The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2013

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Page 49 of 148

IN THE BIZ Angelica Sbai National Director of Wine and Spirits, The Palm Restaurant Group by Kelly A. Magyarics / photo by Greg Powers "I was originally fascinated by the cocktail side of beverages. When I first started out working in restaurants, I thought the bartenders had the best job in the world." But when Angelica Sbai landed a job in winecentric Italian restaurant Bravo Cucina Italiana of Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, which didn't offer much to its staff in the way of grape education, she admittedly felt out of her element. "I knew that if I was going to make money, I would need to figure it out." Sbai read Kevin Zraly's book Windows on the World Wine School and attended tastings, and her enthusiasm was rewarded with a promotion to manage the restaurant's wine and spirits program. Soon she was hooked, and went on to achieve certifications by both the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Society of Wine Educators. In her new role as National Director of Wine and Spirits for The Palm Restaurant Group, Sbai brings a passion for classic cocktails, well-made wines and fine dining to the 30 locations of the steakhouse chain founded in New York City in 1926. She appreciates the family atmosphere of the company, which also extends to The Palm's multi-generational guest demographics—and influences her restrained approach to changes to the beverage program. "We are not only your steakhouse, but your dad's, your grandpa's and your great-grandpa's too," she points out. "It is important to not change too much, too quickly or too drastically." She calls it a tricky balancing act to meet regular guests' expectations, while attracting new ones by remaining fresh and aware of trends. Sbai spends her time conducting tastings, meeting with winemakers and distributors and creating and conducting staff training programs; she also travels weekly to Palm restaurant locations. "My main focus [there] is to assist managers in building and executing the best program for their location." She meets twice yearly with "The Wine Committee," a team of managers from across the country that tastes through submitted wines and proposes changes based on guest preferences. Sbai flexes her mixology muscles by creating and updating The Palm's classically-focused cocktail program—to which the Blood & Sand and the Sazerac were recently added. Thriving on her interactions with staff and guests, Sbai delights in providing pairing suggestions such as veal marsala with a big and rustic Italian red like the Prunotto 2008 Barolo, or aged prime New York strip with the Kuleto Estate 2009 "India Ink" from Napa Valley. "This steak begs for a big wine with a backbone; this blend of 55% Syrah and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon is rich, spicy and powerful." With upcoming plans for her wine and spirits program including implementing advanced staff certification training programs and updated onpremise technologies, Sbai will continue to respect The Palm's heritage while giving a nod to current and future trends and sensibilities. august 2013  /  the tasting panel  /  49 TP0813_034-65.indd 49 7/24/13 9:48 PM

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