What makes a classic?

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WHAT MAKES something a classic? To many people, it means something that has proven itself over the years to be consistently of merit.

Sentro 1771, one of the restaurants under the 1771 group (which includes Chateau 1771, Café 1771, and Flatiron 1771) has made it its task to redefine classics in Filipino cuisine and make their version a new classic.

For example, during a lunch at its branch in Capitol Commons, they brought out their Corned Beef Sinigang, made with the usual vegetable accouttrements, but made with cuts of beef cured in-house for three to five days. This has been a staple in the menu since about the early 2000s, and the memory still brings a smile to many of Manila’s diners. It can be argued that the dish has since become a new classic, and would probably be remembered decades from now.

As for its new offerings, the restaurant brought out Shrimp Cracker Salad, a salad with shredded greens and dressed seafood, to be spooned on shrimp crackers on the side and munched like canapes. The noisy crunch of the crackers and the tanginess of lemongrass in the dressing awakens the senses and opens the diner’s palate for more, such as the Bangus Pandan (broiled fish in pandan leaves, akin to sinugba), and the filling Bagoong Rice, with chorizo and chicharon (pork cracklings), a meal in itself.

Meanwhile, the restaurant has expanded its serving sizes: “small” for personal meals, “sharing” portions for small groups, and “family” size for a larger number of people.

To end the meal, a dessert platter was brought out, laden with ube (purple yam) ice cream with a macapuno (coconut sport) topping, coffee pie, and Keso Flan (a cheesecake with salted egg and queso de bola). To make use of the restaurant’s bar facilities, they also came out with a line of cocktails, infused with Filipino flavors like calamansi, tamarind, Buko Pandan, and Tanglad (lemongrass). A warning: these were quite strong, so maybe abstain from these for lunch.

We’re frequently warned not to fix anything that isn’t broken. Claudette Cuares, Sous-Chef of the 1771 group, however, says how you can tinker with the classics, at least for Filipino food: “The flavor has to be familiar with the Filipino.”

Sure, she says, you could tweak it a little to help with the presentation (“that could compete with other cosmopolitans”), but she emphasizes, “We have to be still within the parameters in terms of flavor.” — Joseph L. Garcia