Finding Food in Philadelphia (with Fondness for Joule)
I’m in Philadelphia, where Jose Garces is gathering together a little empire of restaurants. I went to two of his seven properties: Chifa and Distrito.
Recall that Garces took on Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi of Joule in his debut battle on Iron Chef America. Like others in attendance at the viewing party, I thought Garces got gifted a victory, as his food look less inspired than that of the Joule chefs.
My visit to Chifa confirmed my doubts. This Asian-influenced tapas place features Peruvian and Cantonese flavors, but lacked the boldness I was seeking and enjoy at Joule. For example, the highly acclaimed pork belly bao buns suffered a bit, primarily because the buns overpowered the meat. Maybe I just prefer a simpler bun, like Momofuku’s or the one I had at Joule, in a dish they did for me that’s featured in the current issue of Edible Seattle.
The crab empanada and marlin tataki were uninspiring. I did find the chicharrones with crispy pork and green curried lentils interesting, and my favorite dish was the Chinese water spinach with ginger-soy glazed snap peas, enoki mushrooms, and fennel—perhaps the “purest” dish of the bunch with less force of fusion.
Distrito was better, likely because of a more pure focus on Mexican food. I enjoyed a spicy tortilla soup and an earthy huarache do hongas (essentially a flatbread, this one with forest mushrooms and black truffles), though I thought the meal was a little pricey at $15 plus tax and tip.
And if you peek beyond the huarache in the photo, you’ll get a sense of the second-floor color scheme. Lots of pink, on the walls, the chairs, the napkins, and seemingly everywhere. And a stairwell wall full of lucha libre masks that was pretty cool.
After Distrito, I strolled further west to check out Koch’s Deli, intrigued by recommendations. My visit there will be my most memorable food experience of the trip. Talk about heaven for a former New Yorker. The workers are known for their generosity with sampling, which helps appease the long line of people inevitably waiting to place lunch orders. The tongue was terrific, and the hot pastrami was melt-in-my-mouth delicious.
I placed an order for a Lou Koch double decker, a behemoth of a sandwich with roast beef, turkey, and chopped liver and choice of condiments. Oh…and good pickles. The owner delivered my sandwich personally, leaving me to wonder whether he’d extend such deliveries to Seattle, where we’re much in need of such a high-quality deli.