[A Pig at Large by Wilfrid; photos by Signed by Philippa: December 13, 2013]
South Broad Street isn't one of the quainter parts of Philadelphia. It's broad, brassy, lined with theaters, sparkling with lights. And as we proceeded down it on a Saturday evening, snow began to fall.
Aw, pretty. But we were glad to get inside the high-ceilinged but snug and bustling modern restaurant created and named for a former Top Chef winner, Kevin Sbraga.
The dining room was not only slammed, but curiously lit (it didn't seem dark, but the tables had limited illumination. What photos we have are at the end, for information purposes). We had some nice chat with our server, a former Bushwick-dweller.
Six choices in each course, with a few understandable supplements here and there (Wagyu--genuine Japanese, we were told-- and lobster). A beet carpaccio was a sound alternative to the Wagyu. It was described on the menu as a "tartar," but that makes me think of a chopped heap. This was more a neat pile, sweetly refreshing, topped with a couple of meaty slices of mackerel sashimi.
Some thinly sliced turnip too (Nordic styl-ee!), and I do like turnip.
My sidekick started out with the most intriguing dish of the evening. We had to ask for an explanation of "foie gras soup," and should have taken notes. It's a Sbraga signature, and the preparation is complicated. Lobes of foie liquidised with chicken stock--that we could have guessed. But the multiple accents come from lemon grass, ginger, shallots, and other stuff I can't remember. There was gentle warmth from Thai chilies too.
It's finished with rose petals, and tiny red globules we couldn't identify at first: morsels of pickled red onions.
She followed up with some ramen, despite the server's concern about ordering two soups. Snow, like I said: it was a hot soup kind of day. It was a whole wheat ramen, pretty mainstream, the distinctive touch--slices of smoked carrots.
My second course was ingenious. "Escargot. Shells," said the menu. Why, I wondered, would they mention the shells? Ah, because they turn out to be pasta shells, and the little, earthy snails nestled among them quite happily. Home from home. A little kick from chorizo, and I am going to be making this at home--if not with snails, with diced-up cuttlefish in its ink. Neat idea.
After these winners, my main course was a little bit of a let-down. Brisket with pastrami juice ends up tasting--suprise--like a heap of pastrami. Warming, tender, but a bit like the middle of a sandwich. It was garnished with a choucroute.
The duck was praised, and dispatched with pretty quickly. I got to try a slice of breast, and had no objection. Alongside it, what appeared to be a spring roll (the menu says "pastilla"), stuffed with braised leg meat and dried fruit.
Alongside these plates, a deep bowl of risotto, white truffles pre-shaved over it. A $40 supplement for that ($12 for the duck) brought us back in line with New York prices.
This was an assured performance, in a restaurant which has clearly found its audience. And if you behave yourself, it can be a bargain. Here's the website.
Some cheese for me. My daughter confidently ordered the "dirt pudding with gummy worms," a dish with which she has greater familiarity than me. She liked it.
The room itself is not that dark. They could flatter the food by directing some light at the tables: