Valentine’s Day was such a mission. The PussyKat made it on the ferry the day before just as the stevedores started winching the gangplank up. This was after having paid off an insider for passage and having to travel under the label “cargo”. Yet again, the weather threatened to ruin plans for our first Valentine’s day together. We had reservations for the Valentine’s Day Lunch Special at La Maison Rose and she was to disembark at eleven giving us an hour to make it. The current port congestion probably stemmed from those earlier dates with a delay of two hours and we made it to La Maison Rose alright…just in time for them to close for the interim before dinner service. There was La Vie Parisienne right outside but we preferred that in the cover of night and the distraction of light-up “Cherry” trees. Mall restos were out of the question. It had to be special. Kinda secluded. Google led us to Café Sarree.
Muted sunlight streamed into the cool, two-floor space at Escario Central. The warm and eager staff helped us get settled in. The earlier mishaps actually took us out of the lunch crowd flurry and we had the place all to ourselves. Trouble happened, as we would have in every first time at a new place, when we were handed the menu. It’s tough when you want to try everything all at once. Without the convenience of a burger selection, we considered a dish from each section.
We just had to start with some cheese. Delightfully spicy cheese was tempered by the herby taste of pesto and sundried tomatoes in the Cheese Pate. Crunchy pieces of melba toast to slap the cheese on made for the starchy counterpunch to the rich flavor and texture.
A salad came in as an excuse for that earlier guilty pleasure, never mind that it came drizzled with bleu cheese dressing. Café Sarree’s Friday Night Special (FNS) had candied nuts, cucumber and cranberry raisins on a bed of arugula and romaine lettuce with their signature house vinaigrette.
An initial searing seals in the juices of a hefty cut of salmon before it is baked to a flaky well done. Piquancy of capers is usually decreased in the bottling process but these still lend a hint of its unusual flavor bound by the butter to the lemon juice, the emulsion adding a bright fragrance and taste to the fish in the Seared Salmon in Lemon Butter Caper Sauce.
Café Sarree’s Salpicao has seared beef tenderloin chips taking on the salty earthiness from olives, bittersweet bell peppers, and the heat from chili in its sauce with the overall garlicky flavor punctuated by a topping of garlic chips. Kept warm longer in a single-serve cast iron pot, each piece is best enjoyed with a heaping spoonful of rice drizzled in the flavorful oils.
Deep-frying and breading on anything is an easy magic trick. Their Pork Schnitzel features a good crunch on the crust against the tender pork cutlets finished off with a bathing of warm mushroom sauce.
Our wonderful first date led to several others and we found many others in our circles who prefer Café Sarree’s relaxed atmosphere, homey ambience, great service and hearty food that speaks to the soul.
All-day breakfast availabilities becoming the trend, Café Sarree quickly caught on with big servings of its brand of comfort food. An extensive breakfast menu features Omelettes, Eggs Benedict, fluffy Pancakes, savory Fancy Loaded French Toast, and decadent Shirred Eggs, to name some, the latter two being my personal favorites. Heavy hitters come about the Breakfast of the Champions, in Filipino and American variants. Most of the inclusions proudly homemade, it isn’t such a secret that the main ingredient to Café Saree’s recipes is “a whole lotta love”. That said, it wouldn’t be a wonder that they have been awarded Sun Star’s Best Of Cebu 2014 – Best Breakfast Joint.
The Fancy Loaded French Toast has thick slices of bread soaked in the standard mixture of egg, milk, and cinnamon which is then pan-toasted and served with cream, butter and spiced cinnamon-nutmeg syrup. I guess the fancy came about the novel crusting of cornflakes. By loaded they mean the savory cheese and ham sandwiched in between. That element and the dusting of confectioner’s sugar reminds me much of the Monte Christo but technicalities are all forgotten when each bite induces eye rolling in pleasure.
Shirred Eggs should be every high school chemistry teachers response to every stupid young upstart’s question on the need for the subject. The amazing combination of very simple ingredients of eggs, onions, cream and cheese in that cast iron single-serve — served with powdery pieces of toast, is on point about the magic of chemistry itself.
Of their other mains, Café Sarree’s bestselling Smoked Salmon Tartine has the slightly sharp and creamy mustard mayo balancing out the smooth, “meaty”-fish taste of the smoked salmon. It also tempers the pungency of the Korean radish without killing the fresh crunch. The dill, scallions, and arugula add a bright flavor, brought out by the house dressing, all on toast in an open-faced sandwich.
The ubiquitous Cream Dory gets a treatment other than the usual breaded, deep-fry or plain steaming in their White Fish Ranchera. The fried fish is topped with a chunky tomato sauce livened up with green chilies and chili flakes for some good heat, cumin to bring it down with some earthiness and herby flavor from cilantro.
As in most everything Southern, Café Sarree’s Southern-Style Glazed Belly registers strong on sweet with the dousing of the house barbeque sauce. Piquancy quickly chases that initial taste followed by the build-up of a roof-of-the-mouth “cool” heat. The twice-cooked pork belly isn’t lost in this generous lotion with the natural sweetness of pork still discernable if not brought out by the background of spice. The tender cuts also come with a good strip of fat for full-on flavor.
Ilaputi’s Stroganov is what The Island easily identifies with this preparation. Café Sarree’s tender beef tips come with mushrooms in a cream sauce with a special blend of spices, differing from Ilaputi’s notable lean towards the pleasant sour. I’d say Café Sarree’s Beef Stronganoff could have a following, as well.
There are more items on the ever-growing menu of Café Sarree. I haven’t even started talking about their desserts. Head over to their flagship café at Escario Central or at Rustan’s Fresh Ayala Center Cebu and experience “gourmet with a side of home.”