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Taste Testing: Dining at the Restaurants of Cheftestants/Judges

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I can't imagine how anyone can run a profitable restaurant (or any other small business) these days.  When I look at what it costs to make a simple but decent meal for two Chez Spiderpig, I think about adding rent, utilities, professional equipment, maintenance, salaries, insurance - and have a new appreciation for what's on my restaurant plate.

$185+ pp is way way way out of my budget though.  I presume the same for enough others not to make Kwame's experiment feasible in a limited market.

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4 hours ago, spiderpig said:

I can't imagine how anyone can run a profitable restaurant (or any other small business) these days.  When I look at what it costs to make a simple but decent meal for two Chez Spiderpig, I think about adding rent, utilities, professional equipment, maintenance, salaries, insurance - and have a new appreciation for what's on my restaurant plate.

$185+ pp is way way way out of my budget though.  I presume the same for enough others not to make Kwame's experiment feasible in a limited market.

Remember too that $185 was just the starting point. As mentioned in the various articles, the ACTUAL cost per person at the end of the meal (I imagine assuming you didn't do the very barest minimum you could and drink tap water) after wine, taxes, service/tip, and the amount you actually shelled out, was around $500 per person.

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Good Lord!!! I took a client to Spago in Beverly Hills a few years ago and we had the 10-course tasting menu, I had the wine pairings... it was around $420 for the two of us, total, including the gratuity. $500 per person is crazy!!! 

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30 minutes ago, cooksdelight said:

Good Lord!!! I took a client to Spago in Beverly Hills a few years ago and we had the 10-course tasting menu, I had the wine pairings... it was around $420 for the two of us, total, including the gratuity. $500 per person is crazy!!! 

Yes!  That much money for a dinner feels like spending money just because you can.  I ate at a really lovely, bustling, small plates place in DC this past fall--The Dabney--and ate really interesting food for not that much (not sure because I was being treated, but the menu didn't look so expensive).  If you can eat inventive and good food without spending all that money, why would you?  I was very fond of Kwame during his season and can still chuckle thinking of him saying to Padma on his imaginary date "bought you a dog," but the Shaw Bijou plan always seemed unwise, the plan of someone immature about business.  And you don't become a loyal, repeat customer of a place that's charging you that much.

On another subject...I ate at Mexique in Chicago about a year and a half ago, the restaurant of Carlos from the New Orleans season, and the food was great.  It was maybe a little more busy and crowded than I always like, but everything was just delicious, and, because they'd made a small mistake, they brought our table a second dessert, which was kind.  Carlos was there.  We could see him checking plates as they went out, and he said hi to our table. 

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10 hours ago, dleighg said:

For those familiar with Shaw Bijou, what does this (from the Washpo article) mean? Do you move from your starting table?

"The hype took a turn in August when Onwuachi and his team announced the price tag of their 13-course tasting menu, which would take diners on a journey through a converted townhouse."

I have not eaten there – but Sietsema's review will answer your questions - yes, it seems they migrate from one place to another in the converted townhouse.  The review also points out that the wine pairing is $185 so --- I'm sure you can figure out yourself how the final cost comes close to $500 per person... :-)

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/shaw-bijou-serves-a-few-delights-and-several-duds-is-that-worth-500-a-head/2016/11/04/0592c588-a118-11e6-8832-23a007c77bb4_story.html

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@chiaros Thanks for the link. Personally I don't feel like being "shepherded" around for my meal (or herded may be more how I would feel). 

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It was probably a mistake for Kwame to team up with a hands off owner of high end salons instead of an experienced restaurateur who might have reigned in some of his more extravagant tendencies. 

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14 hours ago, cooksdelight said:

Good Lord!!! I took a client to Spago in Beverly Hills a few years ago and we had the 10-course tasting menu, I had the wine pairings... it was around $420 for the two of us, total, including the gratuity. $500 per person is crazy!!! 

Just for comparison's sake – dinner for two at Alinea in Chicago , with the good wine pairing, and on a "desirable" night/hour, will cost you in excess of a thousand dollars.** But, that's the Grant Achatz flagship place etc etc blah blah.

** After state tax, local (Chicago) tax, tip/service.

Edited by chiaros

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Oh, I can understand the difference in price from city to city. And the prestige of who the chef is. But Kwame, D.C.??

At least we got to sit next to James Caan. :)

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Hi all, I hope you don't mind a recommendation request.  I'm heading to Las Vegas in a couple of months.  Are there any Top Chef folks that are currently in restaurants there that you would recommend?  I'm waffling on whether to go to Craft, although I may end up doing that one of the nights I'm there.  Any other hidden (or I guess, obvious) gems (Top Chef or otherwise) you'd recommend in Vegas?

I'm hoping to be able to try Duck Duck Goat (Stephanie Izard's newest place) when I'm in Chicago later this week (have to try to get in as a walk in as this is a last minute trip).  I'll report back if I get in.

Thanks for any thoughts.

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On 1/22/2017 at 11:43 PM, pennben said:

I'm hoping to be able to try Duck Duck Goat (Stephanie Izard's newest place) when I'm in Chicago later this week (have to try to get in as a walk in as this is a last minute trip).  I'll report back if I get in.

Thanks for any thoughts.

Not sure why you want to eat at a faux Chinese place. Sichuan-themed**, eclectic-region-Murcan-mixing at that. But, please yourself. Have you eaten at Girl & the Goat itself? If not, perhaps it might be a better place to try out Izard's style as a base from which she operates. I think you can still "walk in" at G&TG too. One used to just get there before 4.30 pm and storm in when they open the doors to try to snag the tables they held for "walk-ins".

 

**What the fuck is wrong with true, correct Cantonese??? Why is the USA so smitten with Sichuanese??? Is it because that cuisine BLASTS their taste buds with heat in many dishes, whereas Cantonese often requires them to dwell upon delicate and ephemeral tastes and things (like steamed fish) that allow simple freshness to shine?

In this regard Tom Colicchio once stated that he expected "Chinese Food" (any type) to HIT him with BOLD, ASSERTIVE, POW!, KAPOW!!! flavors. He is so, so wrong; if that is what he expects ALL Chinese food to taste like.

Edited by chiaros

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Yes, I've been to Girl & the Goat as well as The Little Goat several times (used to be my neighborhood).  I agree with you in that I was surprised at the new concept, if you will:)  I'm just curious to see what it's like.

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17 minutes ago, pennben said:

Yes, I've been to Girl & the Goat as well as The Little Goat several times (used to be my neighborhood).  I agree with you in that I was surprised at the new concept, if you will:)  I'm just curious to see what it's like.

Ah, OK. Then, if you do go to this faux Chinese place, do report back, if you could. That would be appreciated. 

Just slightly OT – did you get their roasted goat (fatty though it could be) at G&TG, if it was offered the night you were there? IMO it is quite wunnerful!

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It's been a couple of years and I know we had a couple of goat plates one of the times when we went, but I don't specifically recall which ones and I know we never special-ordered.  As a Cubs fan, I always felt a bit conflicted about whether I should eat goat or not (how will it impact the curse!)....until quite recently:) With the exception of one night we were there when someone had a quite heavy hand with the salt, which ultimately just kind of ruined the rest of the plates for me, I have happy memories of my meals there.  And for the neighborhood, it was quite reasonably priced.

What can I say, she was one of my favorite TCs, so I want to check out her new place.
 

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Not a TC winner, but Kristin (runner-up) from Hell's Kitchen is the head chef at Gordon Ramsay's Pub & Grill, and I'd highly recommend the place. Their burgers and fries are to die for. Ask for her, she'll come out and say hi. Very nice young lady.

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I haven't worked in downtown SF for years, but I was curious about Tom Colicchio's 'wichcraft sandwich place and found it closed in June of '15.  The remaining locations are in NYC.

Anyone know what happened to the West Coast place?

Edited by spiderpig

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Friday afternoon Tom Colicchio tweeted this:

Quote

After 15 years of making people happy we have decided to close craftbar. Lease is up and the rent is too damn high. TY to all our fans. 4/30

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3 hours ago, emcmac87 said:

Anyone know what happened to all of Kevin Sbraga's restaurants closing?

https://billypenn.com/2017/01/22/what-shut-down-sbraga-and-the-fat-ham/

Fat Ham at King of Prussia remains open, it seems.

http://www.phillymag.com/foobooz/2017/01/17/sbraga-closed-fat-ham/

There was also an IRS lien against Sbraga but he says that has been paid but "people wonder, too" so to speak.

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There was an interesting interview on the Serious Eats podcast with Bill Telepan where he was saying you can't make money in high-rent areas with a mid-level restaurant -- you've got to either do super high end or fast-casual to turn a profit. 

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2 hours ago, Jesse said:

There was an interesting interview on the Serious Eats podcast with Bill Telepan where he was saying you can't make money in high-rent areas with a mid-level restaurant -- you've got to either do super high end or fast-casual to turn a profit. 

I don't know about mid-level, but in Tom's tweets about craftbar closing he mentioned the rent had gotten way too high

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13 hours ago, emcmac87 said:

Anyone know what happened to all of Kevin Sbraga's restaurants closing?

 

10 hours ago, chiaros said:

https://billypenn.com/2017/01/22/what-shut-down-sbraga-and-the-fat-ham/

Fat Ham at King of Prussia remains open, it seems.

http://www.phillymag.com/foobooz/2017/01/17/sbraga-closed-fat-ham/

There was also an IRS lien against Sbraga but he says that has been paid but "people wonder, too" so to speak.

It's a mystery! Well attended & critically acclaimed.... Maybe he opened too many restaurants in a short period of time to be able to keep his eyes on the financing? It's a shame...

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9 hours ago, JeanneH said:

I don't know about mid-level, but in Tom's tweets about craftbar closing he mentioned the rent had gotten way too high

That is a problem nationwide. Especially in L.A and NYC. Maybe Kevin faced the same problems and didn't realize how high his rent might rise from year to year. Landlord probably sniffed something good and decided to hike it up.

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5 hours ago, NowVoyager said:

It's a mystery! Well attended & critically acclaimed.... 

It's really common for rent to make a place not worth it. Not someone who was on the show but I have a friend who had a successful popular place that was too small so moved it to a larger location very nearby to increase capacity. They sold more food in the new location but still started losing thousands of dollars a week because even though they'd increased sales, they didn't do so enough to make the increase in rent worth it. But you also can't necessarily say they just suck at business and shouldn't have chosen such an expensive lease because there isn't necessarily a restaurant space that even has lower rent. You basically have to be packed. It's rough. Not everywhere, mind you, but popular restaurants are choosing to close all over because the math just doesn't work.

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6 hours ago, NowVoyager said:

It's a mystery! Well attended & critically acclaimed.... Maybe he opened too many restaurants in a short period of time to be able to keep his eyes on the financing? It's a shame...

At least one article commented that one of his casual places was NOT as filled as had been hoped for, and that it was even somewhat empty. As for the "too many restaurants" - that may well be. He doesn't actually own outright any of the restaurants and the respective businesses, from what I read, and it therefore stands to reason that it is his financiers and backers who decide whether to continue to finance him or not, one speculates.** No doubt rent is a big part of the overall financial picture, of course, if the location itself is not owned by one of the principals. The first article I cited earlier touched upon possible "insufficient profit" and suggested difficulties with cash flow (like the reported 3-months-in-arrears payments to suppliers?) as well as the guess that his investors for those closed restaurants decided they did not want to "toss good money after bad". So the article says.

In this regard I might point out that various Top Chef alumni have done well and prospered, in high rent areas, butwhere they concentrated on just one (or two) restaurants - like Michael Voltaggio in LA, or even Nick Elmi in Philly, PA, the scene of the Kevin Sbraga imbroglio.

** Not the same exact situation, but it is worthwhile to recall that Kwame Onwuachi (see earlier in this thread) also had the rug pulled out from underneath him when his investors decided they could no longer carry his costs.

Edited by chiaros
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On 3/4/2017 at 9:58 AM, chiaros said:

What I loved about this slideshow is that  while you linked to  the slide that highlighted Richard Blais' Crack Shack on this list of best fried chicken in the US, if you scroll through a few slides, you'll find Little Goat Diner also showing up on the list.  Although not mentioned in the caption, that's Stephanie Izard's place!  Love that irony. :)

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2 hours ago, ProudMary said:

What I loved about this slideshow is that  while you linked to  the slide that highlighted Richard Blais' Crack Shack on this list of best fried chicken in the US, if you scroll through a few slides, you'll find Little Goat Diner also showing up on the list.  Although not mentioned in the caption, that's Stephanie Izard's place!  Love that irony. :)

But of course. I expect folks WOULD scroll through the slideshow...and notice Izard's place on the list as well. :-)

I posted the link with Blais' place as the "placeholder" partly because of his, um, unfriendly reception on this board, if not anything else to show that at least some of his food is liked by some folks out there. :-D. (I believe his other restaurants have also been favorably viewed by decent numbers of diners :-) )

In any case I would also note that the article places emphasis on, basically, US-Southern-style fried chicken and derivatives and variations thereof, including chicken & waffles. IIRC there was one example given of KFC (no, not that one - here, KFC = Korean Fried Chicken), in Chicago; as well as David Chang's "Korean-influenced-style" chicken as half of what needs to be specially-ordered.  But there are other highly regarded KFC places too, as a style of "fried chicken", in other places - including in NYC. Here's an old article on KFC, with emphasis on NYC places. There is one place on that F&W list with curry-inflected fried chicken, but non-"standard-'Murcan" ways with fried chicken are not the premise of the article by-and-large.

Still, it's useful to keep in mind other forms of fried chicken. Like Vietnamese-style fried chicken. Or fried whole chicken, Cantonese-style. Or Ayam Ungkep/Ayam Goreng Jawa. Or Nyonya-style Inchi Kabin. And so on and so forth. And I haven't even touched on other forms from around Asia (Regional Indian/Pakistani, for example) and the rest of the world. Here in the US this article by Jonathan Gold might also be of interest to food aficionados in the LA area... http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-fo-jonathan-gold-asian-fried-chicken-20160629-snap-story.html

Edited by chiaros

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On ‎1‎/‎23‎/‎2017 at 0:46 AM, pennben said:

Yes, I've been to Girl & the Goat as well as The Little Goat several times (used to be my neighborhood).  I agree with you in that I was surprised at the new concept, if you will:)  I'm just curious to see what it's like.

I went a few months ago to Girl & the Goat and it was wonderful and so affordable for the area.  I wish I lived closer (I'm not even in the same state) because I would go all.the.time. 

Edited by Peper81

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21 hours ago, Peper81 said:

I went a few months ago to Girl & the Goat and it was wonderful and so affordable for the area.  I wish I lived closer (I'm not even in the same state) because I would go all.the.time. 

G&TG is a very nice place but I hope you would explore the MANY MANY other places in Chicagoland where you can get great food. 

Best.

On 3/5/2017 at 8:59 PM, chiaros said:

And I haven't even touched on other forms from around Asia (Regional Indian/Pakistani, for example)

As an appetizer to folks curious about this, try starting from this: https://www.google.com/search?q=chicken+65

...as something other than "tandoori chicken"...

Edited by chiaros

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A Pete Wells article in the NYT on the revival of hotel restaurants in NYC helmed by big-name chefs (like Top Chef associated people – e.g. Tom Colicchio, April Bloomfield, Dale Talde, Jonathan Waxman, and so on).

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/07/dining/hotels-restaurants-big-name-chefs.html

Wells describes how it is financially attractive to the chefs (VERY!) but also points out that one practical effect in a general sense is to revert the food offered back to decades ago with a far narrower focus:

Quote

The cuisines that have flourished in the newer hotels are ones that New Yorkers were very familiar with 30 years ago: Italian, French and what used to be called New American. True, we have Indian Accent in Le Parker Meridien, but other large countries — for that matter, entire continents — have been left behind.

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Just ate at Tin Roof in Maui.   I was able to give Sheldon a hug and he is just as sweet & gracious as he appeared on t.v...  His chicken Michicko is amazing & the kale salad was super good.  The pork belly was my least favorite, but for $10 a plate lunch fare was still very good.  

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Visited Brooke's "The Playa Provisions" in Ca....waited 45 minutes for our meal. Substandard service and food was good but not worth waiting that long for. Maybe her "fame" has caused the long waits, but I won't be going back when I am in SoCal on business.

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A friend who lives nearby is a regular, and he recently emailed me while eating brunch there, in which he made brief reference to some new staff and working out the kinks, so maybe you got caught up in that. 

Edited by Bastet
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20 minutes ago, cooksdelight said:

New staff? You'd think the people working there for the long haul while their boss was making it happen, would want to stick around. 

She opened a new restaurant in October, she now has 4, so maybe more seasoned staff transfered to the new place which is not uncommon. The new place is Hawaiian themed I wonder if Sheldon helped her out.

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I had lunch at Tiffany Faisson's Tiger Mama. It was fantastic. The décor is very low key and they have a living wall in the foyer which I love. I had a raspberry rum fizz and it was one of the yummiest cocktails that I have ever had. I also had a Mai Tai which was OK - I have had so many perfect Mai Tais in Hawaii that its tough to get it perfect for me.  The ribs are the best damn ribs that I have ever had. Worth stealing off of someone's plate! They coconut sticky rice is served in the coconut cream can which is a fun presentation. Really interesting dessert of a coconut cream popsicle coated in white chocolate, crushed pistachios and spices.

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I visited New Orleans for the first time last week and was able to have lunch at two Top Chef related restaurants.  

My friends and I spent a good portion of our final day in N.O. exploring City Park.   There are not very many restaurants close to the park so I was delighted to find that Toups' Meatery is about a four block walk from the southern end of City Park.  Even better, when we walked into the restaurant, Isaac was sitting at the bar talking on his phone!  Ultimately he was joined for lunch by his wife and young daughter.  They were seated just across the aisle from our table.  I'm not the type to interrupt someone enjoying a meal with his family, so I didn't speak with him.  Sorry, no story there.  Interestingly, no one else bothered them either, which I thought was great.  It was lunchtime, so we (3 of us) had sandwiches and all three were definitely a cut above.  One of my friends had the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich dressed with grilled cabbage and Parmesan mayo.  While tasty, this was probably the least favorite of our three sandwiches.  The second was the Gulf fish sandwich served with brussels sprout slaw.  The fish was delicious but I think I had the best sandwich of the three, a Wagyu Roast Beef Sandwich with gorgonzola cream sauce and sauteed mushrooms.  Perfectly cooked.  Truly delicious.  All three sandwiches were served with tasty house made potato chips.  All three of us enjoyed our meal here.  I'm adding photos of the three sandwiches here.

We spent almost an entire day at the National World War II Museum, meaning that we ate lunch inside the museum.  Not a problem here as one of the on-site restaurants is John Besh's American Sector Restaurant.  They had just gotten slammed by the arrival of a high school group so we opted to sit at the very large bar, where the full menu was available.  I had the catch of the day which was pan seared black drum served over mashed potatoes with sauteed mushrooms and broccolini.  Excellent.  One of my friends had the strawberry salad which, being on the sweet side with the addition of the fruit, was served with Wedding Cake croutons.  They actually had a sweetness to them that tasted mildly of wedding cake!  A bit gimmicky perhaps, but nonetheless tasty.  The third member of our party chose the Chicken & Andouille Gumbo.  He wanted a larger portion, was told that it only came in cups but our server said that she would put it in as a double order.  Someone must have messed up in the kitchen because when they brought out the gumbo, they served him two enormous bowls!  He enjoyed the gumbo so much he ultimately ate both bowls; said it was the best gumbo he'd ever had!

 

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After reading your descriptions and viewing your pix, I have to lie down with cold cloths on my forehead, Mary.

There's no place I enjoy stuffing my face more than New Orleans.

The WWII Museum is well worth the visit.  (At least when we were there) it was hands on, and you could get inside a tank, etc.  Mr. pig's a vet and was in hog heaven.

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6 minutes ago, spiderpig said:

After reading your descriptions and viewing your pix, I have to lie down with cold cloths on my forehead, Mary.

There's no place I enjoy stuffing my face more than New Orleans.

The WWII Museum is well worth the visit.  (At least when we were there) it was hands on, and you could get inside a tank, etc.  Mr. pig's a vet and was in hog heaven.

Well then, my work here is done. :D

The World War II Museum is probably the most interesting museum I've ever visited.  And I've visited many!

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On 4/25/2017 at 2:28 PM, ProudMary said:

My friends and I spent a good portion of our final day in N.O. exploring City Park.  

I spend time there every time I'm in New Orleans.  I haven't been in a while, so Toups' Meatery would be new to me; hopefully it's still there next time I go.  His food sure did look good on the show.

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On 2/4/2017 at 8:53 PM, chiaros said:

https://billypenn.com/2017/01/22/what-shut-down-sbraga-and-the-fat-ham/

Fat Ham at King of Prussia remains open, it seems.

http://www.phillymag.com/foobooz/2017/01/17/sbraga-closed-fat-ham/

There was also an IRS lien against Sbraga but he says that has been paid but "people wonder, too" so to speak.

The last one is closing down. 

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/the-insider/sbraga-fat-ham-to-close-ending-sbragas-restaurant-empire-20170614.html

https://www.eater.com/2017/6/15/15809054/top-chef-winner-kevin-sbraga-closing-restaurants

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