Why Sentro 1771 is tops for modern Pinoy food
MANILA -- For the first time since it opened 11 years ago, the popular restaurant Sentro 1771 has revamped its menu as it strengthens its position as the “first in modern Filipino cuisine.”
Sentro 1771, which is best known for its Corned Beef Sinigang, has been a consistent favorite for its creative take on popular Pinoy fare and was again recently named among the 10 best Filipino restaurants in the metro by the website Spot.ph.
“Using Swiss and French culinary techniques and an elegant setting to elevate homey dishes like kare-kare and kilawin,” it said in its review, which also lauded Chef Vicky Pacheco for “keeping the vibrant profile that Filipinos love while adding a few embellishments here and there.”
In keeping with its image as a culinary innovator, Sentro 1771’s new menu includes new twists to traditional Filipino fare with several versions of the adobo and even the humble lumpia.
“You can't have the same thing all the time,” sous chef Martin Algarra told ABS-CBNnews.com during a recent interview, noting that customers would always look for new offerings.
While acknowledging Sentro’s positioning as modern Filipino, Algarra stressed that what’s more important is “sticking to the flavors that are familiar to people at babalik-balikan nila.”
“Nothing too funky, I guess, but also I think it’s generic to say we prepare everything with a twist. There's a difference in the way we cook everything. Pero the flavors are there. They're very familiar. They are things you know,” he said.
Also important for Sentro, which has branches at Greenbelt 3 in Makati and at Serendra, Bonifacio Global City, is the choice of ingredients and the new menu has a noticeable leaning toward the organic and natural.
“A lot of people try to do the Filipino thing with imported things, which is great for them but we have great everything here so we might as well feature that,” Algarra explained.
For instance, Sentro’s tinola uses native organic chicken, while the sisig is made from organic pork. The restaurant’s version of humba not only uses organic pork, it is also labeled as “sugar-free,” as it uses coco sugar instead.
“You'll find it fairly sweet na,” Algarra said about the humba, noting that in his wife’s home province of Leyte, this dish is prepared using pineapples as the sweetener. “There are other things to get the sweetness from -- not just sugar.”
Algarra explained that the use of organic ingredients also reflects the restaurant’s more upscale positioning.
“Organic is at a premium now,” he said, adding that there are more farmers and suppliers now that specialize in organic ingredients. “So we might as well feature and use them.”
The new menu also seems to emphasize healthy dining. There are 10 dishes listed on the vegetables and salads section, not counting meatless items like tofu sisig. Sentro also serves organic red rice.
Six kinds of adobo
Some of the other new items are: Duck Pancakes, strips of native duck slow-cooked in beer, rhum vinegar, soy sauce and muscovado sugar tucked into Chinese pancake pockets and served on soup spoons; B2B Sticks, grilled organic chicken gizzards cooked adobo-style; Sauteed Lengua with Mushrooms Salpicao, ox tongue lightly fried in olive oil and topped with button mushrooms; Tilapia Fillets in Coconut Milk with fresh coconut milk, garlic, ginger and malunggay leaves; and Two-Egg Ampalaya Crepe (P150), bitter melon placed on an egg crepe and topped with salted duck egg.
There is also the Fish of the Day delivered fresh every morning and grilled to order. For the stuffing, guests can choose between tomato miso-malunggay or kamias.
But probably the most enticing dishes of the new menu are the adobo selections. Customers can choose from six kinds, including the traditional chicken and pork adobo with soy sauce, garlic, vinegar and crushed peppercorns. There’s the adobo sa puti, which is dry and doesn’t use soy sauce. The adobo sa gata uses coconut milk, while the garlicky adobo is, well, prepared with lots of garlic. There is also a fish adobo using catfish that is deep-fried to a crisp and an intriguing osso bucco adobo using lamb, which is baked in an oven and not stewed in a pot.
For Algarta, the current explosion in Filipino restaurants reflects a growing pride in the cuisine.
“Maybe it's the younger generation who’s doing it. Maybe a new batch of chefs that are coming that are getting more creative with it and trying new things. It's partly that. It’s taking pride in the cuisine,” he said.
Cooking from scratch
But the growing competition also means greater pressure for restaurants like Sentro to come up with something different.“Everybody has kare-kare. Everyone has lechon or crispy pata. What makes those special? Why would they come back here when they can have it somewhere else?” he noted.
For Sentro, that differentiating factor is the long process that goes into making these dishes.
“Our kare-kare is more mabusisi. It’s a three-day process just to make the kare-kare sauce,” he said.
And for its best-selling sinigang na corned beef, he stressed that they don’t just buy the beef. “We make the corned beef -- as in we brine it, we wait five days, we stew it for five to six hours, and that's just the karne. And then we make the broth for it,” he said.
“It's those things that I hope people can appreciate, that we do over 75% to 80% of the menu from raw. We take pride in that style of cooking. And I think people do notice that and that's why we're still around. They know there's something different.”