Take, for example, Capogiro, the extremely hyped and loved Center City gelateria serving artisinal gelato. When I first heard of Capogiro, I was excited. But then I heard more. All the time. People visit twice daily, devote blogs to the place. I've never been. I'm sure it's good, and I'll get there one day, so don't yell at me, but the bar has been set so high that I can't help but be disappointed. And, so, Capogiro is not on the top of my to-do list.
I feel similarly about Garces' restaurants. After not being able to get a reservation at Amada when it first opened, and then hearing all the hype with Garces' successive restaurants, his restaurants were no longer at the top of my to-do list.
But that's not to say that I didn't squeal with joy when my boyfriend informed me that he had made a reservation for dinner at Distrito this past weekend for ourselves and his parents, H. and E., who were in town for the weekend.
I'll skip the description of the large bi-level interior with pink walls, luchador mask wall, and VW booth, because I'm sure you've already read about how some feel the interior is either loud and gaudy, or fun and lighthearted. It's all of those things. Pick your mood.
I'm also going to skip in-depth analysis of the food, because, honestly, everything that we ate was wonderful. I don't think any of us four could really complain about a single of the thirteen menu items we ordered. Anything negative I write is just minor nit-picking and/or personal preferences.
I'm going to break down our dishes by favorites and least favorites (for the most part), because, like I said, it was all good, and I think ordering such large numbers of dishes lends itself well to picking favorites. It also shows that food truly is subjective. Just because one person does not care for a dish, doesn't mean that the next person will not love it.
Forgive the pictures. I worked my hardest to remove the rosy hue from these photos, which were taken in a dimly lit, pink room. Just know that everything is beautiful and plated well. So, let's begin!
These complimentary roasted nuts consisting of peanuts, cashews, pecans and walnuts flavored with chili oil and lime started us off. Very similar in heat and flavor to Trader Joe's Thai Chili cashews (dangerously additive), except Distrito's nuts are warm and homemade, so even better.
Everyone agreed that the traditional guacamole was excellent. Topped with finely shredded queso fresco, the guacamole was very lightly seasoned, letting the avocado do it's job of being simply delicious.
carne kobe tacos with flat iron steak, truffle potato, tomato/horseradish escabeche, and Yukon fries. This was H.'s least favorite dish, because the meat was tough. E. appreciated the authentic cut of meat since she's accustomed to tough meat tacos in Mexico (mucha familia en Mexico).
While E. wasn't in love with the cochinta pebil that accompanied the masa of the tamales, she absolutely loved the slightly spicy masa. So much so that this dish still made her top two.
H.'s FavoritesThe los hongos huaraches (a sort of flat bread-ish dish) with forest mushrooms, huitlacoche sauce, queso mixto, black truffle, and corn shoots was earthy without being over powering. I actually ordered this dish, and H. did not eat nearly his share, since he feared I'd not get enough to eat with the handful of meat dishes that were off limits to me. I was stuffed by the end, so he really should have had more.
H. liked the chicken tacos with chicken ropa vieja, queso fresca, crema, and radish.
It seems that my boyfriend and I are in sync when it comes to food. We both picked the same two favorites.
You all should order the los hongos huaraches! With three out of four votes for favorite, it's clearly a winner amongst most palates.
We also love the esquites: sweet corn, queso fresco, chipotle, and lime served in a tall glass with a spoon. This was the spiciest dish of the evening (that I tried, at least). Think comfort of creamed corn, but with heat and tang. I'm still thinking about it!
Somehow the sopes with poblano, sweet onion, quail egg, and chili piquin was completely forgotten when we were discussing favorites and least favorites (there were a lot of dishes to remember), but when we did remember the dish, my partner and I both made room for these sopes in our top two (we bent the rules). We both hate fried or poached eggs, so the quail egg did nothing for us, but the thinly sliced peppers and onions swimming in a creamy sauce atop the sope was just wonderful.
An odd number of food photos, so here's the luchador mask wall!
All four of us mentioned the heirloom tomato and avocado salad and the black beans and rice when deciding on favorites. These dishes are in the last menu section titled acomanamientos, almost as an afterthought, but don't dismiss these offerings.
The lime tang of the dressing on the tomato and avocado reminded me of how good lime juice is on just about everything -- a light bulb that also turned on when I was in Mexico earlier this year.
The black beans and rice are just simple and good. Who doesn't like beans and rice? The pickled onions on top just elevated a dish that needs no perfection.
The quesadillas with zuchinni squash blossom, poblano-avocado puree, and radish were the size of empanadas, and reminded of us empanadas, not quesadillas. While just fine, this dish is not a must have.
The Huachinango with red snapper, pipian verde, and poblano crema was described to me as nothing special. I'm not sure this dish was even finished.
The jicama salad with finely cubed jicama and watermelon, orange, pepita, chili pequin, and orange vinaigrette could also be placed in the paled in comparison category, except I was the only one at the table who really liked this tart, juicy, fruity salad. I ate most of it. Again, maybe because others knew I wouldn't be eating the meat dishes.
Everyone was stuffed, but I ordered churros any way. The thin sticks of fried, cinnamon spiced dough were amazing. The chocolate sauce was chocolaty-yum, but was very thin. Even with a couple of shakes after dipping the churros into the sauce, I could not get the dessert to my mouth without drippage. I realize that the glass of chocolate is meant to be hot chocolate, but what's a churro without dipping it into chocolate? Normally the churros are served with mocha ice cream, but, at the late hour that we were there, they were out of all ice cream flavors except corn. H. and E. did not like the corn ice cream, saying it tasted like popcorn. I like it just fine. Goes to show you!
The tapas plates at Distrito are small, and I think it's easier to share some plates with a smaller number of people. Cutting some items in half allows for only one bite, which is just not enough. The upside of sharing with more people is the array of dishes that can be sampled. Work it out to best suit you.
With roughly three dishes and one drink per person, our bill averaged $35 per person before tip -- about on par with an evening at most mid to high-end restaurants in Philly.
So, am I glad I tried a Garces restaurant? Yes! And I'm more inclined to try one of his other restaurants now that I've seen just how great ALL of his dishes are. So, yep, I'm hypin' his hype. Maybe next, I'll hype Capogiro.
3945 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA, 19104