Out of Town Edition: Sbraga (Philly)

Spraga's Brisket

We’re happy to bring you yet another Amtrak-trip worthy restaurant. Hop on the next train to Philly to try creative American fare at Sbraga. But make a reservation first because they just won Restaurant of the Year in the city of brotherly love.

The cuisine at Sbraga is a lot like melting-pot America. Chef Kevin Sbraga pulls from Africa with his piri piri sauce; Thailand with the unexpected herbs in his foie gras soup; the Middle East with his falafel, Japan with his miso ramen and Italy with his lamb rigatoni.

But for those looking for straight up ‘Merican, he also has meatloaf and The Best Thing on the Menu: Brisket with Choucroute, Pastrami Jus and Pickles. This three-bite brisket is memorable because of its salty, sour and creamy flavor profile. 

Spraga's Foie Gras Soup

You might remember the man behind this delectable foie gras soup – Chef Kevin Sbraga – as the most likable person to ever win Top Chef. But I remember him from when we both worked at a restaurant on the Main Line under Chef Georges Perrier. He was very likable back then too, generously sneaking me snacks from the kitchen. Remembering his awesome dishes from Top Chef and his winning personality at George’s, I had very high hopes for his namesake restaurant and those hopes were met and exceeded.

Spraga's Wagyu Carpaccio

The menu, including this melt-in-your-mouth wagyu carpaccio is made simple: Diners make their draft picks for four courses. The damage? An incredibly reasonable $49, with opportunities to supplement with delicacies here and there. By DC standards, this is a steal. Even with the price of your round-trip Amtrak train to Philly!

Spraga's Key Lime Dessert

Finish the evening with desserts that range from classy to kindergarten. We tried this refined take on key lime pie in addition to the dirt pudding, complete with homemade gummy worms. Here’s hoping Chef Sbraga makes his way to DC to open another cool spot.

Brisket not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section. Click here for more photos.

If you liked this, you might also like Zahav, B TOO or Kapnos.

Out of Town Edition – State Bird Provisions (San Fran)

State Bird Provisions' Pickled Anchovy-Sesame Pancake
Guest Post: Eric & Ashely

With the well-known dearth of quality food in DC (PSYCH!), longtime FoBTM (friends of BTM) escaped to the food mecca of San Francisco to see firsthand what this first class food city is all about. In between copious helpings of sourdough and avocados, we had a chance to dine at some of SF’s most delicious eateries, including a stop at State Bird Provisions – the 2012 James Beard award winner for Best New Restaurant.

The unique menu and dining style at SBP is split into “commandables” and “provisions.” The standing menu of commandables has long-time favorites like their namesake, the CA State Bird, an amazingly crispy, juicy and tender quail with lemony onions, and a helping of savory pancakes. Meanwhile, dim sum carts meander through the crowded restaurant, offering diners a peek at the daily specials or “provisions.”

You may be thinking, “oh no, not another gimmicky small plates agenda,” which we FoBTM are totally out on. Instead, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly servers describe each dish in detail, allowing diners to conjure what their meal might look like (and taste like) before making difficult choices. With plates coming out of the kitchen every few minutes, you can pace your meal however you’d like, not end up with too much food and save lunch money for the rest of your trip. The best of both worlds.

Lucky for you, the Best Thing on the Menu: Pickled Anchovy-Sesame Pancake with Crème Fraîche and Basil is on the reliable list of commandables, upping the likelihood that you can try the dish on your next trip to San Fran. Gently pickled anchovies and just-picked radish sit atop a thick, brioche-y sesame pancake. A touch of sour cream and you’re eating the best version of latkes and herring you’ve ever tasted. Even one anchovy-hating FoBTM needed a second bite. With most dishes priced around $10, you can eat stacks on stacks of pancakes, instead of spending stacks on stacks on stacks.

Not a fan of anchovies? Try the Charred Octopus in Tomato-Chickpea Salsa or Garlic Bread with Buratta. Or, you could follow the advice of this four-year old.

It won’t be long before other restaurants mimic SBP’s distinctive dining style, and as long as they can come close to matching the quality of the food at State Bird Provisions, we are looking forward to what the future brings.

Pickled Anchovy-Sesame Pancake not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Out of Town Edition – Zahav (Philadelphia)

Zahav: Crispy Haloumi

In this out of town edition, we take you to an edgy Israeli restaurant perched atop a plaza overlooking the historic Old City neighborhood of downtown Philadelphia. James Beard Award Winning Chef Michael Solomonov, born in Israel, also pulls from Morocco, Turkey, Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt to create a memorable feast of small-plates style dining.

Zahav, which means gold in Hebrew, leaves a great first impression by bringing out a selection of Middle Eastern salads known as salatim. The selection ranges from smoky eggplant to spicy fennel and is a bit reminiscent of the “banchan” snacks you receive at the start of a Korean BBQ meal.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Crispy Haloumi with Golden Raisins, Carrots and Pine Nuts appears in the “Mezze” section and can’t be missed. Haloumi dates back to the Medieval Byzantine period, originating in Cyprus. Made from sheep and goat milk, this cheese was born to be grilled (or fried) because of its ability to withstand high heat without melting.  It’s traditionally served with watermelon or mint, but the possibilities are endless.

At Zahav, very salty crispy haloumi is paired with a sweet, golden raisin compote. The sweetness and the saltiness together are a match made in heaven, much like the salted caramel craze sweeping the nation.

It’s important to eat the BTM immediately when it arrives at the table or else face a significant change in consistency.

Zahav is fine dining at its finest, but with reasonable prices and a lot of personality. For $39 you can feast on salatim and hummus with fresh pita, two selections from the “Mezze” section, one grilled dish from the “Al Ha’esh” category and finally, a creatively concocted dessert. We recommend the Halvah Mousse with Chickpea Praline, which is made from tahini and has a nutty taste. Paired with berry jam, this dessert is an adult peanut butter and jelly sandwich that even those with nut allergies can eat!

Crispy Haloumi not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section

Out of Town Edition – Baume & Brix (Chicago)

Octopus

This is the first Best Thing on the Menu: Out of Town Edition.

BTM took a trip to one of the food capitals of the country – the windy, deep-dish city of Chicago. With one night to shoot for the culinary stars, BTM headed to newcomer Baume & Brix.

The concept behind Baume & Brix is that each item on the menu, including desserts, incorporates both sweet and savory flavors. The restaurant is appointed like most in Chicago, with a melting pot of exposed brick, industrial steel and polished wood – a terrific backdrop for a melting pot of a meal.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Octopus in the Style of Fun Dip was a treat. The sous-vide (the clever cooking technique involving vacuum-packed plastic bags) then grilled octopus comes ready to dip in three different powders. First you roll a tentacle in a small trough of olive oil, then you choose between a coconut lemongrass power, spicy curry powder and a smoky umami paprika powder. All are outstanding.

While not Alinea or Top Chef owned Girl & the Goat, Baume & Brix is creative, modern, unpretentious and elegant. Adorably, their menu is divided by Explore, Summit, Conquer and Divide.

Been to Baume & Brix in Chicago? Share your favorites in the comments section.