Friday, March 14, 2008

Oh My Sagra

Just before noon today, having a lunch meeting cancelled at the last minute, I found myself with an unexpected block of time. If I'd had more notice, I'd have figured out a way to get back home to have lunch with Tracy and the kids, or figured out some way to use the time to cross one more thing off the to do list. But it was lunch time, and I was hungry, and there really wasn't a lot of space to come up with a new plan. I'd seen that Sagra, the little Italian place down the street from my office had a specials board out front, so I decided to give it a try.

Oh my. This is a brilliant place.

Sagra is in the same old house where Mars used to be; a little off the beaten path on San Antonio street between 16th and 17th, on the westernmost edge of downtown. Walk up onto the big front porch and in the glass-paned front door, and you get enveloped in the warmth. There are butter yellow walls with old wood floors, black chairs, and white table cloths. To the right is the open kitchen, anchored by a wood-fired brick oven. Large windows cover the outside walls, and let in light filtered and reflected from the buildings to the east.

My waiter expertly ticked off the litany of specials, which I wish I could remember. Many featured Boggy Creek farms (about the best local organics you can get here); all were innovative. I opted for the pizza special: spinach, olive, roasted garlic, artichokes, and pepperoni.

To compare this to Tallahassee Pizza is to compare a sunny day to the human genome: They are completely different things. The crust was hand formed into a loose circle, with a thin, light texture that veered almost to flaky around the edge. Pepperoni were hand cut and had a cured flavor that reminded me a little of prociutto. There were large clumps of flavorful spinach, silky roasted garlic, and mild black olives. I didn't even realize these olives existed: they had the texture and thickness of kalamatas, but there was none of the bite, perfectly mated to the rest of the pizza. In Italian tradition, there was no sauce outside of a hint of flavorful olive oil. The flavors all came together with a blend of fontina and mozarella in this flash of rich, deep, flavor. It was a little overwhelming, and I found myself completely full halfway through.

Every last bit of this place clicked. The service, the spirit, the food, the smell, the people. It was 30 minutes out of the middle of my day, and it was beautiful.

Sagra on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Closed: Fusion Cafe and a Decent Avocado

I've been getting a lot of really bad avocados recently.

A good avocado is a thing of beauty, geode-like in the contrast between inside and outside; between butter and lizard-skin. The texture of a good avocado, matte and silky, just invites you to slice, to split it into smooth-sided little slivers or cubes or crescents.

And then there is the bad avocado: brown streaks, goopy bits, rough chunky edges and stringy filaments threaded through.

Twice in the last two weeks, I've been served inedible avocado. Once at the Doral Marriott in Miami, and once at the Bonefish Grill up here in Tally. And my question: What gives? I mean, it'd be one thing if they served the thing whole, skin side out, fruit still a mystery, but this is prepped food with the evidence splayed out for the world to see. It got me thinking that maybe the delineation between a kitchen that cares and one that does not is the avocado. If the prep guy, seeing the oozy, icky brown bits, sends it on; if the chef drops it on a salad, or atop a chicken sandwich; if the room service guy picks it up and brings it to your room; and if none of them do anything to stop the horror, something is amiss. Bad avocado = bad kitchen.

I also had one good avocado, at Fusion Cafe in Tallahasee. Trendy and quiet, with a mostly-black, concrete-floor and square-plates metro aesthetic, Fusion does a good job balancing an upscale feel with a cheap, funky menu. They do a nice gumbo - thick and rich, if a little under spiced. Salads are excellent, with good field greens and house-made dressings. They have good crab cakes, they do a flashy spinach lasagna, they have hamburgers. The Cobb Salad I got this week, containing the aforementioned avacado, was excellent - each element distinct and crisp, avocado lush, bacon crispy, balsamic subtle and sweet. The impressive thing about this place, though no individual item rises to the level of epiphany, is that they do everything well. This is a competent restaurant with a creative bent and decent service. I wish they'd managed a little more oomph into the dishes - a little more spice, a little more creativity, a little more precision, but those wishes don't change the fact that this is a place that looks, feels and tastes well above the norm.


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