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Sagra in Davis is Delicious

  • yumyum Feb 24, 2007 10:15 AM
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A few of us couldn't take it anymore and had to check out Sagra in Davis Square. The thought that Marissa would be consulting to 3 cops and that someone was finally using that pretty 400 Highland space to put out good reasonable Italian food? Come on.

The good news is the food really is all that. These guys are using top quality ingredients, from the olive oil drizzled over white bean puree to the house-made (I think) prociutto on the pizza bianca. The fried appetizier plate had one of the most amazing fried bechamel fritters I've ever tasted, and the arancini and calamari were perfectly fried and greaseless. My favorite on the plate was the mezaluna potatoes -- perfectly thin fries with a delicious citrus aioli. Accompanied by fried green olives (Limster, thanks for that tip, I wouldn't have ordered these if you hadn't recommended them). We hoped to have the pasta course before our secondi but they all came together -- more on the service in a minute. Gnocchi with duck ragu and house made sausage, rapini and rigatoni. I could eat the duck ragu on a cigarette butt and enjoy it. They sent over the pizza because we were waiting so long and it's also very good. Thin crust, irregularly shaped and topped with cheese and the prosciutto and fresh rosemary. Finally, I had the lamb two ways, the others can chime in on their entrees ... my little chop was perfectly medium rare and was served with an excellent roasted red pepper and olive salad on the side. The flavors together were perfect. I was too full to try the lamb blade steak (a cut I love at home) but a leftover check later proved that was also really really good. They are using very good quality meats and serving them simply -- which I love. Good, decently priced wine list and something for dessert I can't recall now (we'd had three bottles of wine).

The bad news, and it's very bad, is that the service we had was beyond terrible. We waited a full half-hour for the first bottle of wine, our waitress really butchered the foil opening it (I removed what she hadn't removed from the lip of the bottle). There were a million little snafus and it was a full 2 hours before we were on our mains. Luckily the company was so good and the wine kept coming so we didn't mind that much but really they have to fix the service problem. Poor girl just had never been trained -- she was awfully sweet and was sort of embarrassed when asked for the bread or reminded to put in the app order. If the management of Sagra is reading this ... listen. Seriously, you need to train the waitstaff. The food definitely makes up for it, but it would be so much better with competent FOH. (The bartender was fine, but we didn't really test her -- they don't have cocktails. She did recommend the best entrees though, which I thanked her for as we were leaving, a million years later.)

Marissa was indeed there, and the place was packed for a cold weeknight. Some of the tables turned a few times while we were there so not all the servers can be as poor as ours was. The room is big -- there are three bars on two levels -- and it's definitely loud when the joint is full but tucked away at our little table it was okay. There were a few large parties and lots of two-tops plus people eating at the bar. I can definitely see stopping in for a pizza and a glass of wine at the bar. It's a very promising place. I hope they don't diminish the quality when Marissa gets done consulting (within the month) and I really hope they can match the quality of the food with better waitstaff. Only time will tell.

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  1. I too really enjoyed Sagra and will be back, opening service glitches (it's only been open for a couple of weeks) withstanding. I thought our waitress was inexperienced, but well-meaning and sweet, and not all the service issues were her fault. She did make an attempt to keep us informed - for instance, I think the delayed wine situation was due to the fact she was told they were getting it, they were out, they found it. She let us know that they were out of the gnocchi and duck ragu that we had ordered and were actually making a fresh batch just for our table, and the kitchen sent us the pizza in the interim (great pizza BTW!). Definitely service and timing problems, but for me I appreciated the pizza, the kitchen taking the time to make up an order of fresh pasta on a busy night, our waitress being sweet and friendly and cheerfully willing to keep returning to the kitchen to get answers to our menu questions, and Sagra being open for only two and a half weeks and busier than they expected. As YY said, the wine, delicious food, and great company also contributed to the enjoyable dinner. I liked the space too, bustling and energetic on a cold night, and am looking forward to going earlier during the week when they have live music.

    Highlights for me were the fritture, especially the mezzaluna potatoes, creamy triangular croquettes, perfect calamari, and the fried olives, along with that lemon aioli. I first became addicted to fried olives when Bill Bradley was at Bricco. His were stuffed with anchovies and almonds I think, later available at Rustic Kitchen when he was cooking there. Sagra's version didn't disappoint, lightly breaded and fried and filled with flavorful sausage. The great bread and white bean dip with pancetta is very very good too. Loved my meal of pork two ways - Maiale du mode - delicious pork riblets with homemade sausage. It will be hard not to order that again. Also loved the duck ragu and its hint of orange peel in the sauce. I enjoyed what I tried of the short ribs with mushroom risotto and the rigatoni with hot and sweet sausage - both classic preps with high-quality ingredients which is what Sagra is striving for - but I think they were a bit overshadowed by the other dishes that stood out to me more. Yes, Sagra in Davis is Delicious. I will definitely be back. I could sit at the bar and have the fritture and some wine and be happy, though there are so many other good choices on the menu. As YY said, Sagra looks promising. And I'm hopeful they'll keep this up as DeSimone not only has worked with Marisa in the past, but is also an experienced and talented chef on his own.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Rubee

      Agree 100% on the food and service. All of the waitstaff that I observed there seemed really green. One aspect of the unprofessionalism that struck me - they clearly have an all-black uniform for the FOH, but, a number of the waitresses had decided to accessorize in, um, "creative" ways (one with an overly loud red belt, another with big dangly earrings and a tacky necklace). It came across as extremely amateurish. I would not have minded had the service performed more professionally but it's all part of the same package.

      Normally I don't NOTICE (or particularly care) how the waitstaff dress at a decent restaurant - which is how it should be (that is, not noticeable).

      STILL - it is a great restaurant and I would certainly go back despite the service issues.

      1. re: Rubee

        "...white bean dip with pancetta..."

        Are you saying that the bean dip that comes with the bread has pancetta in it? As someone who does not eat meat I wish I knew that then! (I didn't have much cause I found it heavy but I did ask our waitress about the ingredients in the dishes I ordered, explaining to her that I did not eat meat/pork/poultry and I did not want anything that would have those ingredients.)

        1. re: SEH

          YES!!!! When we asked the waitress what was in the puree, she casually said white beans, olive oil, pancetta. My dining companions all sort of looked at eachother in shock. We all eat meat, but I'd be pissed if I didn't and mowed down on the spread unknowingly. Now, she might have been misinformed, but there *was* an unctousness that didn't just come from the beans.

          1. re: yumyum

            Thanks yumyum. At least I (and others) know that for next time. Kinda weird that I learn from chowhounders what's in my food that the waitstaff doesn't tell me!!

      2. You really hit the nail on the head, yumyum - some really great food at quite reasonable prices with an extremely sloppy service.

        Food that really stood up: stuffed olives were wonderfully spiced and had a good light fry to them. Pizza - really excellent. Gnocchi with duck sauce - perfect sauce, not so perfect gnocchi. I made the mistake of ordering the shortrib - it was good, but as Rubee pointed out, how good can a shortrib be? The redwine porcini risotto it came with though was quite tasty. I had that for dinner instead and foisted the rib off on one of my poor dining companions. The dessert was the nutella bread pudding with a semi-freddo - pretty good, but I was so stuffed at this point I didn't really get a good taste.

        The service - this is a case of the front of the house not training at all mixed with the kitchen having timing issues. Waiting for 30 minutes for wine is unacceptable. Not bringing bread until after the appetizers when it was clear they brought the bread out with the water was amateurish. Bringing the pasta course out with the entrees was annoying. Not clearing plates between courses and having the empty plates on the table when the next course was brought was messy. Yes, it's a moderately priced place, but that doesn't mean you can't have good service. I agree with yumyum - train your staff, Sagra.

        If not for the excellent company & bottles upon bottles of wine, I don't know if I could have gotten through the 3 hour dinner.

        I will certainly return - and sit at the bar as the two others have mentioned while sipping some wine and eating the appetizers. Other than the olives and the pizza, I'm especially interested in trying the cured beef. Although, the lamb two ways and the pork dish were both good enough to order again.

        If Sagra can clean up its act while keeping an eye on quality ingredients, Davis square will certainly profit.

        1 Reply
        1. re: gini

          The bresola is wonderful. It's not as dry as lots of bresola I've had, but has a texture resembling carpaccio and a spiciness like a cured prosciutto.

          We were there on Wednesday and yes, the service was a bit slow. But Joe came by to chat and mentioned that they've hired someone with experience to run the front of the house, so we can hope things will improve on that front. I think that the owners are new at this, but are really trying to get their act together.

        2. I had a great experience at Sagra last night! The service was a bit slow to start, especially as they were fairly empty at 6 on a Saturday (yes, I eat early) but our server picked up the pace and seemed fine once the wine was served. The atmosphere is very nice, and I was actually able to have conversations without screaming, which seems to be a rarity these days. I had the Swordfish with grilled eggplant, tiny potatoes, capers, and tomatoes- perfectly done. The swordfish was a nice cut, not too large or too small, and very juicy. The rigatoni della casa was also delicious and was a good sized portion. My boyfriend ordered it for his dinner along with a few sides, and was very pleased. The broccoli rabe was a nice addition to our meal, as was the roasted eggplant dish. I was glad to have room for dessert, as the menu was extremely tempting! We had the Nutella bread pudding, which came warm with a nice scoop of hazelnut ice cream on top. Although the Nutella taste wasn't immediately obvious, it was a wonderful dessert and a great end to a yummy Italian meal!!

          1. There are three bars but no cocktails? Is that going to change?

            1 Reply
            1. re: Joanie

              They have cocktails, just not a cocktail list showcasing specialty house cocktails. The bartender we spoke to said she could make us anything we wanted, but we didn't really test her. She said that they were going to try and come up with a cocktail menu soon.

            2. Agree with everything people are saying here. I REALLY, REALLY want this one to succeed, but there needs to be some quick change in service. Like everyone said, the staff seems very, very sweet with good intentions, but they need a front end manager big time.
              I've been twice. The first time we ate at a table and had the aforementioned service problems. The food was so delicious, although I had some GI problems which might have stemmed from the white bean dip IMO which tasted off somehow.
              The second time we had drinks and apps at the bar. In this case there were no service issues.
              I will definitely keep going, but am hoping that the service issues will be taken care of.

              1 Reply
              1. re: uman

                I know an owner is reading along on the Davis Square livejournal community, so hopefully he's reading this site too and makes some changes. But I agree, I'll go back for the quality of food alone.

              2. Where is Sagra precisely? Where in the Square?

                3 Replies
                1. re: RollingDoughnuts

                  400 Highland Ave.

                  1. re: limster

                    Is this where Out of the Blue used to be? On the corner of Highland, about a block up from Osco?

                    1. re: RollingDoughnuts

                      No -- it's where Sauce and then 400 Highland used to be. Across from the old disc-diggers spot. Does that help?

                2. based on the reviews here, my dc and i made over to sat. night. didn't have reservations so we ate at the larger bar upstairs. i ordered the arancini balls and my dc ordered the eggplant app. both were very good and surpassed our expectations. i order the sagra pizza and the dc had the veal. the pizza was on the salty side but ok otherwise. the feedback on the veal was very good also. we had a few cocktails during the apps. the place was definitely hopping by the time we walked out...approx. 7:45. the service was pretty disjointed...laughably so. the management really needs to train the staff or get experienced people. our bartender was completely lost...must have been her first night. the other bartender seemed to know what he was doing. the wait staff was pretty bad. we sat near the drink pickup area so we heard/saw it all firsthand. confusion reigned. they did seem happy and outgoing but totally clueless as to how to track drinks (differing white wines caused them grief) and how to deal with special requests. we did observe 2 men who seemed to be the floor managers and they were trying to put out fires but it was a losing battle. i think marissa iacoco (sic?) is doing well with the menu but the staff needs a lot of work. it's still a vast improvement over 400 highland and sauce but they'll risk losing some people if they can't work out the staffing gremlins. it'll take quite a while for us to go back given the other options in davis sq.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Vanilla Hoar

                    My buddy just called and he said they had excellent service last night. I never judge a newish place by how it copes on a Saturday night but rather how it deals when it is a bit quieter and attention to detail is noticeable. When a bar is slammed the staff can screw up and people tend to use that as a comment on their food. Two different things here folks.

                    1. re: Waidesworld

                      I finally had good service on the third try here, and it was from the bartenders. Like the OP, I had horrendous service with a party of 6 and a party of 3-both on nights where we were one of three tables. I worked in the business for years so normally I cut waitpeople a whole lot of slack. Like the OP, we had a waitperson who could not open a bottle of wine (I had to do it for her), and she never told us about the specials. The food is good here, and I hope that space is finally successful.

                      1. re: CambridgeKathy

                        Good food at a good price. I think the place will continue to get better.