Saturday, April 12, 2008


Beef Tapa Salad.

I've been wanting to visit Cendrillon in SoHo for probably ten years or so now. But the idea of dressing up to eat at a fancy Filipino restaurant was always a hard sell. The notion that jackets and ties were necessary for Chicken Adobo just didn't compute in my mind.

It's a shame I had been so obtuse.

We stopped into Cendrillon for a couple of snacks to carry us through the evening and found a warm, comfortable and, most importantly, casual kind of place. Not casual in the sense of how most Filipino eateries are casual with their florescent lighting, formica tables, metal chairs and turo turo style of ordering. Cendrillon was nicely done with wooden chairs, warm tones and an open kitchen. And, unlike many Filipino eateries, there were mostly white people dining.

Which, in some ways, is both good and bad. A yin and yang kind of thing. One cannot beget the other.

For a place that I had always known as "the fancy Filipino place in New York", I was slightly put off by the restaurants' pan-Asian menu. For me, there's something about "Pan-Asian" that just says "mediocrity." We're going to give you a "taste of Asia" but do none of them really well.

It makes me wonder if we (as Filipinos) are just not confident in our cuisine enough to only offer the flavors of our land. If I go to a French brasserie, I don't expect to see Pan-European items like Fish And Chips or Lutefisk amongst the offerings of Blanquette du Veau and Tartare. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it.

All that aside, Cendrillon offers a nice variety of Filipino dishes that read like "must try" items: Grilled Oxtail Kare-Kare and Chicken Inasal, being two of those dishes. Then there's the odd (to me) Pan-Asian items like: Goat Curry and Malaysian Laksa. Of course, being a Filipino restaurant, I have to wonder where crowd-pleasers such as: Pancit Bihon, Pancit Malabon and Daing na Bangus have gone?

Oh well, enough bitching about what's missing, they've got cold bottles of San Miguel Beer and that has to count for something.

And I'm thankful they didn't have chopsticks on the table.

Which leads me to another little bitch session: why do many of these Asian restaurants insist on placing chopsticks on the table? Worse yet are the people who come into an "Asian" restaurant and expect (and ask for) chopsticks. I want to tell them: Hey, DickHead: they don't use chopsticks in Thailand!!! Or the Philippines, for that matter.

Amy's Spring Roll with Achara.

We ordered a couple of plates. I wanted to order the Kare Kare (pronounced: kah-reh kah-reh but Spike reminded me we still had a dinner at Eleven Madison Park coming up, so we stuck to the Beef Tapa Salad and Amy's Spring Rolls.

When I ordered it, I just didn't notice (or pay attention) to the "Salad" part of the dish. It was the "Beef Tapa" that caught my eye and was wondering: what's up with all these veggies? when it arrived. Turns out, the salad was a nice accompaniment. Beef Tapa: dried beef strips, pan fried into delicious goodness. It was good. It was tasty and it was just right as a pulutan to go with my beer (pulutan meaning "beer-drinking food").

Amy's Spring Rolls were traditional fare. Bean sprouts, carrots, tofu, pork and shrimp wrapped in lumpia wrapper and deep-fried. I thought briefly about ordering the healthy Fresh Lumpia but decided that a proper beer needed a proper accompaniment that's deep-fried, crispy and greasy. Yum.

Service was a bit uneven. The girls in black didn't seem to know the menu very well but it was reassuring to see the owner running around, making sure things were rolling along on a Saturday night.

Overall, it was a good stop and if we didn't have a reservation in an hour at Eleven, I would have liked to try a wider variety of their dishes.

Guess that means another visit is necessary...

45 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10013

The Oyster Bar

Ancho tequila oyster shooter.

A simple trip to New York City with Spike is typically fraught with tough decisions on where to eat. In this city of millions, there are hundreds of thousands of places to eat - and a man can only eat so much.

Grotesque physics aside, we're hell-bent on sampling as many places as possible and our first stop this afternoon is the Oyster Bar in the basement of Grand Central Station. The place is a classic. You've undoubtedly heard of it before and I've heard of it for years and never got the chance to go. It's old and the tile-covered vaulted ceilings make for spectacular environs.

There's table seating and counter seating that resembles an old-school diner, but our seat of choice was right by the windows at the oyster bar itself where a crew of half a dozen prepared the oysters and panroasts.

Starting off with the ancho tequila oyster shooter, we were off to the races. The shooter was just okay. Nothing spectacular. Just tequila, oyster and some spice that tickled the back of the throat.

Oyster Panroast.

Up next was the Oyster Panroast. They make these dishes in custom-designed mini steam kettles that look straight from the 1930s. It's basically a light bisque with a brothy cream sauce that's light and refreshing. Inside are several very large oysters and it's really a wonderful dish served with oyster crackers. I wanted to power through the broth but the day was still young and there was more eating in store.

Along with that came two more dishes, fried whole ipswich clams that were breaded and fried to a deep brown crisp and served with tartar sauce. Nice. Again, nothing mind-blowing. Just solid seafood cookery. Add to that a plate of shoestring french fries and you've got a meal worthy of eating dockside somewhere.

French Fries.

But it's the oysters that lure you to the Oyster Bar and they do not disappoint. There are 27 different varieties of oysters for you to choose from - all served on the half-shell. All served extremely fresh. Depending on the day, they will serve between 2,000 to 5,000 oysters per day. That's upwards of 1.8 million oysters per year, which by any account is a lot of bloody oysters.

For our sampling, we ordered two dozen raw oysters. Six each of the Mattitock, Pebble Beach, Totten and Wianno. Now, when it comes to oysters, I'm no connoisseur. I just like to eat them. Give me good quality oysters, a shucking knife, some lemon and Tabasco and I'm pretty happy. For our rounds of Christmas Parties this past December, I lugged around with me a tub filled with 100 of some of the Chesapeake's best oysters and happiness ensued all around.

I learned recently that oysters on the East Coast are all from the same species Cassostrea Virginica and while you can buy oysters from many different parts of the East Coast, they are essentially the same. The difference in flavor and appearance comes from their environment. Their terroir, if you will.

Mattitock and Pebble Beach Oysters.

Of course, I'm not the only one that likes oysters. So do many, many other people. So much so that only about one percent of the oyster population two hundred years ago remains today. The Chesapeake Bay has been so besieged by fishermen that the population was nearly wiped out and now the oyster lives on in cultivated farms and some natural fisheries.

While I sometimes ponder what the oyster tasted like a hundred years ago before pollution and decimation arrived, I'm just happy that the oyster still tastes good today and that I'm now able to try varieties from across the nation.

With an eye towards a proper tasting of oysters, we sampled (ate) them in this order: Mattitock, Pebble Beach, Totten and Wianno. As one progressed through the oysters, the flavors changed an intensified. The early two were light and tasty, but the Totten and Wianno were just jam-packed with intense flavor - especially the Wianno. For those not well-acquainted with oysters, perhaps the Wianno will be "too much", but I found them delicious with just a squirt of lemon and a touch of Tabasco.

Totten Virginica and Wianno Oysters.

Oyster Bar
Grand Central Station
New York, NY 10017
Subway Lines: 4 5 6 S 7