MANILA -- Maher Daas was a long-time customer of Seafood Market but after a chance conversation with its original owners last year, he took over the "paluto" pioneer, which is now called Sabreen’s Seafood Market.
Daas envisioned a comfortable place where diners can pick from the freshest ingredients and partake of delicious food in a relaxed and sanitary setting.
“Sell the best quality or never mind,” Daas stressed, as he talked about the live seafood on offer. Except for the Norwegian salmon, all his seafood are locally sourced but of export quality.
As you enter the restaurant, you are greeted by ushers who give you a supermarket cart and lead you to the market. Live seafood from prawns to different bivalves (clams, mussels, scallops, oysters) and fish (bangus, talakitok, blue marlin), as well as various vegetables, are on offer.
Then a manager comes to your table with your cart, and jots down how you wish your seafood to be cooked. There is no set menu, except for a short list that consists of the drinks, as well as different types of rice. But the managers are trained to be knowledgeable about the dishes – asking you about your preference, and giving advice accordingly.
They charge a minimal cooking fee for each dish, and the prices of the seafood, given the quality and comfortable atmosphere, definitely offer value for money.
We were treated to the ultimate "dampa" experience, as we got to taste almost every type of seafood Sabreen’s Seafood Market, starting with clams for our halaan soup, which was fresh and light. Daas mixed in a bit of lemon with bird’s eye chili into the soup, which was a winning combination to kick off the meal.
This was followed by an avalanche of seafood dishes. There were two garlic-flavored dishes -- the grilled prawns had a smoky char, while the scallops baked in lemon and garlic were juicy and pops of flavor in your mouth.
While squid can be cooked adobo-style or stuffed and grilled, we opted for salt and pepper squid. What came to the table were squid pieces seasoned just right and so light, retaining their crispiness even at the end of the meal.
If you’re a group of at least four, order the steamed lapu-lapu. We picked ours from the tank, and when asked if grilled or steamed, or sweet and sour, we opted for steamed. The fish comes to the table, and for the ultimate convenience, diners can ask the wait staff to debone it table-side. Our waiter did, and we enjoyed the freshest tasting lapu-lapu that I’ve had in a while with no fuss.
During the meal, we also saw other customers getting their crab meat prepared, or shrimp peeled table-side, and upon asking, Daas confirmed that it’s a service offered to all guests. You eat like a king, indeed.
Being Filipinos, we’re crazy for our rice, and during the meal, we opted for two kinds: the Filipino staple garlic rice (Sabreen’s version was extremely garlicky without being overpowering); and the pineapple fried rice, which is really a meal on its own. The pineapple pieces are joined with vegetables, shrimps and pieces of scallops in every bite.
How about some vegetables? The market also has vegetables, and you can pick the ones you like, and request for Mixed Vegetables with Scallops, which is a sure-crowd pleaser.
If you’re looking for a lipsmackingly good crab dish, try the Singaporean Black Chilli Crab. Each bite was peppery with a sauce that’s rich, sweet, and sour, thanks to a secret Asian ingredient. And with the garlic rice, I had seconds, thirds, and fourths.
For the ultimate luxury though, no crustacean is more prized than the lobster. With so many choices in its preparation from grilled or steamed to baked with lemon and garlic, we opted for the one smothered in cream and cheese – thermidore-style.
It comes to the table in its magnificent glory: the tail was covered with cream and cheese, as well as little pieces of bell pepper. Each bite was even richer than the next, with two textures of cheese — a crispy part and a soft melty part that melded into each piece of soft and succulent lobster meat.
This is truly a celebration of richness in every bite, perfect to be consumed with sips of white wine, or your libation of choice from fruit juices to cocktails, available from the restaurant’s bar menu.
Whether you’re two or 10, Sabreen’s Seafood Market can accommodate you. (There are private rooms.) And to add even more to the experience, the restaurant will soon have what it boasts as one of the biggest saltwater aquariums in Manila.
Sabreen’s Seafood Market and Restaurant is located at 1190 J. Bocobo Street, Manila