Claire and I joined Robert, Carmela and B4 tonight at Garces Trading Company (corner of Quince & Locust streets) to celebrate Claire’s recent graduation from SUNY Purchase. I’ve been apprehensive about going to Garces since it opened; the Chef/Owner seems very “man of the hour” since his (some would argue overexposed) turns on Food Tv’s IRON CHEF and THE NEXT IRON CHEF broadcasts. His properties in Philadelphia are multiplying at a rate that would make Steven Starr blush and his deal with Pennsylvania’s LCBO to have a “Wine and Spirits” package store inside of the Locust street location has caused more than a few raised eyebrows amongst Philadelphia restaurateurs and foodies.
But the question was: Do business practices have anything to do with enjoying a good meal? At what point does our contempt with “celebrity Chefs” make us sound as bitter as (our beloved) Anthony Bourdain? With that in mind, we showed up shortly after 5pm to take advantage of the dinner menu. We were seated right away; our table was easily two times bigger than our party needed but gave us room to situate ourselves with no pressure of “what if a bigger party comes in”. Our server greeted us right away and was pleasant and helpful as we settled ourselves and started going over a relatively small menu. As a consumer I’m someone who hates a big menu; too many choices mean too much decision making. Too many choices mean too many ingredients behind the velvet rope; when you offer six pages of options you have to supply for six pages of dishes. Garces menu was impressive right off the bat. A few charcuterie and cheese choices with ample explanation of flavor profiles, a few pasta dishes, a few pizzas, salads, soups and grill choices.
We started with “chef’s choice” of charcuterie and cheese. The house chorizo was spectacular; the spices came through strongly (instead of just “hot”) and the portions bigger than expected. Two cured hams accompanied it. This was my first of two complaints for the meal; each of the hams has a light drizzle of a very distinctive olive oil on them. As thinly as the meats were sliced and as subtle the flavor of the prosciutto was the olive oil was overkill and overpowered the taste of the second two meats. The cheeses were standard fair; a nice pungent blue paired with honeyed fruit (I didn’t ask what fruit) dip. A cows milk with fig and an otherwise mild cheese paired with roasted garlic dulce de leche. That’s right. GARLIC CARAMEL. It played well off of the cheese. And the bread we dipped in it. And off of our fingers. Truly the highlight of the charcuterie course.
I moved on to a soup- the Vichyssoise Chaude. Potato, leek, bay scallop, chive and bacon with a little black truffle. Holy christ. I’ve never had a warm vichyssoise before but this played out perfectly. The carmelized scallops (two smaller portions, but just the right flavor) were strongly evident in the potato leek broth; the truffle mainly added garnish but I thought I noticed a truffle aftertaste that could have come from oil or essence of truffle. The bacon was thick cut and pleasantly fatty. A perfect soup and the price was very moderate.
I went with the Funghi pizza; maitakes, royal trumpets, taleggio, & black truffles. I added duck confit to it for a little gamey kick. Great portion size for the price (w/o the duck it was $13) and really flavorful. The duck added a lot to my enjoyment but if you’re a mushroom fan on a budget it would be just as good without it.
Claire had the Pappardelle With Lamb Ragu. Again, the dinner portion size was admirable and the dish had enough lamb to satisfy. She could have went with the smaller size as half of it is sitting in a to-go box waiting for her to get hungry again.
Carmela got the lamb chops. I’m always wary of ordering lambchops at nicer restaurants. Portion size is usually very small; even if they’re good cuts of meat you end up wishing you had more food. This wasn’t the case. The chops were gigantic; just enough fat-for-flavor and the rest perfectly rare chunks of lamb right to the bone.
B4 had the Margherita pizza which he devoured (a healthy six year old appetite loves pizza) and Robert… I think he got the daily special filet.
I was the only one who opted for dessert; house baked cookies. This was the second disappointment of the meal. The “cookies” weren’t cookies. They also weren’t that good. You can’t win them all.