Thursday, June 13, 2013

Filipino Favorites with a Sentro 1771 Twist

As I'm starting to appreciate Filipino food more and more, I'm amazed at just how diverse our native cuisine really is, as well as how a simple dish can be presented 10 different ways - take the humble adobo, for example.

I had never been to Sentro 1771, so when I got invited to check them out, I was very excited, with Jericho talking my ear off about how amazing their Corned Beef Sinigang is. We brought along our friend Gerry for the lunch date, too, since it's always more fun to eat with fellow foodies. Also, Gerry happens to be Jericho's long lost uncle cousin. Small world!

Part of the 1771 Group of Restaurants, which include the flagship Chateau 1771 specializing in French, Italian and Swiss dishes, Cafe 1771, WB 1771 and Sidebar, Sentro 1771 is the group's lead resto concept for modern Filipino cuisine. The group's name, "1771", can be traced back to the original address of its very first restaurant in old Manila back in 1988. Saying that this group is practically an institution is an understatement.

I was surprised at how modern and beautifully minimalist the decor was. In my convoluted brain, I was expecting to see the use of bamboo or big, bulky furniture made of Narra - furniture I'd see at my grandma's house. I love the art deco-looking light fixtures!

Lunch started with a plate of Sizzling Tofu (P250), which is a healthier take on the artery-clogging sisig dish. The diced tofu is dressed in a special soy and mayo dressing, and served on a sizzling plate. The miniature cubes of tofu were fried to perfection, along with the onions, gave an almost inaudible crunch with every bite, sans the oil. This was really, really good!

Next we tried the Fried Kesong Puti (Solo - P180, Sharing - P320). The organic native white cheese was coated with breadcrumbs and deep-friend until golden brown. It was served with a sweet chili guava sauce and a garlic dip. I liked dipping each golden nugget into the garlic dip, savoring each little morsel - it was addicting, and I found my self eating it as I would popcorn.

The Fresh Smoked Fish Spring Rolls (P270) was arranged to look like a Filipino gỏi cuốn. The taste reminded me a lot of Kapampangan cuisine - a mash up of a Pinaputok na Pla-Pla that you traditionally enjoy rolled in a mustasa leaf, as well as an Ensaladang Paco Salad, with the flakes of smokey tinapa, salted egg, onions, and tomato. This was executed quite well and not something you'd expect to see on the menu. My Kapampangan friends would definitely appreciate this.

Jericho and I washed everything down with a spicy yet refreshing Honey Ginger Lemonade (P120), which did wonders for my itchy throat, while our friend Gerry had the Green Legs (P120), a dalandan and green mango shake.

We enjoyed the Catfish Sentro Style (Solo - P350, Sharing - P680) with a serving of garlic rice. Usually, catfish is prepared one of two ways: fried or grilled. Sentro's fillet of catfish was served with a Japanese Ponzu sauce, which added a nice sweet finish to the smokey fish. Squeeze the grilled lemon on top for another layer of flavor, the sourness cutting through the sweetness of the ponzu, just elevating the dish to a whole other level.

We were served some very unassuming Crispy Pork Ribs (Solo - P440, Sharing - P630), which were deep-fried, drizzled with a little bit of mayo and served on the side with guava dip. Don't even bother trying to use a fork and spoon to try and pry the meat off the bone, it look so pretentious and even the menu instructs people to use their hands! Believe me, it tastes better that way! Dipping the ribs in the guava dip gave a nice sour note that offset the sweetness of the mayo and the saltiness of the meat. This is something that I think would go well with a cold one.

Jericho and Gerry's favorite, the Sinigang na Corned Beef (Solo - P310, Sharing - P595) was definitely the star of our lunch at Sentro. They were right, it was really good! Our server came by and had be taste the broth first before they brought it out. I could ask for it to be a bit more sour, spicier, or both. The corned beef short ribs and boneless shanks were bobbing up and down the sour tamarind broth, surrounded by tomatoes, labanos, and kangkong. The broth was perfect, just perfect, and the tender beef falling apart on my plate. I had never eaten sinigang made especially for me. This was such a treat!

It didn't end there. Dessert turned out to be an eye-opening affair that started with the very playful Fried Suman & Mangoes (P180) - rolled out suman fried to a light crisp and topped with ripe mangoes and served with a sweet coco jam. The texture of the fried suman reminded me a lot of tikoy, except it had more of a bite to it because of the sticky rice. The mangoes were a bit sour, but that was offset by the latik it was drizzled in.

Ending the afternoon with Sentro's Keso Flan (P220) was just icing on the cake! The flan was still pretty warm when it was served, so it was really creamy, decadent and delightful. You'd take a bit of flan, a bit of the queso de bola and some of the red salted egg, stick the whole thing in your gob, and wait for the magical flavors to meld into one sweet, salty, cheesy consistency. This is probably what you get when a truck of leche flan and bibingka collide. Yum! 

I noticed how Sentro 1771 loves to play around with flavor profiles, taking an unassuming, traditional Filipino dish and adding a new flavors to the mix for that twist that makes them stand out from your typical Filipino restaurant. When mucking around Manila in search of modern Filipino cuisine, be sure to keep an eye out for Sentro 1771 at Greenbelt or Serendra!

Damn, now I want Keso Flan.

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Images taken by Jericho San Miguel

Sentro 1771
+63 2 757 3941
2/F Greenbelt 3, Esperanza St
Ayala Center, Makati
Open Daily: 10am - 12mn