Jason and I have been working hard to expand this blog thing. So when a friend of ours introduced us to the owners of Cebu Bar and Bistro in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, we (obviously) instantly stalked the menus, photo galleries, yelp reviews, etc. We couldn’t wait to get in and try out the food, and set aside last night (a Friday) to check it out. Jason was born and raised in Brooklyn, and knows the different areas pretty well. But my knowledge of the borough pretty much consists of where he’s taken me since we started dating: usually Caroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, or Greenpoint. Bay Ridge just hasn’t been on the list yet, so I was excited to check out a new neighborhood… even with the remnants of Jonas the Blizzard making things a little bit of a mess.
We had 6:00 reservations but, as usual, arrived early at about 5:40. We got a quick tour of the space: there’s a nice bar area, a quiet, cozy, and slightly more formal back dining room, and a spacious and slightly hipster main dining room, which is where we opted to sit. The decor in the place was definitely “bistro”: that perfect balance of upscale and casual, but with some nice rustic touches as well. It was pretty empty when we got there, and filled up over the course of our almost four hour meal (yes, we took our time and savored every single bite/sip). I love that they’re open late (until 1:30 on weeknights and 2:30 on weekends) with their full menu available until close. Jason and I obsess over details: we loved the mini-hex stone tiles and I appreciated the mismatched chairs to cut the formality. Plus, how could I not be excited that they have the exact same ball pendant lighting with Edison bulbs that Jason and I have in our living room – it really did feel like home. Bathrooms were immaculate (albeit early in their service), which always is extra points in my book.
Cebu’s been around now for almost 15 years, and between their food, drinks, service, and the level of comfort the staff instills in their guests, it isn’t hard to see why.
We were given a dish of nice bread with some red peppery dipping sauce to snack on while we made some decisions – I love a good carb to get started.
Having psychotically stalked the restaurant’s Instagram account (@cebubarbistro) earlier in the day, I already knew that I wanted their cocktail special for the night, the Lavender Bees Knees. It seems that they have a wonderful cocktail program with a constant rotation of new experiments to check out. Jason went with the Ignorance is Bliss cocktail from their regular menu.
These were both crafted perfectly; completely balanced cocktails are one of this place’s strongest points. They were ice cold. The Lavender Bees Knees with Brooklyn Gin was aromatic and fresh tasting, but without the overly sweet flavor that I feared. Jason’s Ignorance is Bliss was bourbon, lillet blanc, cointreau, lemon, and bitters – we agreed that this would be a perfect drink for a bourbon “beginner,” but was also great for a regular bourbon lover, like him.
The dinner menu looked like a great mix of options including a seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes. But we had already decided on doing a tasting menu to take the stress out of having to make any decisions and to hopefully try some stuff out of our comfort zone.
Our meal went as follows, with photos in order below:
- House made ricotta fritters
- Cream of broccoli soup with crispy kale
- Vegan calamari
- Tofu ravioli
- Roasted chicken with truffle essence
- Pan seared halibut
So our hope that we would try some stuff “out of our comfort zone” was absolutely realized during this meal. As you can guess by the name of my blog (BACONboozer), I don’t typically go vegetarian. Most of the dishes that we were served were things that I would never order on my own. And while there were a few missteps throughout the meal, I can say that overall this was an inspiring and mind opening experience for me. I enjoyed each weird bite that I took.
Some of the absolute favorites:
- The cream of broccoli soup. The crispy kale on top instead of a crouton was so bizarre and delicious… it gave such an unusual texture to the dish. Jason stated that “I might want to put crispy kale on everything.” Not to mention the totally awesome wood slab that the bowl was presented on. Details like that just make me happy.
- The “vegan” calamari… this was really vegetarian if you used the avocado cilantro aioli. I was totally weirded out by the idea of making “calamari” out of hearts of palm; I don’t want my food pretending to be something that it’s not. But it somehow really, really worked. My mom, who is deathly afraid of calamari, would be excited to taste this. And people who say “Calamari is too chewy,” would be thrilled to find an absolutely not chewy version. And the aioli… I want it on everything.
- The roasted chicken. This is on their regular menu. I normally would look at the item on the menu and think, “Eh, roasted chicken is boring.” But every single component of this dish was impeccable, from the mushrooms, to the potatoes, to the chicken itself being tender and juicy. The truffle essence was just that: an essence. It wasn’t too overpowering, but added some complexity to the sauce.
- The white wine cream sauce with fried capers that the halibut was served on was one of the most glorious flavors ever.
- The tiramisu. I’m not a huge tiramisu fan. Usually I’m a little grossed out by the soggy mushy lady fingers. But these weren’t soggy! It was a miracle! They were nice fluffy cake ovals with the most fresh and light cream layered between them. This is one of the only tiramisus I have ever been able to enjoy. Plus it came with what I think was a juju berry; I didn’t even think those were real, so that’s just awesome.
Over the course of the meal, we also ordered another round of drinks:
I decided to challenge the bar and request a gin based egg white cocktail. Since they did not have any egg white cocktails on their menu, I thought it would be a good test, as it’s pretty tough to get the balance on these drinks just right. I was stunned that they served me what is my official favorite one to date: made with green chartreuse, Brooklyn Gin, rosemary oil, and only a hint of lemon. I’m starting to be over the super lemon/limey egg white cocktails, as most bartenders rely way too much on the citrus. Here, I was really excited to discover that the chartreuse pairs so amazingly. It was frothy and ice cold and the lemon was there, but ever so mildly. Perfect. Jason did a Bulleit Bourbon Manhattan which was equally brilliant.
With our halibut dish, we were served a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the local Red Hook Winery.
Again going along with the theme that, “I would never order this for myself,” I was pleasantly surprised. I usually drink red wine with everything, even the totally wrong things. So I don’t know if this wine was a completely perfect pairing with the white wine creme sauce in the dish or the fish itself, or if maybe this is just a really nice white wine… but I was shocked to love it. Maybe I could learn to love white wine? My mind is blown.
Despite all of the greatness from the meal, there were a few hiccups along the way:
- The tofu ravioli. The eggplant and tomato sauce it was served on was great, kind of like a tomato-heavy caponata; we loved that part. But the ravioli itself. I don’t know… I’m not a vegan so I just needed cheese. Or meat. Or something. The sauce did pack a punch of flavor, but the ravioli itself (tofu and sweet potato filling) fell flat for me.
- The halibut. I already raved about the white wine cream sauce in this dish. It was outrageous and I could have scooped it up with a spoon… actually I think I did. But the fish itself was overcooked and dry. Instead of falling apart with the fork, it needed to be cut. The heart of this dish – the sauce – is on point, so it has potential, but they needed to execute the fish better for it all to work together.
After our meal, the owners Michael and Ted sat with us for a drink, and gave us some insight to the restaurant and our meal, explaining that they’re trying to appeal to a wider range of customers – hence the vegetarian options. I asked about why there weren’t any gin cocktails on the regular cocktail menu and (probably rudely) demanded a Negroni, to which they replied that they actually had a Negroni on the menu for a while and no one ordered it. So I stand corrected. It became evident to me through our conversation that Michael and Ted are experts on knowing their audience and being flexible enough to cater to their ever-evolving neighborhood. They were two of the most down to earth and nice guys, and it was an absolute pleasure learning about their ventures and plans for the future. Cebu earned a reputable four star Baconboozer rating, and I highly encourage everyone to check the spot out: perfect cocktails, great innovative food, and some of the most hospitable service I’ve had in a while. Tell them Baconboozer sent you! I, personally, cannot wait to head back to try out basically everything else on the menu.