Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sbraga Review

It's safe to say that Philly was happy when Kevin Sbraga decided to settle here after his Season 7 Top Chef win. That's not surprising as I'm sure he has love for Philly after his stints at several Stephen Starr and Iron Chef Jose Garces' kitchens. So in 2011, with his eponymous Sbraga, the chef decided to make a splash on Broad Street. Needless to say, the GF and I thought that this visit was well overdue.

Log Cabin ($13)
Rye, Dolin Rouge, Maple-Bacon

If there's a fun twist on bacon, it's safe to say that I'll be ordering it. So, it was no surprise when I opted for the Log Cabin. The salty, sweet crumble on the outer rim provided a nice textural contrast to the deep flavors of the cocktail, with the maple enhancing the whiskey. Deceptively strong.

Four Course Prix Fixe ($49 pp)

Ordering a la carte is certainly possible, but why would you go down that lonely route when there's a prix fixe option which allows you try multiple dishes? In fact, I had to add an additional course so I could try everything I wanted from the winter menu.

Truffle and Gruyere Popovers 

Dinner commenced with complimentary popovers that were reminiscent of BLT Steak in NYC. These were differentiated with the addition of truffle on top of gruyere cheese. However, I  didn't get much of those latter ingredients. Still, the popover was good - crusty on the outside and airy inside. It came accompanied with a pat of room temp butter with fleur de sel atop.

Foie Gras Soup ($13)
Rose petal relish

Ahhh ... the additional course and something I knew I had to try. Our server Megan was kind enough to provide sharing portions for the GF and I. This soup was divine - deep with flavors reminiscent of rich foie gras. Layers of rose petal relish and what I believe were candied bacon and onions were interspersed throughout the dish, providing lovely bites with each spoonful. After what I assume was just a few seconds, I realized I had already devoured mine. I looked expectantly at my GF's bowl. I managed to get the last spoonfuls of hers as well. Score - that's love!

Pork Belly 
Chili oil, sea lettuce, cucumber

Unsurprisingly, I had to order the pork belly dish. This was a cold preparation. Sweet, vinegary pickled cucumbers offering a fresh counterbalance to the weight of the thinly sliced pork belly, which were surprisingly light. This was highly reminiscent to a Korean-style preparation of pork belly, with some heat to it that was not at all unbearable. Still, in addition to us, Megan warned other diners about any unexpected heat from the dish - an always appreciated gesture.

Gem Lettuce 
Beets, apple, buttermilk dressing

The GF went with Chef Sbraga's creative take on salad. The gem lettuce was slightly bitter, but was a perfect counterpoint to the sweet beets and crisp apples. The buttermilk dressing adorning the greens  was not at all overpowering (we still shudder at the thought of Iron Chef Bobby Flay's heavy buttermilk dressing salad at Bobby Flay Steak). A complete departure from that monstrosity, this salad was beautifully arranged - nice and light. 

Black Truffle Risotto ($12 supplement)
Carrots, pea tendrils

For her second course, the GF opted for the risotto. While I would have expected shaved whole black truffles for a supplement, the flavors were there. The tendrils and carrots brought some vibrancy to the earthy creamy risotto. A must order.

Sea Bream
Calamari, broccoli, ink, pork belly

There was a second pork belly dish, and of course, that's what I went with for my second course. The pork belly was crisped as well and had heft to it. The sea bream was substantial and cooked beautifully, with a nice crisp to the skin. The broccoli brought a refreshing balance to the dish, with the calamari noodles offering a textural departure from the norm. I appreciated their ability to soak up the flavors of the sauce. 

Root vegetables, hazelnut crust

This was easily my favorite dish of the night and I didn't order it! The GF's third course was delicious. I don't know how Chef Sbraga gets the meatloaf so moist, but there are no other words than simply - beautiful. This is a must order if it's on the menu. The rutabaga was starchy, subtly sweet and and brought balance to that succulent meatloaf. 

Beef Brisket
Jamaican beef patty, grits, beets

I opted for the beef brisket. The shaved slivers of beets unfolded to give way to the tender brisket and crispy, petite Jamaican beef patty that reminded me of my after-school snacks from the food carts in NYC - a compliment, to be sure. 

"Lemon Meringue Tart"

For dessert, we had the tart, which was beautifully deconstructed, with tart lemon meringue ice cream, crumbly crumbles, and what I believe was a richly sweet raspberry compote. Nice.

Artisanal Cheese Plate
Humbolt Fog, CA (Goat Cheese) Auricchio, IT (aged provolone) 

We also had the cheese plate, which featured deliciously tangy Humbolt Fog goat cheese and aged provolone. These were paired nicely with what I believe was an apricot chutney and ripe, huge grapes. The accompanying roll was deliciously buttery and flaky. 
A nice variety of delicious bites to end the meal.

The meal was superb on so many levels. The dishes were creative and inspired. When you think about a dish later that week, you know you tasted something novel AND delicious. Service was exceptional - not overbearing, but helpful and aware. 

On Monday through Thursday nights, you can opt for the seasonal $75 six-course tasting at the kitchen counter. I highly recommend Sbraga and appreciate that the menu is constantly changing. I'm already looking forward to the next meal. 

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