Graduation Dinner at Brasserie Cicou
I’ve finally earned my Juris Doctor degree. I also have the privilege and honor of graduating law school in the same year that my younger brother obtained his BS in Architecture and my little sister her high school diploma. Thus, our “main” graduation dinner (as we had insisted on having one for each of us – there’s no way we’re letting our parents off easily) was at Brasserie Cicou.
The venue itself was apt given that my father and chef Cyrille Soenen were colleagues at the then-Galleria Suites. The former Restaurant Cicou was housed at the ground floor of L’Hotel Celeste, which my mother opened as a marketing consultant. The current incarnation is at the ground floor of the building where I spent two years of preschool, OB Montessori, and focuses more on family-style French meals rather than a more straight-laced fine dining setting. Thus, with memories and monumental occasions to celebrate, we partook in a feast of classic French dishes.
My grandfather was excited to see Escargots a la Francaise on the menu and jumped at the chance. We only ordered a half-serving as not everyone at the table was as adventurous. The snails were just delectable, smothered in herbs and butter and cooked to perfection – with only the slightest resistance when chewed and smooth on the palate, unlike the usually gummy kuhol one gets locally. Fearing the former creepy-crawlies, my brother opted to order the much safer, yet equally satisfying mushroom soup. We also ordered a platter of cold cuts served on black tile, a savory teaser that whet our appetite for the rest of the feast that was to follow.
For mains, I made sure to try the Boudin Noir – blood sausage on a bed of mashed potatoes, topped with roasted apple. I’ve heard a lot about this dish, and I jump at the chance to try anything “exotic.” I’ve only recently (within the past two years or so) started appreciating dishes made with blood, and I relished the chance to dive into a traditional French version. The boudin noir was surprisingly delicate and subtly flavored, and tempered even more when a bit is shared with the mashed potatoes. The apple provided an additional layer of sweetness to everything. This dish took me to a happy place – evoking imaginary memories of growing up in the French countryside.
For wine, we just ordered from the house list and chose from among the Chef’s Recommendations the Cotes du Marmandais – Domaine Elian Da Ros – Le Vin Est Un Fete 2009. Well that was a mouthful to type, but on the other hand, quite easy to drink. It was medium-to-full bodied, spicy and fresh tasting. More fruity than earthy, and relatively light on tannins. It went best, in my opinion, with the Boudin Noir, as the rich and strongly-flavored slow-cooked mains dwarfed the wine.
I was looking forward to opening a bottle of corked beer – one of the newly-arrived Unibroue Belgian-style beers from Canada, but unfortunately, they had yet to clear customs. I wanted to go with a corked Chimay Grande Reserve as an alternative, but there wasn’t a single bottle left in the country. Hence, the recourse to wine.
Speaking of the other mains, Cicou provides family-style sharing French comfort food classics. We decided to go with the Cassoulet – a rich white bean stew with sausages, pork belly and duck confit. I made a sad, pathetic attempt at cooking my own version of this, as elucidated in a previous post. While enjoying the cassoulet at Cicou, I alternated between feelings of bliss and shame – the former at being able to enjoy this hearty classic done right, and the latter at having the illusion of trying to do a shortcut version.
Boeuf Bourguinon is another French favorite, perhaps more so in the past few years because of the popular memoir-turned-movie Julie and Julia, wherein it was the final triumph for author Julie Powell’s recreations of Julia Child’s recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The beef is served on a layer of pasta tossed in cream and parseley. The meat was still pink in the center, with a distinct earthiness from the reduced wine that it was braised in for what was likely several hours. This was hearty and filling, and I enjoyed every bite of the flavorful beef, the sweet, softened shallots and juicy mushrooms.
The cassoulet was supposed to be good for 2-3 persons, and the boeuf for 4-5. However, we hardly made headway into half of these. We happily took the rest home, knowing that these always tasted better after a day or so in the fridge. We were right, as the next day’s lunch had the flavors fuller and more concentrated.
Perhaps the best part of the night was dessert. The Kouign Amann has been hyped as the best dessert in the metro. It’s a sweet dough topped with salted caramel ice cream and a sugar flake. The picture here doesn’t do it justice in the least. The Kouign Amann came with a recommended pairing of a sweet wine, a Coteaux du Layon. I’d never been a fan of sweet wines, but I guess that’s because I’ve never had a French one (this, from the Loire Valley) paired with a peerless dessert. I vowed to come back for more of this.
We also ordered the Chocolate Moelleux (not photographed), described in the menu as “fondant, macaroon, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce,” or as the waitress put it, lava cake. This was sinfully rich yet delightfully bittersweet. My sister and I jokingly oversimplified these two masterpieces respectively as “masarap, lasang croissant,” and “masarap, lasang tablea.”
We also received individual congratulatory Milles Feuilles, compliments of the house!
How much did I enjoy this meal? Well, I made do on my promise to myself to come back for more Kouign Amann, just three days later. A light dinner of starters: Beef Tartar (which they do quite well, but perhaps not as good as other versions I’ve tried) and a Braised Pork Head Carpaccio (blissfully fatty and salty and balanced with bitter greens), was predicated by Kouign Amann again, this time enjoyed with a double espresso.