Eat Norwegian at Sbraga

By Danya Henninger  |  August 8, 2013
Credit: Danya Henninger

Kevin Sbraga does not like sun shining through his window at 1 AM. The Top Chef alum does, however, like great fish, and the quality of the seafood he enjoyed on a recent trip to Norway has him singing the praises of the Scandinavian nation, summer daylight quirks notwithstanding.

After a tour of the country’s finest fisheries and restaurants with the Norwegian Seafood Council, Sbraga is back with a special chef’s counter tasting that’s all about Nordic cuisine. We stopped into his Avenue of the Arts restaurant to try it out - something you’re going to want to do, too.

Seats at the chef’s counter at Sbraga are available at 6 PM, Monday-Thursday, and the six-course prix fixe meal runs $75 (with an optional $50 beverage pairing). The Norwegian-inspired menu is available through August 29, so make your reservation, then check out what to look forward to below (215-735-1913).

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Amuse: Assorted Pickles and Tiny Shrimp Toast

    In Norway, toasts topped with seafood are everywhere, eaten for breakfast and any other time of day. Sbraga elevates the amuse of shrimp salad with house-pickled vegetables and edible flowers, all perched on a square of buttery house brioche.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Course 1: Beetroot Tartare

    Though the beef tartare at Sbraga is already one of our favorite dishes, this veggie version is nearly as good. Whole dill seeds add crunch to the diced and dressed beet cubes - seeds are a common element in the cuisine of Norway, as are turnips, here sliced raw as a textural foil for the silky mackerel crudo on the side.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    One of the best parts of the chef counter tasting is watching the chefs - Sbraga himself always among them - crafting each dish before it lands in front of you.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Course 2: Norwegian Salmon

    Norway is well-known for salmon, and to protect dwindling wild fish numbers, the country has become an aquaculture pioneer. “When you think farm-raised salmon, you’re probably like..,” Sbraga wrinkles his nose and rolls his eyes, “but once I tasted this, I was blown away.” Lightly poached, the fish was firm and flavorful, almost sweet. The pumpernickel bread beneath it was crisp and rich. (We wouldn’t mind a whole dish built around the fried caper garnish, either.)

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Course 3: Norwegian Halibut Steak

    Halibut is a slightly-lesser-known Norwegian export, but one that deserves attention. Seared and served with a spears of compressed and marinated kohlrabi and apple, the fish was flawless and unctuous - the side of house rosemary mayo was almost unnecessary (though still very good).

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Course 4: Grilled Pigeon

    “We ran over to Rittenhouse and captured these pigeons earlier today,” the chef said, causing a stir among the assembled diners. Of course he was joking - squab is a common meat in Norway, and prepared over Sbraga’s mini charcoal grill, it’s easy to understand why. Brown butter carrot purée softened the rich flavor of the meat, which tasted halfway between duck and quail.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    The beverage pairings are worth the splurge, because Sbraga GM Ben Fileccia knows his stuff. We most enjoyed the Vendemmia 2010 Coenobium Lazio, a rare wine made by Cistercian nuns that had the nose and tang of a sour Belgian ale.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Course 5: Pork Belly

    Note this down if you ever plan to cook pork belly: poached plum makes a perfect accompaniment. Even more fun than the sweet stone fruit or the rich mushrooms on the side, however, were the tiny sprouted quinoa beans. Served raw, they added a fresh, vegetal note.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Course 6: Spruce Scented Ice Cream

    Spruce is used often in Norwegian cooking - most of the country is covered in pine-forested mountains. Sbraga picked up his own actual tree (you can see it in the corner near the kitchen) to use as an ingredient in this ice cream. Fresh berries lightened up the almost overwhelming piney flavor of the cream, which made the waffle seem like a Christmas treat.