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Volume 73, Number 29 | November 19 - 25, 2003

FOOD


Cendrillon
45 Mercer St (bet. Broome & Grand Streets)
(212) 343-9012
Open Tues-Sun for lunch & dinner
Special Sunday brunch with Philippine specialties
Dinner entrees range for $15-$20


Filipino dishes in Soho

By Frank Angelino

Romy and Amy Dorotan, owners of Soho’s Cendrillon, offering Filipino and other Asian Rim dishes.

Filipino cooking is perhaps the least familiar among Pacific Rim countries; eight years ago, Romy Dorotan set out to change that perception. That’s when Chef Dorotan and his wife Amy, debuted Cendrillon in Soho and dedicated it to the food and culture of the Filipinos accented by fusion dishes with ingredients from other Pacific Rim countries.

“Cendrillon means Cinderella in French. We got it from the ballet,” Dorotan says. It’s an apt name for a venue that spotlights Dorotan’s ability to work magic with his cooking. The chef works out of an open kitchen surrounded by objects that show his heritage. There are cleverly designed lighting fixtures.

“When we opened, we started to be called a Filipino restaurant which caused confusion because Filipino customers came in looking for traditional dishes,” Dorotan says. Though trained in the Philippines, Dorotan cooking had already been imaginatively transformed by cooking New American fare at Hubert’s and Soho’s Savoy.

“At Hubert’s in the early 80’s we started to use lemon grass as daily ingredients, banana leaves, and ginger in creme brulee and people started to use the word ‘Fusion,’” Dorotan says.

Cendrillon has some traditional Filipino dishes, the famous chicken adobo for instance. (“With Adobo it’s the garlic and vinegar that makes it. You can use fish sauce typical in Southeast Asia or soy sauce which is more modern.) Dorotan says he makes it very traditionally, “Except we change the vinegar; you can’t get palm vinegar here so I use sherry vinegar and D’Artagan free range chickens.” The result is stellar, the chicken accented with flavors of chilies and garlic.

Originally, Dorotan made rabbit and quail adobo, now no longer on the menu, although customers still come in to ask for them.

Dorotan makes what he calls a black rice paella, a wonderful dish with crab, shrimps and Manila clams adding their broth along with coconut and green Thai curry to enrich the rice, mushrooms, loofa, and eggplant paella. The dish is not cooked in an open paella pan but in an enclosed clay pot which admirably melds all of the flavors.

There’s a wonderful salt cod, bacalao appetizer dish formed into little cakes that Dorotan says come from the islands’ Spanish influence. The dish uses laing (taro leaves cooked in coconut milk) reminiscent, Dorotan says, of his region and his childhood.

Truly a fusion appetizer is the ravioli, with a single delicate sheet of dough set over ox tail and foie gras. It’s delicious with both a familiar and seductive taste. Dorotan says, “It’s a new thing but oxtail in peanut sauce (another dish on the menu) is traditional.”

“Amy’s spring rolls (lumpia)” are first rate with distinctive ingredients, cabbage, tofu, pork, and shrimps and served with a red and green pepper dipping sauce.

Pancit luglug (the word refers to the process of dipping in hot water) is one of Cendrillon’s several noodle dishes. “Most of our noodle dishes have a Chinese influence; this one uses smoked trout, ground pork, pork rinds, and cooked eggs. In Asia most noodle dishes are a street food and in broth; this dish has a thick, almost a tomato sauce not common in Asian noodle dishes. It’s very popular here,” Dorotan states.

Some other entrees such as pan-fried striped bass with an hijiki crust has Japanese influences, and lamb shanks with soy chilies and lily blossoms is an ‘Adopted dish” Dorotan remarks since there is “no lamb in the Philippines.”

Romy’s spice rubbed and slow cooked (in a Chinese smokehouse) spareribs show why Dorotan is an instinctively talented cook. All of the rich flavors of south east Asia come together with the ribs excellently paired with the complementary flavors of mashed taro and sweet potatoes. “We make our own plum catsup to go with the ribs,” Dorotan says.

Dorotan’s desserts are similarly thematic with mango tart, “My take on tart tartin, we torch the pastry instead of the fruit; young coconut pie, “It’s sweeter not in a sugar but in a fruit way, avocado ice cream.”

Cendrillon’s food is distinctive and imaginative. Romy and Amy Dorotan bring an engaging family presence to a Soho dining experience.


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