I went back to Jose Garces’ restaurant Distrito last night for what ended up being a “quadruple date” with four couples. Distrito had been my favorite of the new Iron Chef’s five Philadelphia restaurants so I was looking forward to the meal. (Photos of what we ate are up on my blog, www.caroundtheworld.com).
As we waited for our party to show up, we ordered some of the vegetarian nachos, which come blazing hot in a skillet. Garces has been part of the trend where chefs use quality ingredients for upscale bar food (see my post on lunch at Village Whiskey here) so even this standard appetizer had a few tricks in it (radishes as a garnish lent a bright taste to the beans, cheese and chips).
Once our group arrived, we were seated upstairs. Because the food is served tapas style, the servers recommended two to three dishes per person. Four in our group decided to do th $35 Diego Rivera tasting menu. The restaurant offers a more elaborate tasting menu for $55 (Frida Kahlo, natch) and will pair tequilas with your meal for $25 extra.
Our tasting menu started with chips, a salsa with a smoky chipolte flavor and guacamole made with cotilia cheese. Garces’ guac is not the best in town – I give that honor to the more authentic Taqueria Veracruzana on Washington Avenue – and I also like the version made tableside at Steven Starr’s El Vez a little better. But it was creamy and flavorful.
Next we received the Camarones ceviche, consisting of shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce, dressed with avocado and plantain chips. This was very good, although it lacked the bright flavor that I tend to associate with ceviches. It arrived with a Cilango chop salad , a welcome bit of greenery with arugula, watercress, green apples, cranberries, spiced pecans, and a honey-lime yogurt dressing.
The next course produced some oohs and aahs, and was probably the most successful. Everyone raved about the huaraches, Mexican flatbreads that seem a little bit like pizza. The tasting menu included Los Hongos, a combination of earthy flavors that were simply outstanding (forest mushrooms, huitlacoche sauce, queso mixto, black truffle, and corn shoot). Another member of our group ordered the Costillas huarache which had short ribs on it, and I could hear the exclamations across the table.
Distrito has seven types of tacos on their menu, ranging from pulled pork to shrimp and chorizo to tongue. You get three with each order. Our tasting menu group received a Hamachi taco , consisting of fried yellowtail tuna topped with chipolte remoulade, avocado and red cabbage. Several in our group pronounced this the best dish of the night (I liked the huarache a little better).
Distrito has three moles on the menu, and we could hear the table next to us raving over their pork belly mole. We received rabbit instead, which was tasty – but not a must-have. The mole is served with rice, and we also had a side of black beans included in the meal.
And finally, our group split a portion of the Carne Asada entree. I don’t think I’d feel the need to order this as a separate entree – at $32, it’s one of the most expensive menu items. Distrito’s small plates are so full of flavor that a bigger entree seems a little out of place. It seemed that the poblano corn rice (cooked risotto style) that accompanied the dish was more of a hit than the meat.
Finally, the tasting menu finished with a pumpkin-flavored flan. I’m not a big flan person, so I was a little jealous of the tres leche cake ordered at the other end of the table. Distrito also has churros in chocolate sauce. I’ll have to leave room for that next time.
Our bill came to $114 per person. That’s steep, mostly because members of our group ordered a pitcher of margaritas (at $49, expensive). Later in the night, they switched to Tecate, the Mexican beer that comes in cans - although a few people dipped into the tequila menu. If you don’t drink, it would be easy to cut your bill down, as the plates themselves are in the $7 to $12 range. Entrees are more expensive, but honestly, the smalll plates are so good that you are better off ordering those.
We all left satisfied with our quadruple date out. I’m not sure if Distrito is my favorite anymore, as the choices on the tasting menu this time didn’t quite match the last time I was here with my husband. But I know that we will be back, if only so I can order the huarache, tacos and churros again.
Chris Gray Faust
Chris Around The World
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