The recently opened Sbraga, 440 S. Broad St. (in the space formerly known as the Asian-fusion restaurant Chew Man Chu), is the perfect storm for dining on the Avenue of the Arts: the skills of owner and executive chef Kevin Sbraga, winner of season seven of the popular TV show, as well as a prime location and elegant, modern styling. It also doesn’t hurt that the restaurant offers an impressive four-course menu for $45.
Before we could indulge in the menu, we had to navigate some of the cocktails. Being suckers for punch, we tried the punch drunk love ($11), a convergence of premium rum, amaretto and grapefruit juice. We also tried the Sbraga punch ($10) with Absolute mandarin, Amaretto, orange and pineapple juices. Both were adult-beverage nirvana, with the punch-drunk love having more Southern charm compared to the tropical influences of the Sbraga punch.
Our first course got off to an excellent start with the foie gras soup, a smooth, rich and flavorful experience punctuated by the crunchy kick of rose-petal relish. The blue crab with pineapple and kohlrabi was delightful as well, offering a pleasant combination of familiar flavors.
The second course also had a wonderful sense of flair. The black-truffle risotto was classic — creamy, hearty and stocked generously with squash and hen of the woods. The clams were a pleasant treasure hunt, served up perfectly steamed in their shells, swimming in bacon and sea-urchin butter.
The third course was a knockout as the dishes we tried were familiar concepts elevated to upscale fare. The buffalo chicken was pure joy on a plate, with pieces of fried-chicken perfection accompanied by apple, blue cheese and a spicy buffalo sauce.
Now, we’ve seen more than a few chefs do their gourmet reinterpretation of a cheesesteak in our time and Sbraga’s ranks as one of the best, with tender slices of short rib surrounded by a Parmesan mousse, onion straws and a savory helping of bread pudding, the latter of which went a long way to making the dish a desirable tangent to Philly’s signature sandwich.
Damn our New Year’s resolution: We skipped the dessert course. Yeah, we’re kicking ourselves, but we’re destined to backslide sooner or later.
Sbraga is a welcome addition to Philly’s restaurant scene, and it’s obvious Chef Sbraga is putting his “Top Chef” prize money to good use.