Patty, my beloved classmate and friend, was very specific in our e-mail exchange regarding the lunch we were to have yesterday. “Someplace exciting and not too expensive,” she wrote.
Exciting and not too expensive? Where could we go?
Then an image popped into my head:
I’d been in SoHo the other day working on a film for another website (you’ll hear about that soon) and we stopped in front of Cendrillon to shoot some footage. While we were shooting, two things happened. (1) We saw Ed Koch leaving the restaurant; and (2) I read the menu. And I was shocked to see how cheap their lunch menu was. Suddenly I remembered that Frank Bruni reviewed this place only a few weeks ago, giving it two stars. That’s Cafe Gray level at much cheaper prices. Most entrees were in the $8 range.
So Cendrillon I suggested and Patty accepted.
Bruni starts off his review saying, “In a city full of inquisitive diners ever eager for a change of pace, the Filipino restaurant Cendrillon should be attracting many more fans and much more interest than it does. It certainly shouldn’t be only about one-sixth full, as it was during the first of the many recent times I dined there, or one-fifth full, as it was the third.”
Sure enough, the lunch crowd yesterday was nil—and that’s being generous. Patty and I and one other couple were the only two tables eating in this large restaurant at 1 pm. When we left there were a few more tables, but where were all the people? If Bruni can’t make them come, who can?
Well let me make a case. This appetizer, called Lumpia, isn’t the strongest piece of evidence:
That’s a purple yam crepe wrapped around sauteed vegetables. Two sauces on top (which we couldn’t identify) perked things up a bit and Patty and I enjoyed this, but we weren’t falling on the floor in ecstasy. (Also, I should say we only knew to order this because the one other couple there–a couple that looked like they’d been there many times–ordered the Lumpia, so we followed suit.)
Otherwise, I had “recommended dishes” from the NYT review written down on an index card in my pocket. I know that’s dorky but I was a bit apprehensive about the menu and wanted to order something I wouldn’t regret. And boy am I ever glad I had that, but first Patty and her Tilapia:
Patty’s a pescatarian so she was limited to just a few entree choices. On the menu, this is listed as “Tilapia with Mango” but that, we learned, is like advertising “Six Feet Under” as “Family with Death.” (Actually, that pretty much describes it.) Patty’s plate was festooned with the most unusual and elaborate condiments we’d ever encounter. She’d pick little seeds up and pods and taste them and hand me one and ask me to help her identify what it was. We had no clue. And that was so fun!
But Patty’s mystery box plate is not why I recommend Cendrillon. I recommend it for one main reason and that’s this Chicken Adobo:
I’ve never had chicken adobo and now I never want to stop. How to describe this? The most flavor you can imagine infused into a chicken happens here in this little pot. The first sign is the huge whiff of vinegar you get when they lift off the lid. That’s the major theme: tart vinegar, and then heat from peppers and then other exotic notes you can barely identify. But the chicken itself is perfect: meaty, crisp on the outside, and plenty there despite how boney it may look. After it’s gone, you’re so grateful for the white rice it comes with: now you get to soak up all that chickeny, vinegary sauce. I nominate this dish my #1 favorite chicken dish for 2005. I’ll let you know if that stands by the end of the year.
So go for the chicken and then stay for this dessert:
It’s called “Buko Pie (Young Coconut)” and it’s pretty divine. Inside are long thick strips of coconut, cut like you’d cut fennel, that are steamed in the pie so they’re really tender. The outer crust is awesome–“This crust is so good,” said Patty–and the ice cream ties it all together.
In conclusion, I’m so glad Patty and I went to Cendrillon yesterday. It’s the sort of place that’s somewhere in your brain and but for strange circumstances reminding you of it, you may never remember that it’s there. Now that I’ve reminded you, though, please go. They deserve your patronage!
And if you’re STILL not convinced, check out this place next door:
(That’s “Toys in Babeland” in case you can’t read it. Get it? It’s a reversal of “Babes in Toyland” but I’m sure you got that.)
Yes, it’s a sex toy shop and it’s right next to Cendrillon. So there’s a perfect evening right there: spicy, vinegary Filipino food and sex toys. Check out these food related products:
Can’t wait to make a boy butter chocolate nipple cake! I’ll save that for next week. Meanwhile, eat at Cendrillon! You won’t regret it.