Sunday, February 20, 2011


Sagra is a husband and wife owned and operated Italian place, that's been on San Antonio Street between the capitol and UT campus for three years. They have recently begun using digital tablets as an extension of their paper menus, and I was invited to come check them out.

I was warmly greeted by Sarwat Pellegrini; she seems to manage the front of the house duties, and her husband Gabriel is the executive chef. While I sat and waited for my friend, she told me a bit about the tablets. As far as they know, they are the only restaurant in town, and possibly even the nation, that are using them to supplement their food menus; there are places that have their wine lists in digital format. (Later that night, I asked my Tweeps if they knew of other places using them, and got no replies. So if you know of someplace, please let us know!) Sarwat stressed that the tablets are in no way meant to replace a waiter, but if a diner has more than average questions about the menu or needs a gluten free, vegetarian, or even vegan option, a tablet can be brought over. 

She demonstrated on the iPad how on the regular menu, you can touch a menu item, and it will pull up more info about the dish, including suggested wine pairings. You can also get to the GF and veg options; and while they make their traditional pasta (and you can watch a brief video on their pasta machine), they do not make the GF ones. And, because it's web-based, you can actually view the menus through your smart phone -- click here. 
My only difficulty with the readers is not having familiarity with the devices to know where things like the "back" button are located. I think that's one of the reasons Sarwat made sure to tell us that you can access the menu on your phone -- you're familiar with your own phone, and know how it works. Overall though, I think the tablets are a stellar concept! Obviously a restaurant has to invest in the tablets, the website development, and having a WiFi connection, but I can see tremendous payoffs, especially in places like Austin where there are a lot of people eating gluten free and vegan.

Foodwise, I started with a blood orange cosmo, which I could have had about 4 more of! As we were there on a Tuesday, we had the mussel bowl special; it's offered either with marinara or white wine sauces, and we opted for the latter. I was delighted to find thin slivers of fennel and lemon in the bowl, something I've never experienced in a mussel bowl before, and I loved it! The table bread is also the perfect softness for sopping up some of the briny wine in the bottom of the bowl. 
Our original plan was to split an oven-fired pizza, but after hearing Sarwat explain how they make their pasta everyday, it was hard for me to not try the spaghetti alla carbonara. The spaghetti was cooked a little past the al dente that I prefer, but the green peas and house-cured guanciale gave nice flavor and texture to it.
My friend picked the pesto pizza, with tomatoes, kalamata olives, goat cheese, and shrimp. The pizza had fresh, generous toppings on it, and a nice thin, crisp crust to it. We split a tirimisu for dessert; it's really cute and very tasty (nice mascarpone richness cut by the espresso flavor), served in a large mug with a little biscotti on top.
Thanks again to Sarwat and the staff for the hospitality and good food! Now having seen the digital tablets in action, I am a believer! Sagra may very well be on the forefront of a new and exciting culinary trend.

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