The East Village is gaining a new vegan Filipino spot this week in Saramsam, the latest project from prolific restaurateur Ravi DeRossi, who is planning for multiple new spots this year in the neighborhood. The restaurant is taking over the old location of DeRossi’s former vegan Indian spot Night Music, at 111 East 7th Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A.
At Saramsam, executive chef Raj Abat — who formerly led the kitchen at Night Music — took classic Filipino dishes and built vegan versions that aim to align closely to their traditional meat and fish counterparts. The restaurant’s lumpia ($5 per piece) is stuffed with faux meat and served with a side of iloko, or fermented cane vinegar, for dipping. Roasted mushrooms in a garlic-soy glaze are featured in the restaurant’s adobo dish ($22). For the drinks, there’s an emphasis on orange wines, plus low-ABV cocktails and local and Filipino beer options.
Aside from the a la carte options, Saramsam will also be selling a $50 per person tasting menu offered as a Kamayan-style communal Filipino meal for the table. Dishes are served on top of banana leaves and designed to be eaten by hand.
“I was extremely hesitant to do Filipino food — the food I grew up with,” Abat said in a statement on the opening. “How do I replicate all the funky flavors? Our cooking uses fermented fish and shrimp, so I had to recreate those flavors by fermenting beans, stinky tofu, and miso.”
The project is the first opening in a string of new restaurants that DeRossi has planned for the coming months. It’s all part of a larger company overhaul that DeRossi is spearheading to restructure and formalize his restaurant group, which is now called Overthrow Hospitality.
Along with Night Music, Tiki bar Mother of Pearl and vegan barbecue spot Honeybee’s — which were both housed within the same building as Amor y Amargo, the group’s acclaimed cocktail spot led by bartending star Sother Teague — have also shut down.
In their place, DeRossi and his team are building out more components to Amor y Amargo. They shut down the bar’s year-old Williamsburg outpost and are doubling down and expanding within the original space in the East Village. There’s a new retail cocktail shop that’s expected to open next week, and an upcoming reservations-only bar will be added with a pre-fixed cocktails and tapas menu.
The group’s other restaurants and bars that were around before the pandemic — Ladybird, Avant Garden, and Proletariat — are all back open and serving customers. DeRossi is also a partner in renowned bar Death & Co, which has reopened for outdoor dining and to-go service.
Around the neighborhood, upcoming all-vegan restaurant additions include Mexican spot Spider in the Garden, soul food restaurant Cadence, and pasta and wine bar Soda Club.
Like Saramsam, each of the new restaurants — which are all slated to open by the end of the year — will be led by senior employees within the company who agreed to launch their own projects under DeRossi’s new hospitality group.
“We’re playing to our assets,” DeRossi says. “We have really great chefs in our company who have never been given this capacity.”
DeRossi and his director of operations, Drew Brady, say that the company’s new direction was born out of the pandemic, and, more specifically, the company’s response to the crisis. DeRossi and Brady kept Avant Garden open to serve free meals to kids in the community after schools shut down in the spring, and the move “set off something in our minds,” DeRossi says.
“It really felt good to be doing something positive,” DeRossi says. “We were doing thousands of meals a week for free.”
Moving forward, DeRossi and Brady wanted to shift the company to add more employee-first initiatives — like seeking out in-house talent first to launch new projects — and encourage more community involvement. At Overthrow Hospitality, employees will each be allotted 10 paid hours per month to take part in protests or volunteer at various community organizations. For those who participate, the logged hours convert into wellness credits that the employees can put towards things like buying a new bike or getting a gym membership.
The new direction comes as the group is still weathering the pandemic along with the rest of the city. DeRossi was able to negotiate favorable rent deals on the places that are opening, and he says that launching more vegan restaurants led by veteran team members at a time when environmental and economic crises are colliding is the right way to go.
“I’m personally betting on it,” DeRossi says. “The future is plant-based. I’m betting my entire life and business and everything on that right now.”
Saramsam will be open for outdoor dining from Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. Indoor dining at the restaurant will begin on September 30. The full menu can be found here.