Jose Garces gets into the grocery business.
Jose Garces has changed the way you eat. Now he wants to change the way you shop. For a trip to Garces Trading Company, the market-cafe combo he opened in old Union Gourmet in February, toss your milk-bread-and-eggs grocery list. Type up a new one that goes something like this: oil-packed conch, Picholine olives, long-stem tulips, plum membrillo, coq au vin, house-cured chorizo and indigo-veined Valdeon swaddled tenderly in chestnut leaves.
At Garces Trading Company, this and more is for sale.
Oh, yeah. You can buy wine here too, in an on-premises climate-controlled bottle library run by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). For a Philadelphian, buying wine at the same place. I was buying baguettes and honey was a weird thrill people in most states will never understand. I promptly passed out from the novelty of the situation.
When I came to, I was sitting in the heart of Garces Trading Company. The cafe, as it’s referred to, is a grid of 70 seats at 17 tables in the valley between the wine shop and the market. This is also the heart of GTC’s business, as Garces estimates cafe sales account for 60 percent of revenue.
Calling it a cafe doesn’t make it one. During the day, that languid European vibe is most palpable, with blue-bloods chasing blue pills with strong coffee and ladies who lunch lingering over French macarons in Easter Egg pastels. But at night, make no mistake, homies, this is a restaurant. One with hostesses calibrating table waits, managers in tailored suits, linen napkins, bread service, tasting menus and featherweight wine glasses for the rosé I’d just scooped up.
The prices are restaurant-grade, too. Dinner at Garces Trading Company costs as much as dinner at Distrito. Which isn’t to say it’s overpriced, just don’t delude yourself into thinking it’s cheap. Usually, the food, executed by chef Adam DeLosso, who worked the line with Garces at the Four Seasons in New York (and persuaded him to move to Philly), lives up to it, and his frequently changing tasting, at $35 a head, can be a deal. I added to the prix-fixe with made-to-order mozzarella in a sunny pond of Spanish hojiblanca olive oil (nicely warm, but a little too firm) and slabs of bacon-wrapped country pate (rustic, chunky and properly piggy) with killer cherry-fig mostarda. But I didn’t need them. DeLosso’s tasting spread is more than enough.
It unfolds with meat and cheese, in this case gossamer Seranno ham and tomme crayuese, its earthiness accentuated by truffle-lavender honey. Then came a cleansing salad featuring leaves of endive stacked like pale-green kayaks on a lakeside dock. They cradled bright, bitter Seville orange, ultra-creamy Boucehrondin, golden raisins and Anjou pears, all tossed in a cinnamon-spiced pear balsamic available just a feet away in the market. So is the gingered white balsamic that gives the tender, lemony artichoke hearts their sheen. And the dense date-walnut-fig cake, cut into croutons and scattered over the ’chokes.
Pasta followed, an entree-sized portion for splitting. In a wide bowl, al dente Severino linguine mingled with cockles, crab, bacon and tons of chopped parsley, so fresh and so clean, less a garnish than an ingredient as important as the aforementioned. I dredged the bottom of the bowl with a slice of sourdough, sopping up the simple but satisfying white wine-garlic-butter sauce.
But wait, there’s more: two half-inch slabs of beautifully cooked strip steak per person. The beef hails from Maine’s Wolfe’s Neck Farm, whom you may know as the supplier for the transcendent burger at Village Whiskey. Marinated in red chilies, the steak was electrified. Green onions, garlicky romesco sauce and lardon-studded heirloom potato salad were all nice, but the steak was so intensely beefy and flavorful that the enhancers were just window dressing.
The tasting includes dessert, under the direction of Jessica Mogardo, the Garces Group’s new corporate pastry chef. The praline eclair painted with a caramel stripe might have been good were it not stale, but the tropical, cloudlike passion fruit-and-banana mousse, hovering over a column of lemon cake, was better, and washed down with a French press of locally roasted Mexican coffee. It’s one of seven joes in a Garces-branded line, and like everything else here, it’s for sale.
For more on Philly's food scene, visit blogalicious-adam.blogspot.com.
1111 Locust St. 215.574.1099. garcestradingcompany.com
Hours: Daily, 8am-10pm.
Atmosphere: A cavernous space, cozied up with clever partitions, warm wood and a convivial wine-fueled din.
Service: Busy but not businesslike.
Food: Good enough to take home.
Garces Trading Company's wine boutique is the first and only one of its kind in the state established by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, and a concept that’s stirred up a ton of resentment among Philadelphia restaurateurs this year.
Wine with Mexican Food? Sí!