owner even if I really do not like him that much, only so I get first dibs on the good stuff. (Just kidding, Marc. You know I love you.) I know what dishes are good, and which ones are great, and so I stick to them and they keep me happy.
Therefore, every time a new French restaurant opens, I proceed with caution. I am not easily impressed by a chef’s nationality, pedigree or educational background- I have learned from experience that these factors do not ensure great-tasting food. Like some bloggers, I do not feel the need to be the first one through the door on opening day. I allow these restaurants to get the hang of things, and also to get a feel if their food was well-received (by the right people, of course… those whose opinions do matter to me).
Brasserie Cicou is relatively-new, so new that I would normally not have eaten there just yet for fear of the “soft opening blues”. But I did want to see my friends (couples Aaron and Jo; Noel and Catha) whom I haven’t seen in quite a while, and they suggested that we eat there. Noel’s family has already eaten there before and they are very good friends with chef/owner Cyrille Soenen. During a Facebook conversation, Aaron also reassured me that, “They’ll make sure the food’s good since we’re with Noel.” So finally, after months of planning, our triple date finally pushed through one Tuesday evening.
Cicou’s dining room is lovely and spacious- the sun-bleached wood of the tables and chairs with the muted pastel palette are fresh and delicate, almost pretty. It reminded me of the interiors of the now-defunct La Cabane along Pasay Road, which I visited a few times years ago. There was an elevated sitting area which encouraged lively and relaxed conversations over wine or Pastis.
When Matt and I arrived, the rest have already ordered and cava is already being poured. There are also three bottles of Rioja wines from the region’s top producers which Noel said were sent by a supplier for tasting. Him and Aaron (of ADP Industries, the importer of cava giant Freixinet in the Philippines) have a “small business” wherein they bring in and distribute some of the best Spanish wines. I remember telling myself, “If the food bombs, at least I was able to drink some really good wines.”
The food did not bomb. In fact, there were some really good dishes that evening that I would be happy to come back for.
Like the Steak Tartare, for instance. It was very nicely-seasoned, flavored generously with tart whole capers, chopped green onions and parsley. Not worth a long drive to Greenhills (for those who live in the south of Metro Manila), but I would surely order it again when we do find ourselves back in Cicou.
My favorite among all the starters was the Escargot Bourguignonne. No need to navigate through awkward tongs and scooping out squiggly forest-floor creatures from their “homes”- the snails are already conveniently de-shelled and swimming in little tubs of melted herb butter. And these were not diminutive, petite snails- these were definitely the ones who drank mama’s milk, and lots of it. Thick and juicy, decadently-flavored with aromatic herbs and fine butter, I was definitely tempted to dunk little pieces of bread in the special escargot dish. But then, sitting next to lovely, poised Catha, I had to restrain myself.
I was very happy I took a gamble and ordered the Boudin Noir for my main course. Boudin Noir is blood sausage made in the French style, and in Cicou, the sausage is sliced and placed over a fluffy bed of potato puree, drizzled with jus, and topped with a roasted peach. I was expecting the sausage to be offal-y with a texture similar to liver, but it was the opposite- the flavors were actually very delicate and the sausage itself seemed to melt in my mouth. The peach lent an interesting flavor and textural contrast. Overall, it was a highly-successful dish and I look forward to having it again.
I must also note that Cicou serves a mean Steak Frites. Noel shared some of his- cooked perfectly rare- and I enjoyed the tender, flavorful meat, simply accented with sea salt.
The most popular dish from this young resto has got to be their dessert dish called Kouign Amann. The texture is that of a thick croissant, covered in candied sugar which seems to have melted into the flaky pastry as it baked. On the side is not the usual salted caramel ice cream but vanilla, and everyone agrees that it seems to be a more refined match. It really is quite dreamy with its sweet, flaky, buttery goodness, and now I understand why it has quite the cult following.
It was a lovely dinner with friends who share some of the same passions we have. The wines, of course, were exceptional, and I leave the business partners to launch them at will, with proper wine notes and all. I do hope they bring them in soon, and for sure cases of the stuff will be wiped out in no time and a sure hit at any respectable dinner party.
Even if I don’t see this group as often as I want, we always have good fun and wonderful conversations. Quality, not quantity. And I must admit that I did not regret coming to the newly-opened Cicou- the kitchen, although without their head chef, churned out some pretty tasty dishes. It was interesting to know later on that my favorite Boudin Noir (who also got high marks from BN veteran Catha) was prepared by Noel and Catha’s niece, Nicole, who is part of the brasserie’s young staff.
Lovely meal. I shall be back for more.
*Photos of the Steak Frites, Kouign Amann, and the good-looking people are by Noel Ermitano.
57 Annapolis St.
Greenhills, San Juan
Tel. no. (632) 6619200
If you want to be included in Noel and Aaron’s mailing list so you’re updated on what fabulous Spanish wines they’ll be bringing in next, please send your contact details to Aaron Palileo- firstname.lastname@example.org.