I never forgot about Cyma after I enjoyed it in Boracay a year ago. I was overjoyed when the restaurant was brought to Manila, setting up digs first in Shangri-la Mall and then at Greenbelt. But joy quickly turned to frustration when Cyma-lovers as impassioned as I crowded the restaurant day in and night out. It was difficult to nab a reservation and when I did, it was often at a table that was much less desired.
So, as I often do when it comes to restaurants-of-the-moment, I wait and the opportunity to dine there presents itself soon enough. I’m not the type of person to slug it out with crazy foodies just for bragging rights at new eating joints; enjoying my meal is of infinitely higher priority.When my sister’s birthday comes around, our party of 12 descends on Cyma at Greenbelt. We are many and we are hungry, so faster than the waiter can say, “Opa!”, we’ve ordered eight dishes, most of them family size. Cyma encapsulates Greek dining in its family-style way of serving dishes — food is meant to be passed around and tried by everyone at the table. Most of the items are available in three portions: solo, to share, and family.
The Saganaki (P180) is ”“ visually and audibly ”“ the flagship dish of Cyma. An enthralling presentation, it’s a flaming appetizer in which slices of cheese are soaked in alcohol and then flambéed. With a cry of “Opa!” it makes a bewitching presentation that tranfixes the three kids at our table. Opa! is a proclamation in this restaurant, and roughly translated, it’s an expression that Greeks use when they are out for an evening and having a good time. The saganaki reminds me of raclette cheese, a Greek fondue, but I learn that it’s Kasseri cheese. Greek in origin and made from sheep’s or goat’s milk, it’s sharp and salty and cheddar-like in texture, a perfect pair with the grilled, crusty bread.
Another appetizer, the Dakos (P220) or Greek bruschetta, is a watercolor painting of sorts with the errant splotch of wild color. Little towers of bread hold aloft crowns of crushed olives and feta cheese while sitting in a pool of crushed tomatoes, capers, parsley, and olive oil. It’s a meze that has echoes of the Mediterranean.
Large in scale is the Pastitsio (P220/P290/P480), a monstrous baked macaroni, although that term doesn’t do it justice. The Greek form of the Italian word, pasticcio, which means, among other things, hodgepodge, pastitsio is a tri-layer baked pasta dish. A bottom layer of tubular pasta bound with cheese and egg, it’s “piggy-backed” by a layer of ground meat mixed with tomato and cinnamon, and what I distinctly make out as nutmeg. Another layer of pasta, and then it’s topped with béchamel. It’s satisfying and the kids think so too, because it’s the only thing they eat the whole time we’re here.
My sister, Charley, has always been a great fan of eggplant. She never fails to order a dish that has this nightshade vegetable as one of the main ingredients. And so here comes this Moussaka (P235) moseying to our table and taking residence in front of her. I could swear it’s another serving of the pastitsio ”“ they’re béchamel twins, as far as I’m concerned. What most people think of when they think Greek cuisine, moussaka is also claimed by the Turks and the Arabics, especially since the word “moussaka'” in Arabic means “soaked,” because this dish has to be eaten with all the rich juices of its vegetables, meat and olive oil.The Greek version consists of layers of sliced eggplant, ground lamb, and that thick swath of béchamel. Order either this only or the pastitsio because they practically taste the same.
Cyma’s head chef, Robbie Goco, learned the intricacies of the cuisine from a Greek woman while working at her restaurant. Greek cuisine is a dining lifestyle that is one of the cornerstones of the Mediterranean diet, seen as healthful ”“ with a surplus of olive oil, vegetables, and beans ”“and also rich as well ”“ hello, béchamel!
The Tonnos Salata (P280/P390/P540) is in itself, a salad buffet: mixed greens, feta, baked onions, roasted peppers, olives, marinated potatoes, green beans, and boiled eggs, it boasts of seared Ahi tuna and Gavros, homemade anchovies. Bathed in a summer herb vinaigrette, my family enjoys picking out their desired ingredients to make their own salad, instead of just scooping out large chunk-fulls and dumping it helter-skelter onto a plate. “We ordered the to-share portion for four people last time, and we were so bitin,” birthday girl Tricia says in between bites. So good is this salad that even this gigantic family portion is not enough for our party of 12.
My dad is attracted to the Greek Burger (P250) made from Wagu (could this be a menu misspelling?) Brahman beef patties. It comes with peppered feta cheese and tzatziki sauce, a Greek yogurt condiment made from cucumbers and mint leaves. Ordered medium well, I find it tough since I usually like my meat medium rare. Despite the disparity in desired cooking times, the burger smacks of bovine glory with delightful spurts of salt from the feta. I’ll come back for this.
Cyma has an open kitchen and while the main ding room is packed and frenzied, and on a Monday night at that, the kitchen maintains its own rhythm. Service is satisfactory, and our waiter, Cayo, is handling the onslaught of orders very well. I can’t complain. The noise level on the other hand, has my nerves on edge but hey, elegant tearoom this is not.
A big seller are the lamb chops, or Paidakia (P490), charbroiled and served with potatoes. Great fun to nibble, they’re a good balance between meat and glorious fat. Though a bit rubbery tonight, they’re highly flavored and very peppered.
It’s a no-brainer to order shish kabobs when eating Greek food. It’s one of those must order things. Called a Souvlaki, we order the seafood version (P275) but end up not being too happy about it. The fish is overcooked; not only that, it’s malansa (overly fishy tasting), and the tzatziki sauce overpowers it. Perhaps I’ll fare better next time with a meat version.
Gyros (how do you pronounce this?!) (P125/chicken version), upon first bite, is a blast of parsley, though not unpleasantly so. Crunchy with red onions, it oozes with tzatziki sauce and the juice of succulent tomatoes. Nowhere near in taste what we Filipinos think of as shawarma, this one has large chunks of chicken with a side of hot sauce to kick up the heat a little. Opa!
1/F Greenbelt 2
Ayala Center, Makati
6/F, The Ledge
Edsa Shangri-La Mall