Food and Leisure

Three delicious ways to dine at Café 1771

- Mary Ann Quioc Tayag -

MANILA, Philippines - Gone are the days when a wife or restaurant owner had to be an excellent cook.  If you’ll remember, in the past, all good cooks were either urged to get married or open a restaurant.

My hubby, handsome Claude (am excused for saying so), who is not a bad cook and who remained single till his 40s, received much of this unsolicited advice. As if good food is the only thing that matters for a marriage and a restaurant to succeed. But now, with harder-to-please spouses and customers, there is certainly more to success than delicious food.  I know many men who are so happily married yet their wives cannot do more than boil eggs. In fact, I think husbands now prefer a hot bed to a hot soup.

And dining customers are no different. Though food is indeed of great importance, one does not have to be an adept cook to be a restaurateur. Some successful restaurateurs cannot even cook. Beauty Maritel Nievera of the Cabalen chain, Ricky Gutierrez of Sentro, Portico and Chateau 1771 and the late Larry Cruz of the LJC Group are perfect examples. And if you know (knew, in the case of Larry) these three icons personally, you know they all have something in common. Other than their obvious appreciation for good food, they all ooze sex appeal and dress really smart and neat. They all love to travel, live well, and know what it means to have joie de vivre. They do not run out of creative ideas and though they do not cook, they all can surely handle the heat in the kitchen.  And they happily eat hiccups (not death threats) for breakfast.  For a restaurateur to succeed nowadays he or she must have the flair and stomach beyond the kitchen sink because globe-trotting customers now want more than a hot soup.

Entrepreneur Ricky Gutierrez, who started his food business selling hotdogs, siopao and corn in a small booth near UST in his youth, knows exactly that.   His first sit-down restaurant was Chateau 1771 in Malate, which he later moved to Ortigas, followed by Portico 1771, also in Ortigas. But it was when he opened Sentro 1771 in Greenbelt 3 in 2002 that he caught the attention of discriminating diners and food critics. Together with executive chef-cum-partner Vicky Rose Pacheco, they introduced the sinigang na corned beef, sisig tokwa, and even made the humble galunggong a favorite of Makati ’s chi-chi crowd when they named it Rated GG.

Ricky knows that diners’ tastes in sinigang vary from mild to super-sour (kami lang ni Claude, at home, we make medium sinigang for him and super-asim for me), so diners are given a small cup to taste before their order is finally flavored and then served at table. Isn’t that very thoughtful of them? Sentro became an instant hit, especially with diners who wanted familiar flavors but were bored with the old look. It was then the crowd-drawer of the newly opened Greenbelt 3. I myself queued up many times for a table and their desserts are special; my favorite is their lemon meringue torte, which sadly is no longer served in Sentro but fortunately found its way to Chateau 1771 in Ortigas.  

Indefatigable Ricky recently renovated his Chateau 1771 in El Pueblo cluster in Ortigas Center and renamed it Café 1771.  As the new name signifies, the new look is more relaxed and less formal.  It has three sections: Whimsy, The Lounge and The Winebar, all successfully master-planned and ingeniously put together by interior designer Ivy Almario, making each section distinct in interior design and culinary offerings. 

For those who just want a quick, unfussy meal, Whimsy is the ideal place to have fun, to be charmed by its light and airy interior, evoking the sensation of having freshly stepped on the train and zoomed into Europe. Its charm echoes in the blue and white, silver and fuchsia cushioned chairs. 

Old-time Chateau 1771 patrons are more likely to go for a quiet and private meal at The Lounge. It is cozy with its relaxing and laidback interior, fused together by the distinguished palettes of aqua, blue, brown and white. With tall French windows and walls lined with volumes of books and more books, one feels he is dining in an actual library. But please, no French kissing in the library, even if you may have had such fantasies in high school.

Meanwhile, executives and expats who want to unwind and enjoy premium wines with delicious tapas can relax in the comforting ambience of The Winebar on the second floor. Inspired by the mixed-design concept of many high-end joints in the SoHo area, The Winebar looks sleek and modern with its painstakingly picked, rustic details.

We were invited to sit at The Winebar, though honestly if given a choice I would have opted to sit at Whimsy, especially after I saw a bright chiller full of tempting desserts.  Though at The Winebar that evening, we were lucky enough that wine purveyor Cecile Mauricio personally guided us through the wines and even chose suitable bottles to enhance the flavors of our dishes.

We had thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma and salami Milano with cornichons and an interesting plate of fried squash flowers, which was stuffed with yummy anchovy and kesong puti and then deep-fried for appetizers. The pig’s ears pepperoncino, which was tenderized pig’s ears sautéed with lots of garlic and a dash of chili flakes, reminded me of our famous sisig without the fat.  We shared a big serving of the famous steak and frites, a one-inch -thick US Angus striploin steak served with mushroom reduction sauce and naturalmente, lots of French fries. 

The oyster mushrooms and ricotta cheese-filled handmade ravioli topped with tomato sauce was a nice and light balancer for our all meat dishes.  But what made my stomach warm that evening was the organic chicken in potato crust. It was slow-baked, juicy chicken covered with cracked potato chips. The Bestheim Riesling Reserve 2008 from Alsace, France, and King’s Series Wrath pinot noir 2009 from New Zealand that Cecile recommended complemented our dinner.

Though we had a decidedly Mediterranean meal that evening, diners have a wide choice from Café 1771’s “borderless” menu, from tinapang bangus to cocottes, stews, Raclette, and the signature dishes of pasta chorizo and lemon chicken. Desserts are top-notch, which is to be expected from chef Vicky. And the beauty of it all is, depending on your mood and fancy, you get to sit and dine anywhere and order food from any of the three sections. You will not get a hot bed, but will surely get more than a hot soup. On my next visit, I will sit at the Whimsy for Swiss cheese toast, coffee pie and coffee.

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Café 1771 in El Pueblo Real de Manila, ADB Avenue cor. Julia Vargas Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every Monday to Saturday and Sunday for private bookings. For reservations, banquets and catering services, call 631-7340.

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I have a correction to make in my previous article, “Seasoned Chefs in Heat.” According to pastry chef Jill Sandique, the dessert canonigo is a Pinoy invention, inspired by the French ile flottante. So the name is Spanish (for clergyman), the inspiration is French and the wonderful, rich taste is Pinoy na Pinoy. Thanks, Jill. 

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