Whenever we have visitors from abroad, whether balikbayans or foreigners, we usually entertain them by giving them a taste of Filipino cuisine in Sentro 1771—the first modern Filipino restaurant in the country. Not only is the place nice, but the food is exceptional as well. Normally, Filipino food appears to be a hodgepodge of sorts, but Sentro manages to make it look presentable and taste good, too.
For nine years now, Sentro has been serving Sinigang na Corned Beef (P310 solo; P595 sharing), which is actually the specialty of the house. This is the dish that made Sentro famous. When you order this dish, the server will let you taste the tamarind broth first and give you an option to alter it according to your preference. You want it to be more sour or spicy? Just say so and your sinigang will be catered to your taste. What stands out also is the presentation of the dish. The chunks of corned beef are neatly arranged on one side, while the native vegetables are on the other. You will definitely eat with your eyes first as you see all the individual ingredients that are pleasantly put together.
Sinigang na Corned Beef
But before heading to the main course, there are several appetizers worth trying first. I could, in fact, have a fulfilling meal with these starters alone. My favorite is the Sizzling Tofu (P250), which is like a vegetarian version of sisig. The diced tofu is mixed with special soy sauce and mayo dressing and served on a sizzling plate. Just like the sisig, you may sprinkle some calamansi on the dish and even add some hot sauce, if you wish.
Another bestseller is the Fried Kesong Puti (P180 solo; P320 sharing) that even kids would enjoy. It’s the local version of mozzarella sticks. The organic white cheese is coated with breadcrumbs and then deep-fried to perfection. The fried cheese balls come with two kinds of dips—creamy garlic and a sweet chili guava sauce. Both go well with the cheese despite the different flavors.
Fried Kesong Puti
I also tried the chef’s recommendation in the menu, the Fresh Smoked Fish Spring Rolls (P270) made with tinapang bangus, salted egg, mustasa, onions and tomato. These looked more like sushi than spring rolls, but instead of dipping it in wasabi and soy sauce, it came with some light vinegar that was just right for the dish. It had some zing but was not too overpowering to mask the flavors of the fish and vegetables in the lumpia.
Fresh Smoked Fish Spring Rolls
After all the appetizers, better leave room for the main course and dessert. Aside from the popular sinigang, the other specialties of the restaurant are the quintessential Filipino favorites—Kare-Kare and Garlicky Adobo. I learned from Sentro’s sous chef, Claudette Cuares, that they make everything from scratch, even the peanut paste for the Kare-Kare (P520 solo; P820 sharing). This rich peanut-based stew, which is made with ox tail, ox feet, tripe, and some local vegetables, pairs well with just plain rice.
Another must-try is the Garlicky Adobo (P320 solo; P580 sharing) that is cooked the Sentro way. There are plenty of adobo variations throughout the country, but the restaurant’s style is mixing pork and beef with some toasted garlic and annatto seeds.
Other notable dishes are the Crispy Pork Ribs (deep-fried baby back rib fingers), Rated GG (fried galunggong fillets), Catfish Sentro Style (catfish fillet with sweet-sour-soy sauce), and Sentro Roast Chicken (whole roast chicken stuffed with lemongrass and garlic).
Of course, I couldn’t leave the restaurant without ending on a sweet note. I was curious about the Sentro's Cheesecake (P220), which was served with slices of salted egg and quezo de bola. The cheesecake itself seemed more similar to a leche flan since it did not have the usual graham cracker crust. The texture, though, was not silky smooth like a flan, but rich and creamy like a normal cheesecake. I rationed the salted egg and quezo de bola so I can include it with every bite of the cake. The taste was intriguing because it seemed closer to a bibingka than a cheesecake. I loved its complex flavors!
Even if I have already eaten in Sentro countless times already, I will definitely go back there whether or not we have visitors from abroad. I’m looking forward to next year when the restaurant will update its menu. Chef Claudette mentioned that they would present more exciting and more interactive food. So, to all foodies out there, watch out for something new in Sentro in 2012!