After the successful paradigm shifting dinner at La Preciosa, I was ready for the second part of Operation: Raise the Flag for Ilocano Cuisine. I knew that my "guests" had been suitably impressed with the food at dinner the night before (a far far cry from the mediocre food at the hotel -- which shall remain nameless).
Now it was time to deliver the coup de grace ... lunch at Saramsam, home of inventive yet true Ilocano cooking.
Saramsam has moved from its former location along Rizal Street (a few steps away from La Preciosa) and is now beside bed and breakfast Balay da Blas - Mr. Sammy Blas owns both.
I have long admired Mr. Blas' refined and elegant style which is now more evident in Saramsam's new and bigger digs. As in La Preciosa, the ambience is that of a Filipino home but Saramsam raises the taste level by several notches.
Because it is now in a bigger location, Saramsam has different rooms where the dining tables are set. The place may be full but since you are seated apart from each other, it can feel as if you are the only ones in the place.
I so loved the new look -- lots of Filipiniana on the walls, discreet and soft lighting, comfortable eclectic furniture and a old fashioned cloth "fan" on the ceiling, similar to the ones you could find in aristocratic houses during the Spanish times. Of course this one is merely a ceiling treatment and there is no one to gently fan you during your meal but it does add a nice touch.
Alcoves are set throughout the restaurant which are perfect for romantic tables for two.
Capiz windows, wooden cut outs that are used as lighting diffusers show just how perfectly old and new are blended together.
Even the counter leading to the kitchen has been given a stylish treatment.
Mr. Sammy Blas was fortunately around and he graciously made sure we would try the best the house had on hand. These pitchers of cold tamarind juice were so refreshing and tart enough to spike the appetite.
Dragon fruit has been farmed in Ilocos these past years. Saramsam makes use of the dragon fruit flower as filling in this delicious vegetarian lumpia.
Ukoy is given a very light an crisp treatment -- so addictingly good, we had to order another plate.
I made sure I would enjoy my vegetables. This native "salad" of string beans and squash blossoms is a delight.
I also ordered a simple vegetable soup -- so light and clean tasting, with the sweetness of the fresh vegetables and nothing else. It reminded me of the ilonggo version called "laswa" that I also like.
Another of my Saramsam favourites is nilengta nga ikan -- a slightly sour fish dish that is a cross between paksiw and sinigang. It tasted so good with the fish bagoong.
As in last night's dinner, I pulled out all the stops and ordered as many of Saramsam's specialties as I could. The table groaned with dish after dish of Ilocano favourites. Not surprisingly, we finished everything on the table. Operation: Raise the Flag for Ilocano Cuisine was a rousing success!
For dessert, we ordered the very typical Ilocano sweet called inkalti.
Saramsam's take on it was to transform it into a fondue using fried saba bananas and camote with a dip of hot caramelised syrup with glutinous rice balls or bilo bilo.
In one fell swoop, Saramsam elevated this ordinary sweet to fine dining status, as Sammy Blas has likewise done with other simple and genuine Ilocano dishes in his menu.
I believe that Saramsam is at the forefront of maintaining the authenticity of Ilocano cuisine and at the same fusing it with contemporary and modern tastes.
Long may it live and prosper!