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Celebrity couple enters crowded restaurant scene

/ 12:20 AM August 14, 2016

14I went upon the invitation of Arnold Clavio.

He and our friend Ditas Nicolas were raving about this restaurant on Scout Fernandez in Quezon City.

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The kicker—or hook—was this: the owners of the restaurant named Salu are celebrity couple Romnick Sarmienta and Harlene Bautista. (The lights on the lady in tights… or the bride with the guy by her side… that’s entertainment!)

I expected the couple to simply be celebrity investors. That’s not an uncommon case, even if some venture out to become slash restaurateurs themselves, sometimes even daring to call themselves chefs (think Marvin Agustin).

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So I was really surprised to see Sarmienta personally manning the restaurant on a regular weekday lunch hour, greeting guests—or not—and at one point just standing alone by the entrance, deep in thought.

Probably contemplating the menu as, on first impression, the food comes off as well thought out.

It’s easy to appreciate—as someone who grew up with Filipino food (and That’s Entertainment).

I sat down to a plate of tawilis (Philippine freshwater sardines) fresh from Taal and crispy crablets ordered by Igan, both of which I had absentmindedly consumed by the time I was ready to order.

The last time I had tawilis this good was at the Preziosa Farm of Preciosa Soliven, just off Tagaytay. Salu’s tawilis instantly brought back memories of the great time we had at the farm.

“We’re not just an ordinary Filipino restaurant,” Sarmienta explained when he finally dropped by our table.

He and wife Harlene instead aim to present not simply authentic Filipino food but authentic Filipino regional dishes, so they have gone to great lengths to explore regional specialties and source from ingredients from the featured provinces.

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“It’s not just comfort food pero comfort food MO (it’s not just comfort food but your comfort food,” Sarmienta explained. “If you are from a certain province, you know [the specialty]; but when you go to Manila, it is very rare [that you] taste the same food that you grew up with.”

So Salu set out to be a place where guests can “experience their hometown or let their Manila friends try their hometown food.”

The menu is extensive, with specialties from Benguet to Bukidnon. There is Ilocos bagnet, Sinaing ng Isda ng Batangas, Ginataang Manok sa Dilaw ng Quezon, Cebu’s Balbakwa Stew, Bacolod’s Inasal, KBL (Kadios, Baboy, Langka) ng Visayas, Cebu Lechon Belly, Tausug-style Pianggang, and the list goes on.

“It came about from our love for food from our travels,” Sarmienta shared. “The first thing you do when you get to another place is to try the food so we figured, as we traveled to Davao, Bohol, Palawan… why not feature Filipino food?”

In their travels, they also met farmers, some of whom have become suppliers of the restaurant.

They have also dared to give some farmers a better price for their produce than that offered by some traders.

The result is a genuine—at least for most parts of the menu—farm-to-table effort. Aside from the tawilis from Taal, the strawberries are from La Trinidad; the rice is heirloom, from Sagada. There are photos on the wall of the couple with the farmers themselves. And they even consulted farmers on how best to cook their produce.

“We want to honor everyone who helped put food on the table—including the raw material or ingredients,” Sarmiento emphasizes.

Salu’s executive chef, Janjie Ocomo, meanwhile, experiments with regional fusion. When Sarmienta shared that he preferred kare kare with pork and not oxtail, Ocomo experimented with lechon. The result is now a house specialty: binagoongang lechon kare kare.

They also have a very unique Strawberry Sinigang, with the traditionally sweet strawberry this time used as the souring agent. This sinigang hits the right notes, and it boggles the mind (at least it boggled my mind) how the strawberry is factored in.

And for dessert, a friend of Bautista, Kleng Herrera, created a Brazo de Mercedes using kalabasa (squash) for the yellow part instead of just eggs.

If you want a bit of everything, there’s a lunch buffet on Sundays.

The restaurant doubles as an events venue, with the space divided into Luzon, designed to look like Tagalog heritage homes, with wooden walls and capiz shell windows; Visayas, designed to look like Ilonggo heritage homes, with tiled floors and a terra cotta feel; and, upstairs, Mindanao, painted blue to honor our fishermen.

Salu stands for Sinag, Alab, Lahi, Ugnayan. That literally translates to beam, blaze, race and relations. I would say brilliance, passion, heritage and camaraderie.

Whatever your interpretation, one thing’s for sure: this place is heartwarmingly Filipino. Casual and charming, it hits the right notes of a Pinoy’s heart and home. Kuya Germs would be proud!

SALU. Scout Torillo cor. Scout Fernandez Streets (near GMA7), Quezon City. No reservations required. Booking for events accepted. Call landline 02 2469069 ext. 544. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Casual. No wheelchair access yet (but service staff kindly offer to carry PWD guest). Parking available. Major credit cards accepted.

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TAGS: dining, food, Harlene Bautista, Romnick Sarmienta, Salu
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