after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Sbraga surprises

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t says:  g had been wanting to go to Sbraga for some time.  We had wanted to go with a and v, but couldn’t quite get our acts together (and Sbraga’s always too busy on Fri-Sat nights!).  So on one Monday, we ditched a and v (actually, we did invite them, but they were indisposed) to go and celebrate g’s new job.  What better way than a surprise Monday night dinner?  Let’s just say that g and I were in for a wild ride …

February 2013, Monday Dinner, Party of 2.  We entered Sbraga after getting fooled by the side door on Pine street and were greeted by a host who, while nice enough, needs to learn how to button up his shirt a bit more – there is no need for anyone to be showing off that much chest … well … unless you cross into d-bag territory, which I’m hoping no restaurant actually employs to be their front of house.  So that was first of many surprises that evening …

The atmosphere in Sbraga is very interesting.  Half of it is rustic, as one might expect from a Philly chef like Sbraga.  But the other half is fancy, with white tablecloths, turned-way-down lights, and ridiculously large dishes (you’ll see below).  But there are other elements need to be called out.  For one, I’m not sure who designed the Sbraga logo, but what’s the deal with the typography?  There are all kinds of spaces between certain letters and not other ones.  It’s like SBR_A_GA … what is that?  But, as I have no formal graphic design training, I asked g, who confirmed that it is indeed cringe-inducing.  Whew!  First I thought I was just simply not cool enough to “get it” – at least now I have company!  This leads me into another, but related, cringe-inducing item of the evening: I’m pretty sure I saw t-shirts and hats bearing the Sbraga name for sale … Now maybe it was a joke, and maybe the bar wasn’t really displaying merchandise for sale, but if it was, I have no choice but to hang my head down and shake it back and forth in a disapproving manner.  For real?  Come on guys!  Now if the shirts were funny or a “shtick” like at Le Pigeon, I’d be down for it (I have often thought of buying the foie gras one, but fear that I might be a target for projectiles from friend and foe alike).  But a shirt just to milk the several-years-old Top Chef victory is a bit much.  At least make them buy something food-related, like a chef’s spoon, or a wineglass or something …

Ok, and then the final problem of the evening …
g and I brought an Oregon Pinot Noir along, knowing full well that there’s a $25 corkage fee – but we brought it “just in case” we weren’t able to find suitable options (better to be safe than sorry!).  We were happy to see that there were actually lots of wine options at Sbraga.  First off, there’s a +$35 supplement where you can add EtOH pairings to your tasting menu ($49 for  4 courses), which sounds like a deal!  But because some included carbonated beverages, which I cannot tolerate, I took a peak at the drink menu to see what “else” could be substituted in its place … then I got distracted by their red wine list.  At first, I thought, “gee!  that’s cool, they have zwiegelt and a Greek red on the menu!”  So that was a plus.  But then I started reading the rest of the entries … and was shocked …

red wine list

red wine list

As you can see, I looked at their wine list for Oregon Pinots, thinking that maybe I’d not disrespect their sommelier/wineguy by not asking them to open ours and just going with theirs.  But Trisae?  Really?  $135?  Allow me to illustrate:


yea … and this is me not even googling for cheaper prices …

That’s right, it’s a 300% markup (almost).  Holy crapballs. Not to mention it’s even cheaper elsewheres (the bottle I had cost me $28).  And it’s not even that good of a wine – check our review here (look at the 12/19 tasting note)!  With a bad taste in my mouth, I eschewed the winelist, realizing that I could no longer have faith in the wine program if they were going to consider Trisae to be one of their most expensive red wines …  So we pulled out our own wine: Adelsheim’s 2009 Boulder Bluff.  Damn – now that was a great bottle of wine!

Ok … self-back-patting aside … let’s talk about the really surprising occurrence of the evening, as poor design, weird atmosphere, peculiar merchandise, and horribly-overpriced wines are, in actuality, not all that surprising …

carrot soup

carrot soup: this carrot soup is g’s new flavor of the month – it looks like a puddle of orange-yellow, but was so full of flavor depth that we’re pretty sure that it involves animal somehow – maybe in the “marshmallow”?  for real, this was the best soup we’ve had in years (GTC vichysoisse included)

pork belly

pork belly appetizer: truly surprising, with just the right combination of spice and sour pickles and sweet – it was a masterful way to play around with pork belly and give it the lift of a crudo or ceviche – beautiful!

black hole

truffle risotto: in this example of a ridiculously over-sized dish, there’s a black truffle risotto that was so full of flavor (and not just truffle) that g demolished it.  I completely forgot what I had because g’s was so good


pork sandwich, with broccoli rabe and cheese: this was the absolute-best-thing-we ate that night.  One taste and g completely forgot about her Meatloaf, which, while good (and apparently something they’re known for), was completely outclassed by this dish.  It tasted exactly like the absolute best pork Italiano sandwich that Tony Luke’s could ever make … but clearly was fork-and-knife-worthy.  It made me pause and reflect on how the flavors could be so deep, when it was just a slab of meat, a slab of ?bread pudding?, some green, some cheese, and some sauce … but it was.  As I breathed in and let the flavors dance on my palate, I was reminded of Talula’s Table ca 2008-2009 – the duck-and-beans dish!  It had this supreme sense of comfort, but a finish that just kept going on and on – it was like a fine wine (if only wine could taste like a pork sandwich).

It was after the 3rd course when g and I realized that the food here was crazy-good … like old-Sikora-good (i.e. the guy who made those first Talula’s Table diners so awesome).  We were kinda-sorta-ready for a letdown of over-hypeness when we first walked in, so this was shocking.  Sure, there were two dishes that we are kinda-sorta-neglected, but the other ones were just so awesome that I’m not sure if that’s fair to say the other ones were unremarkable. I will say, though, that the weakest parts of the meal was the dessert; the cheese plate cheese plate and a deconstructed banana split were fine, but definitely not near the level the rest of the meal was at (and nowhere near Talula’s Garden’s offerings).

So, in sum, g and I find that this place is totally worth $49 for the food, which I think is a huge accomplishment, when a four-bell, critically-adored place like Zahav is barely worth the $42/pp price in our eyes.  Thus, Sbraga joins the ranks of other “worth-it” fixed price menus, like Sundays at Little Fish and Bibou.  I think that going forward, their biggest challenge is going to be the “everything else” aside from the food (i.e. all the stuff I slammed them for in the beginning of this post).  I wish them the best of luck – you know we’ll be around for sure … with our own bottles of wine in hand, but around nontheless …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

16 February 2013 at 9:40am

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