I was pretty excited when Bridget told me last week that she and Bill were planning a weekend trip to Philly. It seemed like months had gone by since our Labor Day excursion to Newport, so I was glad that we were able to coordinate a visit over dinner during their trip.
I was even more excited when Bridget reminded me that Restaurant Week, in which dozens of Center City restaurants feature lunches and dinners for $20 and $35 respectively, was beginning. I had made a couple of reservations at the end of August, but kind of forgot about them. Until my iPhone reminds me that I need to be somewhere, I rarely remember the dates for things.
We chose to meet at Garces Trading Company, the gourmet market/restaurant in Jose Garces’ vast empire. I had been there for dinner when it first opened a couple of years ago and really loved the food and the concept. In addition to a vast selection of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie, decadent sweets, and signature olive oils, vinegars and coffees, GTC is home to the first state-operated liquor store to be located in a market-café. So, you can get everything checked off your list for a fancy dinner party at home or you can have a seat in the restaurant and let someone else do the cooking for you.
Although the in-house wine boutique features an extensive collection, if you choose to bring your own wine the $10 corkage fee is waived for the first bottle. The shop was closed during our visit since it was a Sunday, so I didn’t have a chance to check pricing. But, bringing our own saved us a few bucks over ordering by the glass (and, it helped that our server kindly waived the corkage fee for our second bottle which was of the screw-top variety).
GTC’s Restaurant Week menu featured four-courses as opposed to the standard three. To start, Bill and Chester both enjoyed the rich, salty pork rilletes. Bridget and I both selected the cheese plate, which featured a mild, Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, complimented by lavender truffle honey. The honey was definitely the star of the show. When I ran out of cheese, I just spread it on bread. I’ll definitely be stopping back soon to grab a jar to keep at home.
I remembered that the pizza was one of the highlights of my first visit to GTC so I was glad to see the Italian sausage and Margherita varities listed among the second course options. However, they actually were more like the flatbread served at Distrito than the Chicago-style deep dish I remembered from my first visit. But, they were delicious all the same. The dough is made with duck fat, which gives it a chewy texture. There was minimal cheese, which let the other flavors—tomato, fennel and olive—shine. Chester also shared a few spoonfuls of the Salmorejo, a cold soup that has the refreshing flavor of gazpacho, but a thicker texture due to the addition of day-old bread that is blended into the tomato, olive oil and garlic puree.
For my third course, I briefly considered the scallops before settling on fusilli carbonara. Long strands of homemade pasta were cooked to a perfect al dente and topped with a runny poached egg, plenty of cheese, peas and crispy bits of bacon. It didn’t have as much cream as I’m used to in a carbonara, but I didn’t really miss that in light of all of the other ingredients. I also tried some of Chester’s roasted duck. As is pretty standard when he orders something cooked medium rare, it came out closer to well done. Still, it was pretty tender and flavorful and paired well with the slightly tart apple broth that accompanied it.
There were two options for dessert, so Chester and I chose one of each to share. I preferred my pick—a layered concoction of flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and salted butterscotch pudding dusted with espresso powder to Chester’s French 77, an elderflower and lemon panna cotta, topped with strawberries and half of a strawberry macaron. The panna cotta itself was tart and creamy, but the dessert lost points due to the fact that the macaron was a bit stale.
Overall, GTC was a good Restaurant Week experience. Many of the restaurant’s signature items were available and the extra course was a nice bonus. Service was friendly and didn’t feel rushed at all.
We still have a few more reservations lined up for Restaurant Week, which continues through October 12 (with a break on October 6). If you are still looking for some recommendations of where to go, Foobooz has a great guide, which allows you to narrow down your restaurants options based on a variety of criteria, including BYOs, vegetarian friendly options and restaurants offering additional courses.