If there is one word that sums up the aesthetic of Superba Food + Bread, the Venice eatery that is the second act to Superba Snack Bar, it may very well be "transparency." The restaurant is, quite literally, out in the open. Massive garage doors are raised during breakfast, lunch and dinner service, so that there is little distinction between indoor and outdoor seating; a glass-paneled bakery lines one wall, where you can watch flour-coated bakers stacking loaves on bread racks; and a beautiful coffee bar sits in the corner, tempting you to order a cup made from Stumptown Roasters even during the middle of dinner. The menu, too, is pleasantly straightforward and reads as such: toast, cheese, first, main, nightly supper (which consists of one specialty meal each night, like the Wednesday lamb that is cooked overnight and braised in bone marrow). Chef Jason Travi (Littlefork) heads the kitchen, but since Superba is mostly about the bread, head baker Jonathan Eng and pastry chef Lincoln Carson hold equal weight here.
The yellow outline of a bread loaf is splayed across Superba's façade, although if you've started your meal with a baguette and some toast (yes, both), then there's really no doubting the commitment to dough here. The bread is excellent, especially when dipped in the bagna cauda made from pan drippings and anchovies. As for the toast, there is a creative selection to choose from—sweet pea with créme frâiche, testa with hot pepper jelly—but the avocado kind holds its own among other restaurants serving this snack-of-the-moment. The toast is piled high with creamy avocado and radish sprouts, and scattered with fresno peppers on top; simple and clean, it tastes definitively of summer.
My favorite dish, by far, was the black rice salad, a unique medley of ingredients that tasted just as fresh when pulled out of my fridge the next day. Thai basil, cashews and a healthy dose of grilled pineapple add contrasting textures to the rice, which already holds its own as a moist, flavorful base. I could have enjoyed it as a main dish, but we had it instead as an accompaniment to the seared arctic char and butcher's steak. One of these—the fish—was far too salty, though a layer of snap peas and heavenly dollops of mint puree kept it from being inedible. Our other entrée, the steak, was far more balanced. Tender slices of meat are bookended with onion pearls served agrodolce style (essentially, cooked with a sweet and sour sauce). A ring of bone marrow bordelaise decorates the plate but serves a purpose, too, providing a hit of decadence to the otherwise simple beef.
For dessert, there are only a few options available at dinner, and we tried the vanilla caramel custard, a smooth treat with hints of orange and aperol. I wish, though, that some of Carson's pastries had been involved as well: If Superba's best feature is its bakery (which it is), dinner patrons shouldn't be denied a glimpse of what breakfast goers enjoy earlier in the day. Instead, the dessert options were more traditional—a pavlova, a candy bar, and that custard, which was good but nothing spectacular. This seemed to be, in fact, the overall consensus after our meal. Good, yes; occasionally, in the case of that avocado toast and black rice, even great. But there is still something missing, causing me to wonder if Superba is perhaps a little too transparent, too simple, and whether it needs a little something extra to make it truly superb.
What to Eat: Avocado toast ($7). Black rice salad ($12). Butcher's steak ($25). Vanilla caramel custard ($9).
What to Drink: Wine and beer are offered at Superba, with an emphasis on the vino (there are only a few beers on draft listed). A half-assed recommendation from our waitress ("You can't really go wrong with any of these," she said, motioning to all of the reds) led to a decent Gamay, but not so decent as to be worth the $13 price tag. That seems to be the main issue with the drink list: there is plenty to choose from, if only everyone could afford it.
Where to Sit: There is comfortable seating both inside and out, and often it feel like the two flow seamlessly into each other. Windows and the large garage doors are left open, so that diners who choose to sit inside can still feel an occasional breeze, and outside patrons can hear the murmur of indoor conversations. So: don't stress about your choice, because either way you'll get a little bit of both.
Conversation piece: Superba Food + Bread is housed in a former auto body shop, though with its Pottery Barn-like table accents and a patio that feels like someone's backyard, it is nearly impossible to tell.