Garces Trading Co. had only been open two weeks by the time we stopped by, but word of superstar chef Jose Garces’ newest restaurant must have spread quickly. The place was absolutely packed with both diners and shoppers on a Tuesday night. And after trying the cuisine, we know why.
For his sixth Philadelphia restaurant, Garces has pulled together an impressive assortment of European influences for the menu and the décor. There is a timeless quality to the wood and black-iron aesthetic that is ideal for many purposes, whether it be a quick carryout meal and a bottle of wine or a casual sit-down dinner.
Upon entering, you are immediately struck by a line of dispensers, where you can sample the many, many types of olive oils Garces has to offer. Along the far right wall is the wine case, which, judging by the size and selections on display, is on loan from the wine cellar of Bruce Wayne.
To your left is the meat and cheese counter; along the back wall is Garces’ bread and pastry selection and the coffee bar.
The restaurant menu, while not extensive, impresses and surprises. There are only a handful of selections under each category — antipasti, soups and salads, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, deep-dish pies and plats du jour. The widest selections are in the cheese and charcuterie menus.
From the antipasti menu, the breakfast radish ($5) was light and flavorful, allowing the subtle charms of the goat butter, olive oil and sea salt to shine. The baby artichokes ($7) were on the sweet side but every bit as light, flavored with preserved lemon, honey and almonds.
The cheese ($6 each, $15 for three) and charcuterie ($8 each, $20 for 3) menu features domestic and imported selections to whet the appetite. Most are tasty on their own, but the true excitement here can be found with the housemade condiments that accompany them, such as the truffle-lavender honey and the cherry-fig marmalade.
When it comes to entrées, the pappardelle with lamb ragu ($16) from the pasta menu was a pleasantly rustic dish with sunchoke puree and piave vecchio. The lamb was especially tender and the puree complimented the dish nicely, allowing the flavors and textures of the pasta and the lamb to flourish.
On the pizza menu, the funghi ($13), with maitakes, royal trumpets, black truffles and taleggio cheese, was a refined and tasty treat for mushroom lovers. Aside from his regular pizzas, Garces also offers deep-dish selections (starting at $24) with toppings ranging from eggplant and asparagus to chorizo and crab. (There’s a 30-minute wait for those pies, but that leaves more time to explore the antipasti menu.)
The plats du jour are daily dinner specials for two, where the French and Italian influences really come through. The cassoulet (Tuesdays, $30) was featured the night we arrived, putting an already-stellar meal over the top. The dish was a casserole of duck confit, Swiss chard and Toulouse sausage accompanied by deliciously fried honey turnips. The casserole was the crown jewel of the meal, as the confit and the Swiss chard made every bite more savory and hearty than the last. The dish was so good that it almost didn’t need the sausage, but it was still a welcome addition.
Other plats-du-jour offerings like the coq au vin (Mondays, $28) and the oxtail and short-rib lasagna (Sundays, $30) pretty much guarantee we’ll be back on those other nights of the week.
We have to admit, we were a little food-drunk after the cassoulet, but we still had dessert to get through. Thankfully, the restaurant’s European influences extend to their desserts: The assortment of house-baked cookies ($5) definitely exceeded expectations, as did the seasonal fruit tarte ($6).
If the popularity of this restaurant is any indication, a seventh restaurant by Garces can’t be too far behind.