In a world where the popularity of television personalities is as fleeting as the lifespan of a mayfly, it’s rare that 15 minutes of TV fame translate to real world success. Both loved and despised, reality television is often responsible for dashing the dreams of hopeful fame seekers and putting the kibosh on budding careers–former reality show contestants often find making the transition from the small screen difficult to say the least. That is especially true of reality cooking show alums. Just look at the recent demise of America’s Next Great Restaurant winner Jamawn Woods’ Soul Daddy restaurant or the abrupt closing of Top Chef sommelier-cum-restaurateur Stephen Asprinio’s swanky Palm Beach eatery. It must be a daunting task to open a restaurant in the aftermath of such well-documented missteps, but Top Chef Season 7 winner Kevin Sbraga hopes to write a different ending to his reality show story.
The Willingboro-raised chef earned his culinary arts degree at Johnson and Wales in Miami and found success as the Executive Chef of Rat’s Restaurant at the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey before landing the coveted Chef de Cuisine position at The Grill at Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton. A successful stint on Top Chef made him a household name and when he hinted at the possibility of opening a restaurant in Philadelphia, it set the food world abuzz with speculation.
Earlier this month, all speculation was laid to rest as Sbraga opened his eponymous Broad Street eatery to critical acclaim. In a bold move, he eschews hefty price tags in favor of a $45 prix fixe menu consisting of a starter, fish, meat and dessert course–additional courses can be ordered à la carte at the bar. Elevating simple and familiar fare seems to be Sbraga’s forte with dishes like a savory and surprisingly interesting meatloaf getting a smattering of bacon marmalade or light, crispy fish and chips perched atop a puddle of curried remoulade and cornichons. Less successful plates like the ravioli and anchovy dish feel out of step and weak in comparison to the rest of the solid menu and the Top Chef-featured dessert ‘Singapore Sling’, while beautifully presented, is a texturally confusing mèlange of tropical fruit and watermelon granita atop a slippery panna cotta. However, it’s easy to absolve Sbraga of these minor transgressions with the rest of the thoughtfully planned menu executed so well.
Sitting at the bar nursing a much-deserved cocktail at the end of a long night, the top chef admits he “tastes the dishes constantly and tweaks them all the time.” As for his rapidly growing legion of devotees, they welcome the tweaking for it is in those meticulous details that Sbraga’s genius is discovered.