This meal is on my mind – replaying, yearning for a repeat.
Note: All courses photographed here are half portions except for the amuse bouche and dessert.
It’s late and I long to be fed. I become sullen when I’m hungry and N, who attends an event with me tonight, knows this. He guides me to Ciçou, a restaurant I’ve been to before. The warm lights that flatter diners, the crisp linens, the solicitous service; already, I feel better.
We begin with bread, I could live on it: little baguettes smeared with butter and sprinkled with some grains of sea salt – there’s a receptacle of it on the table, a thoughtful touch. We’ll be offered several refills throughout the meal but with bread, as with a lot in life, it’s the first time that counts – warm and toasty, a welcoming embrace.
An amuse-bouche follows. Single slivers of eggplant and zucchini, both roasted, ensconced in homemade potato chips. Garnished with a thought of chili sauce and a sprig of parsley, it’s meant to be eaten in one bite: soft and smoky, crisp and crackling.
I’m in the mood to be soothed tonight and liquid heat is just the ticket. The photo illustrates a half portion of French Onion Soup (P350), its bronze top mottled and molten. What treasures it hides beneath its façade! Baguette boats carry their cheesy cargo, sinking as they’re torpedoed by my utensil. A spoonful drags a stringy trail of Gruyere, bread, and broth into my mouth. It’s beefy and salty, bones and stock reduced to its essence, onions coaxed and coddled ‘til its sugars are caramelized. It’s the comfort I crave.
- Dig deep, pierce the yolk, surrender to the pleasure.
Ciçou is unique in that a part of its menu feeds the fantasies of egg lovers like myself. Gilded possibilities abound in Soft Boiled Egg with Sea Urchin (P290) or with Duck Liver (P370) but tonight I have my favorite, Egg in Cocotte (P350). I’m asked if I want it with duck liver (P430) but no, straight up is fine, that is, gizzard confit, cream of mushroom, herb salad. Classically called oeufs en cocotte or “eggs in casserole,” this dish consists of eggs cracked into a ramekin, fillings and flavorings added then finished with a knob of butter or cream, etc. Baked in a water bath, it produces – as it does tonight in Ciçou – runny yolks, golden and gleaming, tumbling in a hubbub of bubbles, cavorting with bits of gizzard beneath. This dish isn’t so much eaten as it is spooned, swallowed then savored.
N and I deliberate our main course. The Beef Short Plate (P750) beckons this evening, cooked in “pot au feu” style but when I ask Ciçou chef-owner Cyrille Soenen what he recommends, he swiftly replies, “Get the Roasted Veal Sweetbread.” (P1,400). His eyes twinkle, his cheeks are pink, and in that charming French accent of his he promises, “The sweetbread has none of that strong liver taste you didn’t like last time from the veal kidney.”
So it arrives, looking very much like a Pollock painting, edible abstracts of greens and browns lavished in a honeycomb foam made from parsley. With multi-component plates such as this one, I like to taste each component separately then together. “Lor, let’s go with the sweetbread first,” N suggests. They are chestnut-brown ingots bearing some bite, spongy first then an earthy-rich miasma explodes silently in my mouth, filling it with a feral, musky richness. The risotto is the “… richest I’ve ever had in my life,” N murmurs, and it is. A breath away from underdone, it’s toothsome and lush with buttery notes; the veal cheek, tender to the point of impossibility. Eaten apart, each component is distinct but not dissimilar. Eaten in conjunction, it’s the risotto that rings out first, its grainy grittiness a foil to the veal cheek smoldering softly somewhere; then, like a suppressed emotion, the sweetbread announces itself: seducing and inviting, it’s a sexed-up foie gras. I don’t remember closing my eyes but when I find myself opening them, N is looking at me strangely. Clearly, he too is in another universe but parallel to my own.
“Le mignardise,” the soft-spoken server says, setting down a slab of sweets, bite-sized. A canelé, almost tubular cakes with custardy interiors, jigsaw pieces of milk chocolate crumble, and my choice, pistachio macarons. I have a bite of each but after the meal that was, I demand something epic for dessert.
Ciçou is famous for its Kouing-Aman (P350; also Kouign amann) a puff pastry pocked with sugar. I have an unabiding, irrational love for this sweet – when I travel, I eat it in every patisserie I see it in, and I’ve even documented my own amateurish attempt to make it. At the restaurant, it’s served with a quenelle of salted caramel ice cream pouring down from its summit onto the kouign. It’s crunchy, certainly, the caramelized sugar shooting through the mouth as the tongue unfurls the whorls of flaky layers. This is pastry poetry and sweetness is its soundtrack. The caramel ice cream seems superfluous at first, but as its burnished sugar flavor courses through, it perks up the palate, leaving a salty linger that begs for more. And more.
Ground Floor, Hotel Céleste
2 San Lorenzo Drive corner A. Arnaiz Avenue (formerly Pasay Road)
San Lorenzo Village, Makati City
889.6728 / 33