We’re huge fans of Iron Chef Jose Garces and his restaurants in Philadelphia. There’s no denying, in a relatively short time, he has become one of the biggest and best restaurateurs in Philadelphia.
In fact, it’s hard to believe he opened his first restaurant (in Chicago) just a decade ago. In just 10 years, he’s built a restaurant empire based in Philadelphia that includes restaurants in Atlantic City NJ, Scottsdale AZ, Palm Springs CA, Moorestown NJ, Washington D.C., and of course Chicago.
In Philadelphia, he owns and operates 11 restaurants including: Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Rosa Blanca, Village Whiskey, Garces Trading Company, JG Domestic, Volver, etc.
Garces Trading Company (1111 Locust Street) originally opened in 2010 as a multi-purpose space with a gourmet market featuring house-made and imported foods sold under the Garces Trading Company label, coffee service to go and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s first wine boutique. The latter an amazing accomplishment in Pennsylvania.
Just about three weeks ago, the restaurant completed a transition to a full service, refined, neighborhood Bistro offering the best of Spain, France and Italy — a European-style cafe and full service bar complete with outdoor seating on Locust Street. Chef de Cuisine Kyle Baddorf is offering new brunch, lunch, dinner and happy hour menus effective now. Unfortunately, the wine boutique is gone, but the restaurant and some of its popular menu offerings have been preserved.
When the Garces Group invited us to sample the new menu, we were ecstatic and accepted without hesitation. Having had exceptional dining experiences at his other restaurants in Philadelphia, and most recently, Distrito in Moorestown NJ, it was fine time we enjoyed the Garces treatment once again.
We were not disappointed.
We were happily greeted and seated by the hostess upon our arrival around 6:45 PM and we were able to choose a window seat facing Locust Street. The restaurant was about half full at that point. That surprised me a bit, but I also welcomed it. Because it meant that service would be good! It did take about 5 minutes until someone came to our table, but that didn’t bother us as it gave us time to settle and take in the new vibe at the restaurant.
When our server, Matthew, appeared he was ever so gracious and friendly. He provided us with menus and offered tap or sparkling water. We opted for tap because we knew we’d be ordering cocktails. Our motto is: Always cocktails. While he gave us time to look at the cocktail menu, he brought a wooden box of soft, sourdough-type bread to our table and told us we could sample from the olive oil and balsamic vinegar “bar.”
Before we made our way to the this olive oil and balsamic vinegar bar, we made our cocktail choices and Matthew set off to get them made at the booze bar. What a treat this “bar” is, though! It features a large variety of olive oils and balsamic vinegar’s from around the World that are secured in large stainless steel “decanters” (for lack of better word as I don’t know their official name and I forgot to ask), from which you could pour into a small plastic container and sample to your heart’s delight. What a novel concept, huh?
How amazing is that, though? The ability to try gourmet olive oils and vinegars that you really can’t get anywhere else in the local area is quite genius on their part. Not only because they sell bottles of each (natch), but because it really does showcase that they are a “Euro-centric” eatery. As olive oil and balsamic vinegar are staples in European restaurants.
I took note of each of the oil & vinegar offerings. This evening, there were four oils and seven vinegars.
- Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- California Garlic Olive Oil
- Frantoia Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Blood Orange infused Olive Oil (our personal favorite)
- Fig Balsamic Vinegar
- Jalapeno-infused Balsamic Vinegar (Matthew’s favorite; he told us)
- Sherry 25 Year Aged Balsamic Vinegar
- Cinnamon Pear Balsamic Vinegar
- Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinegar
- Vermont Maple Balsamic Vinegar
- Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
OK, let’s gets back to the cocktails shall we… I couldn’t resist the La Femme FranÇaise – a light and refreshing blend of Lillet Blanc, Elderflower Liqueur, Cava, fresh lemon and mint. Hubby chose the El Gran Calavera – an alluring mix of El Jimador Tequila, Cointreau, Ginger Syrup, Fresh Lime, and a thyme sprig. Both were pleasantly prepared and quite refreshing!
Matthew also took our starter order while we were perusing the cocktail menu; we opted for two items off of the “Antipasti” menu… Roasted Red Peppers and Asparagus. Both were presented simply, but offered a nice and inviting introduction to the new Bistro Menu. The roasted red peppers featured modest dollops of whipped eggplant and a few slivers of anchovies in a sumptuous pool of olive oil.
The thinly sliced asparagus included Fava beans, green onion, “Mornay” croutons, and a squeeze of lemon. The lemon really brightened up the dish. The croutons and beans were indistinguishable as far as I was concerned. But it was a nice lemony asparagus that went well with the red peppers.
Before we knew it, we were presented with a second course treat – a delicate Vichyssoise composed of chilled potato leek soup, scallop “crudo”, black truffles, and chives.
The soup was thin, silky and had a nice delicate flavor. I immediately got hints of potato, but I really couldn’t taste black truffles very much. Which is strange because truffles can overpower any thing they are added to. This chef made sure not to let that happen, but a little bit to its detriment as hubby and I didn’t get truffle at all. We like a little truffle flavor so we’re okay with actually tasting it. Still – it was deftly prepared and flavorful. We would absolutely order this again.
Matthew stopped by often to ask how we were enjoying everything. We definitely connected over the Vichyssoise; he offered that he was not really a cold soup person, but he liked this rendition. We’re not really cold soup people either, noting that Gaspazcho was as far as we went with them; we agreed that this Vichyssoise, which had previous been served warm, was prepared nicely and enjoyable as a cooled soup. The finely diced scallops and chives were a nice touch, but I would have been happy without them, because they didn’t really represent the dish to my taste-buds. Anyways…
Our next course was also the Chef’s choice: Funghi pizza. A signature Sicilian-style thick Focaccia-like crust pizza made with two types of mushrooms (Maitake and Royal Trumpet), Fontina Fontal, and Black Truffles.
We were wishing we had started out with this because it was so rich and mouthful. We only took a couple of bites and saved the rest; but made a mental note to start with the pizza next time!
Another chef offering was the Halibut en Papillote; which means halibut baked in parchment paper. While the tender white fish was delicate and wonderfully flaky, the star of this dish was the broth which is made from braising the artichokes in white wine. Simply divine and we couldn’t stop ourselves from covering the fish with it and, throwing etiquette aside, slurping it up. So good!
At this point, we also had two beers delivered to our table: Lancaster Kolsch (for me) and Stella Artois (for him). The Kolsch was a nice pairing with everything that I had had so far.
Since the diced, cold scallops in the Vichyssoise were muted and didn’t really sate my scallop craving (I am obsessed with scallops these days); I had high expectations of the pan-seared Scallops as a main course.
This was a home-run for the dinner as far as I was concerned. The perfectly seared and seasoned scallops arrived in an elegant presentation atop a seasonal Spring vegetable risotto and frothy jus. The Spring vegetables were perfectly cooked Fava beans, asparagus and sweet green peas. It really was a burst of Spring in the mouth. After all that we had already eaten, this was the perfect ending and not too heavy yet sufficient enough to be consider a main course. The scallops were sweet, creamy and almost butter-like. No knife needed; they broke apart just by pushing the fork through them. I liked that they included a few micro-sprouts on top, too. A beautiful presentation and quite delicious.
As you can imagine, by this point, we were done for, but we still had one dish to tackle: the Wagyu frites! I tried a small bite and felt it was too rich for me, but hubby was all about that beef. He said it was done to his liking; a perfect medium-rare. The picture above showing the nice rare parts. While duck fat fries are awesome, we could only take a few bites of them. They certainly aren’t the star of the show. Hello – Wagyu beef! In case you don’t know Wagyu is the Americanized version of Japanese Kobe beef. It’s a hybrid of Kobe cows and American Angus cows. It’s the closest we’re going to get to Kobe in America.
As much as we both mentally wanted dessert, there was just no possible way our stomachs could accommodate it. In fact, a day later, and I’m still full from that delectable feast! Luckily they sent us home with some mini chocolate cakes which we will enjoy soon. 🙂
If you’re looking for a casual, yet refined dining space in Center City, you should definitely check out Garces Trading Company. No only do they have this wonderfully upgraded and amazingly delicious menu for dinner, but they have nice Happy Hour specials during the week and also still do brunch on the weekends. If the food and Center City location isn’t enough of a draw for you, do note that their service is impeccable. As with other Garces establishments, they hire only top notch servers.
Our server Matthew is a photojournalism student at Temple University. While he is young; even in this fast paced environment, he’s patient, friendly and knows the menu intimately and willing to discuss it. He explained it well, proffered his own opinions eloquently and answered our questions to our satisfaction. We both left feeling that he isn’t just a server, but someone who has developed an appreciation of food (and eating) and has a talented palate. He was very helpful to us and quite jovial as well.
Our only regrets? We didn’t have the space for the Cheese & Charcuterie offerings. A must next time we’re there.
We can’t recommend Garces Trading Company enough – put it on your list to go soon and let us know your thoughts.
Food enthusiast. Travel lover. Social media maven.
Independent Journalist. Food marketing/PR expert.