From the outside, the restaurant retains its old French-inspired structure. This time around, it's painted a clean white, and sporting a new logo right above its double doors. What used to be Chateau 1771 housed in El Pueblo, Ortigas has been taken down by the same group of restaurants, and transformed into a beautiful concept cafe equally appetizing for both the eyes and the tastebuds. After months of creation and renovation, the corner restaurant finally emerged from its chrysalis to showcase itself to foodies wanting a little more than just an exceptional gustatory experience.
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
Entering Cafe 1771 for the first time is quite the experience, something I can liken to entering the Wonderland or Oz. Inside lies a colorful fantasy world with a quirky spilt personality. On your left, the Lounge, a cozy area with floor to ceiling shelves filled with endless rows of books, punctuated with French vintage style picture frames.
It has a French gentleman's lounge vibe, with muted palette, plush couches and throw pillows, elegant dark wood, and impeccable lighting.The Lounge is perfect for private gatherings, and I hear certain politicos and showbiz personalities prefer this place for their meetings. I could easily imagine Don Draper and the rest of the Mad Men lounging here, armed with coffee or cocktails.
To your right, the Whimsy welcomes you with a flirty wink. I love every little detail in this side of Cafe 1771, being a fan of vivid colors and mix-matched accessorizing.
The Whimsy is a fun confetti of hot pink, azure, and white, accentuated with floral and leaf designs, all set against white. It's shabby-chic, French provincial kitchen style. This deli-cafe area feels more casual, playful and bright compared to its neighbor, and makes for a perfect backdrop for a charming afternoon of coffee, snacks and dessert. As my mother's a freelance interior designer and a watercolor enthusiast, I decided to treat her to lunch at Cafe 1771 to delight her senses. Needles to say, our Mother's Day celebration there was spent taking photographs, oooh-aaahing every little detail, and even leafing through the books at the Lounge.
The fun in the interiors doesn't end there -- after ordering your food, make sure you pay their powder room a visit. It's quite a pretty little room.
During my last visit, the restaurant was putting some finishing touches on their second floor offering, The Winebar. Cafe 1771 promises hundreds of bottles of wines from different regions, from affordable brands to the cult favorites. From Lounge to Whimsy to Winebar, there's a Cafe 1771 room to suit every discerning diner. My mom and I are definitely Whimsy! What about you?
"Curiouser and curiouser..."
Just like their dining area, Cafe 1771's menu embodies a charming duality. The Whimsy offers gourmet sandwiches, pizzas and pastas, while The Lounge showcases their appetizers, salads, pan & grill line, and their cocottes, stews and casseroles. Need not worry though, if you are seated in the Lounge but wish to order something from Whimsy (or vice-versa) -- you can cross-order all you want.
Fried Squash Flowers
The Lounge's Fried Squash Flowers (P285) is my best bet for an appetizer that's unique and flavorful. I haven't seen squash blossoms on restaurant menus for some time now. Cafe 1771 might be the first one to offer it, at least in the way it's prepared. I remember how my grandmother would cook and serve squash flowers in a simple ginisa and I liked it for its velvety texture. At the restaurant, it is stuffed with anchovy-flavored bechamel, coated with beer batter, and deep-fried. The texture is deliciously crunchy like that of a bell pepper or crisp onion. The tart tomatoey sauce goes well with the saltiness of the anchovies. Superb!
Baked Eggplant Rolls
I also like the cafe's Baked Eggplant Rolls (P285) for its meatless but rich goodness. From the outside, the dish looks like lasagna. Inside, you find that it is stacked with roasted bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes and pecorino cheese. It also has a crispy layer of bread that keeps everything in place, until you slice it. You get this combination of salty, goopy cheese and sour tomato sauce akin to eggplant parmigiana.
Melt in your Mouth Grilled Cheese SW
Last Mother's Day, my family discovered something quite awesome at Cafe 1771 called Melt in your Mouth Grilled Cheese SW (P250). My brother couldn't skip ordering it when he found it on the Whimsy menu: 'baguette, parmesan, and provolone cheese.' When it arrived on our table, I was quite underwhelmed by its portioning -- veeery thin slices of baguette, almost cracker-like, and I could barely see cheese peeking out between the bread. Even if it had a small side serving of salsa and nachos, I thought it was still a small serving for its price. But I was a fool to think it was nothing to write home about. My brother's initial reaction to a bite and then encouraging us to taste the sandwich looked promising. And then, I myself take a bite. In the words of Barney Stinson, it was legen--wait for it!--dary. Grilled to perfection, and literally, melt-in-your-mouth cheese. This sandwich was made to be eaten slowly, carefully, to savor each and every nuance of texture and flavor.
Holy Cow Pizza and Mushroom & Smoked Salmon Pizza
I was also able to try a couple of pizzas, the Holy Cow Pizza (P400) and the Mushroom & Smoked Salmon Pizza (P440). The former gets its name from its more wholesome, meat-free appeal with fresh arugula on top of melted white cheese and mozzarella. The latter is topped with sour cream, roasted and sauteed mushrooms, and smoked salmon. Out of the two, I favor the smoked salmon pizza because I really am a salmon lover since day one.
As a savory centerpiece for lunch, we were served Orange Pork Spareribs (P450) in a red oval cocotte. Lifting the lid will let out a very fragrant steam with orange notes. Knowing that the meat has been stewed for a long time with a sauce of orange juice, garlic and ginger, it definitely made my tastebuds excited.
With a dish as rich as this, it's best to order a side of plain rice. Slicing the pork was a treat -- it was succulently tender that it never even put up a fight with my knife (what a wimp!). The fatty part was the best melt in your mouth experience, paired with a spoonful of rice. The sauce is pleasantly made -- not too thick, not overkill with the orange flavor (I was afraid it'd be too orange-y). It balances both salty and sweet quite well.
Valrhona Chocolate Ganache Tart
For dessert, chocoholics will give Valrhona Chocolate Ganache Tart (P225) a stamp of approval. With the menu description "a serious chocolate tart for serious chocolate-lovers," I need not add much. It's total chocolate overload, with a deep down, rich flavor. Try also the Coffee Pie (P185), which I find more pleasant and tame, with its coffee filling, sweet and crunchy chocolate-cashew crust, and topping of caramel sauce.
Cafe 1771 is such a refreshing restaurant from palette to palate. It feeds you food for the body and for the mind, captivating you with that French charm that is just so welcome amidst a busy hodgepodge of noisy eat-and-go food places. After hours of paperwork, bumper-to-bumper-traffic, or just going through a bleak and gray day, taking in the sights and flavors of this concept cafe is good for the soul.