Sbraga does dibi
The good news from Kevin Sbraga-land is that his namesake perch on Broad Street continues to improve. My recent meal at Sbraga offered that welcome reminder, considering how rough this period has been for the onetime Top Chef champ (and a Masterchef judge on four episodes this month) who closed two ventures this last year after shockingly short runs - Juniper Commons and his effort in Jacksonville, Fla., Sbraga & Co. Most striking about the tasting menu at Sbraga, a solid four-course value at $55, is how much the chef's influences have broadened since he opened in 2011 with a strong French focus. There are now house-made pastas (the Calabrian-spiced king crab pasta is worth the $10 supplement), Peruvian heat in the ceviche, Southern touches drawn from his very successful second restaurant, the Fat Ham (which will open a larger branch at the King of Prussia mall in the fall). But I was most intrigued by the rarity of real African flavors in a fine-dining setting - something few, if any, other Philly chefs have done. The West African tradition of "dibi" grilled meats impressed Sbraga and his crew during a visit to Le Mandinque in Southwest Philly, and it has found its way onto this menu in the form of a tender grilled lamb loin. A gingery marinade of vinegar and onions deeply flavors the meat. But it's the dish as a whole that brings the continent together on a plate in a way that's both rustic and refined: charred and cuminy red onions, sweet plantains, and, most key, the classic West African condiment of chopped onions and tomatoes piqued with Scotch bonnet heat that lends a zesty crunch to every bite.
- Craig LaBan
Grilled lamb loin "dibi," $21 at the bar or on $55 tasting menu, Sbraga, 440 S. Broad St., 215-735-1913; sbragadining.com