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Coming home to Chateau’s Café 1771

The pleasure that I derive from dining at any of the restaurants under Ramon Ricardo V. Gutierrez’s Chateau group goes as far back as early 1988. Back then, a leisurely evening walk around Malate’s Remedios Circle meant an immersion in the charm and civility of old Manila – no tapping or scrolling on electronic tablets, no taking of calls or sending of SMS texts on cellular telephone in between dinner courses, no heavy vehicular traffic, and a tolerable crime rate. Around that time, entrepreneur and food lover Gutierrez and his business partners quietly opened the original Chateau 1771 - The French Bistro, the Glasshouse, and the Sidebar Café in front of the family-owned Malate Pensionne. Internationally and locally famous Filipino talents from all fields of the arts would deposit themselves at Chateau 1771, which quickly became an open secret among those who piously celebrated good food and drink without any publicity. Regular diners did not bother to give news personalities a second look, as one made a serene pilgrimage to Chateau 1771 to sacredly savor food prepared by its retinue of chefs. Calling attention to oneself was considered déclassé in this restaurant, which had an understated elegance not many dining places possessed. Diners marveled instead at the well-manicured pocket garden bathed in soft light outside the main dining area, or quietly listened to the relaxing murmur of the miniature waterfalls located near the main entrance to the house of Ricky’s mother, also in the compound. Meanwhile, the Glasshouse was the destination of choice for those who fancied dining or drinking under the glow of a full moon or a strand of stars on clear night.
The renovated café sports a clean, well-lighted look and an inviting ambience.
Over the years, deteriorating peace and order in the once-venerable Malate area prompted Ricky and his partners to move their restaurant to the Ortigas Business District, which was then gaining ascendancy with the relocation of the Asian Development Bank headquarters there. In 1994, Ricky and balikbayan Chef Vicky Rose Pacheco introduced a re-invented Chateau 1771 under the marquee “Chateau-No Borders Cuisine" at El Pueblo in the Ortigas Business District. I looked forward to attending boring business meetings held at the new Chateau 1771 because of the good food. But Ricky and Vicky could not easily abandon Malate. One may leave Malate physically, but the emotional attachment to the area is eternal, notably to the bygone era of Coco Banana, the sleepless boogie nights at the Paper Moon, and the memories of numerous foreign journalists who covered the first President Aquino converging in various restaurants and bars there after a hard day’s work.
Interior function rooms look like mini-libraries, minus the dust and musty smell
Thus, in 1997, the original Chateau 1771 recipe was reformulated as Portico 1771 Malate. The French ambience gave way to a Mediterranean motif, and the building was repainted with earth colors. The menu was recast but with a singular focus to honor the original Chateau 1771 and its distinguished past. When the Ayala family developed Greenbelt 3 in 2002, Ricky and his business partners gifted the Makati crowd with Sentro 1771, which now has a branch at Serendra in the Bonifacio Global City. In November 2007, Chateau 1771 opened at Greenbelt 5 and now serves as the flagship restaurant of the group. Whenever my family members and friends who live abroad are in town, they often make time to experience the delightful dining offered at any Chateau group outlet. From her condominium unit near Greenbelt 1, my sister Cecilia makes repeated trips to the nearby Sentro 1771 together with scores of relatives. Edmund Mercado, a mean cook himself who’s now a Park Avenue resident in Manhattan, hosts breakfast and dinner reunions at Chateau 1771 when he flies in; he says the restaurant can upstage many of the exclusive dining places in New York City. Thus, a recent press brunch at the group’s latest refurbished restaurant, Café 1771 in El Pueblo, felt like a jubilant homecoming with family and friends in a time-honored setting. While the old Chateau 1771 in El Pueblo had the ambience of Aux Bacchanales Brassiere in Akasaka’s Ark Hills Building, my own version of a classic Parisian café and favorite after-work hangout during my Tokyo years, Café 1771 has a more modern and decidedly carefree touch. Its predominantly white walls have a splash of pink, turquoise, and playfulness here and there with high-back grandfather chairs and bright paintings. The two smaller rooms off the main dining area have the aura of a modern library, like the new Rizal Library of Ateneo de Manila. Towering over the brunch spread personally prepared by Chef Vicky were proud strips of crispy bacon about six inches long. Lean and virtually drained of fats, the almost guilt-free yet flavorful bacon strips are a must-try from the new breakfast menu. The adobo flakes fried rice was a masterful combination of garlic rice, minced chicken and pork adobo, a sprinkling of onions, and fried eggs on top. Savor the sharp blend of garlic, onion, and vinegar in this dish. Instead of the usual watery version one finds in breakfast buffets, Chef Vicky’s “hole in one" corned beef hash was moist, not too salty, with yummy crunchy bits.
Chef Vicky scores a hit with the "hole in one" corned beef hash recipe
The traditional Portuguese fish staple is given a new twist in Café 1771’s bacalao and scrambled eggs dish -- layer upon layer of bacalao flakes, fried potatoes, and scrambled eggs. The crusty fried potatoes were cooked to just the right crispiness. For my second plate I sampled the “eggs Florentine in a boat" – a mélange of poached eggs, slices of home-made ham, and creamed spinach over a puff pastry boat topped with velvety hollandaise sauce. The mix of flavors and tummy-filling goodness were complemented by herbed Italian ricotta cheese and roasted tomatoes. Dessert consisted of sour cream pancakes, which I glazed with banana compote (thin slices of banana in syrup), and candied walnuts. The chocolate Madeleines were not too impressive, but the chocolate macaroons were sinfully rich, so crunchy and creamy they just had to be savored bite after bite. The strawberry macaroons were pretty in pink, and so were the lemon ones in yellow -- the colorful French pastries serving as the heavenly finale of the brunch.
Pretty in pink strawberry cheesecake entices diners with a sweet tooth
The prices at Café 1771 may not be within everyone’s reach, but they are quite reasonable for those who want the best value for money in the Manila dining scene. And with its prime location just a few steps from corporate offices and the call centers along Emerald Avenue, the latest baby of the Chateau group is certainly a welcome respite from the hawker stalls and mall food courts in Ortigas. – YA, GMA News Café 1771 is located at El Pueblo Real de Manila, ADB Avenue corner Julia Vargas Avenue at Ortigas Center in Pasig City. It is open from 7 am to 10 pm Sunday to Thursday, and 7 am to 12 midnight Friday and Saturday. All photos courtesy of Café 1771