|1610 San Antonio St.
Austin, TX 78701
We spoke on our blog this week about restaurant locations that simply don’t seem to work, whomever the occupant. We didn’t speak though about locations which have housed more than one successful restaurant. Consider 1610 San Antonio: long time home to Mars but now housing the new Sagra Enoteca and Trattoria.
In Italy, Sagras are community-based festivals celebrating some aspect of local cuisine. And in Austin, Chef Gabriel Pelegrini and his wife are dedicated to recreating the atmosphere and the cuisine of the sagre. And they are succeeding admirably.
I knew I liked this spot when they brought out some fresh, oven-roasted bread with a lovely little pesto of white beans, roasted red peppers and olive oil. And then we tried the Calamari Fritti Misto. While this appetizer may unfortunately be the Big Mac of Italian dining (referring of course to its inevitable presence on virtually every menu), Sagra nonetheless does it justice. The tender morsels of squid were really crispy and had a very subtle flavor. The Caprese, a light dish featuring homemade mozzarella, tomatoes, red onion along with EVOO and a touch of balsamic is equally tasty. And I had a very enjoyable Carrot Soup on the past visit that provided the most intriguing taste rush: wonderful integration of flavors.
Sagra has stepped up a significant notch on the local Pizza chain as well. Pellegrini, with his NYC training, gets good pizza. The Sagra Pizza is a delight! This is country style pizza-old school. And it works. The combination of tomato sauce, egg, pecorino cheese, spinach, mozzarella cheese, and a skosh of truffle oil just flat out works. Another favorite pie is the Aglio and Salsiccia. The key here is the broccoli rabe or rapini. The initial taste of the rapini can seem bitter but I thought it worked nicely with the garlic, sausage, chilies, and mozzarella. And the crust is as close to New York style as anything you’re going to get downtown.
I’ve tried the Penne alla Arrabiata twice and on the fist occasion it seemed a bit heavy on the capers. The second time was perfect: I mean linger over every bite perfect. Chef Pellegrini makes a nice Wild Mushroom Risotto dish as well. The Arborio rice that makes this dish work absorbs the wonderful flavors of the mushrooms, herbed ricotta, asparagus and truffle oil. The texture here, so critical to risotto, is spot on.
And from the oven, Chef Pellegrini produces some really interesting and tasty work. Consider the Bacioli de maile al marsala. These thinly pounded pork chops are complemented with wild mushrooms and a reduction of marsala wine. This dish could be over the top with astringency, but not at Sagra. It’s lovely. And the Brodetto is another dish I would strongly consider, were I you. This is a fish stew redolent of the Italian Riviera with mussels, squid, clams and fish in a broth of saffron and tomatoes. And of course, served over grilled sourdough bread.
There’s more but alas, my time and space are limited. However, there is much to explore at Sagra: an evening there unfolds lyrically at the pace you and your party prefer. I wish you many happy lunches or dinners at this thoughtful, creative little restaurant.