WHAT: Distrito, a new restaurant set to open in University City this month.
WHERE: 3945 Chestnut Street, in The Hub, the new apartment building at 40th and Chestnut streets.
WHO: Distrito will be the third Philadelphia restaurant for Chef Jose Garces, who also runs the acclaimed Amada and Tinto eateries downtown. The 35-year-old Garces has been featured in The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and the Wall Street Journal. He recently opened Mercat a la Planxa, a tapas restaurant in Chicago, and has been invited to appear as a challenger on the hit Food Network show, “Iron Chef America.”
RISING STAR: Garces caught a big break early in his career when he was chosen to serve as Chef de Cuisine at Stephen Starr’s Alma de Cuba. Garces had previously worked at La Taberna del Alabardero in Marbella, Spain and at the Four Seasons, The Rainbow Room and Bolivar in New York City. He quickly made his mark at Alma de Cuba and was soon named executive chef both there and at El Vez. He opened his tapas restaurant, Amada, to rave reviews in 2005. Tinto, a wine bar, followed in 2007.
THE CRITICS SAY: In a “three-bell” review of Amada soon after its opening, Philadelphia Inquirer critic Craig Laban raved that “Amada’s debut brings more energy and maturity than any new restaurant I’ve seen in at least a year.”
THE STYLE: Garces says Distrito will reflect the culture and cuisine of Mexico City. That will be especially noticeable in the bold, bright décor designed by the Crème Design Collective. The restaurant will be painted hot pink and bright green, and feature both a booth carved out of an old Volkswagen Beetle and a wall built from 600 lucha libre masks. The bi-level space will have enough room for 250 guests.
THE FOOD: It wouldn’t be quite right to call Distrito a “Mexican restaurant.” Because really, it’s specifically about Mexico City, otherwise known as “Distrito Federal” (hence the restaurant’s name). Among the dishes that will appear on Garces’ menu are: Scallops al Pastor, skewers of al pastor-marinated scallops and fresh pineapple, grilled and served over a sweet pepper and grapefruit salsa; Guindilla Chili-Marinated Lamb Chops with smoked bacon etole, chanterelle mushroom escabeche and pasilla-lamb jus; and Huarache de los Hongos, a thin masa cake that is grilled and topped with black and royal trumpet mushrooms, huitlacoche sauce, queso Chihuahua, black truffles and corn shoots.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Garces says he looks forward to bringing his cuisine to University City. “We want to be a part of our neighborhood here in West Philadelphia, and bring diners from other areas to our new home, as well,” Garces says.