By Lyvia Yan, Centerspread Editor
Calling all adventurous eaters and food fanatics alike, Philadelphia Restaurant Week runs from September 11-16 and 18-23. The event offers a fixed three-course lunch for $25 or dinner for $35. Despite smaller options on the menu, specialized Restaurant Week menus still offer a wide selection of some of the best dishes Philadelphia has to offer.
From popular restaurants like Buddkan and Max Brenner’s to top Zagat-rated restaurants like Zahav and Fogo de Chao, Philadelphia Restaurant Week has become an annual tradition for my family. This year, we visited Garces Trading Company, a European-style cafe and bar, and Bistrot la Minette, an authentic French bistro.
Garces Trading Company:
Upon entering Garces Trading Company, my family and I were welcomed with the sight of high barstools and worn wooden tables. The décor pairs modern abstract aspects with down-to -earth elements like wood and rusted metal. Our meal for the night included four courses, for $35 per person.
To start, we sampled the cheese, roasted red peppers, roasted carrots, and the chef’s selection of charcuterie. For the table we were given a basket of sourdough bread and olive oil pressed in the restaurant. The carrots were hard, cold, and poorly cooked; however, the red peppers were an upgrade and included whipped eggplants and toasted crostini. The red peppers were well-seasoned and melted in your mouth, but did not compare to the cheese. Upon first glance the cheese appeared meager and unassuming, but the seasonal accompaniments of dulce de leche and lavender honey offered warm fall tones and sweetness to counter the savory creamy aspects of the cheese. Unfortunately, the charcuterie was very disappointing and was something one could buy from the deli section of any supermarket. After eating the cheese, my family and I decided that we would have been better off to order two portions of the cheese instead of wasting our money on the charcuterie. Overall the appetizers were mediocre, but the cheese platter definitely compensated for the other underwhelming dishes.
Our second courses consisted of salad with champagne vinaigrette, meatballs, masala vadai, and moules. The masala vadai were fried balls with lentils and cauliflower florets, which took a modern-spin on classic finger foods. Unfortunately, a bitter, sour sauce overwhelmed the entire dish, making it difficult to swallow. On the other hand, the moules were delicious–with mussels drenched in a clam chowder-like sauce that was very rich and creamy. To counterbalance the richness, the salad was a fitting complement and offered light tones of fresh vegetables mixed with earthy nuts. The meatballs were nothing special, and needed the tomato sauce, as the meatballs themselves were a bit dry and dense.
Following our mediocre first two courses, we were hoping to be impressed by the third course. To our disappointment, this course was by far the worst. We sampled the chicken, saffron seafood pasta, fusilli carbonara, and the trout. Both pastas were underwhelming. Although the fusilli was handmade, many pieces of pasta were undercooked and contained raw dough that tasted like flour. By contrast, the saffron pasta was slightly overcooked and did not offer any bite to counter the softness of the seafood. Additionally, the trout was drenched in a butter sauce that completely masked the natural flavors of the fish. The dish tasted as if the restaurant cut a block of butter in the shape of a fillet of trout and shoved it on a lukewarm place to serve to us. Similarly the chicken was virtually inedible, as it was flattened into a thin piece, and plated with a handful of greens with lemon juice. The chicken tasted as dry as peanut butter on saltine crackers with salt and was left almost untouched on the table. In summary, the third course consisted of lukewarm dishes that were not up to the standard of a restaurant owned by an iron chef.
Finally, for dessert we indulged in the lemon tart and seasonal chocolate mousse–the only two dessert options on the menu. The lemon tart was paired with a blackberry jam and dusted with powdered sugar, offering a one-dimensional, overly sweet dessert. Similarly, the chocolate mousse was topped with candied pistachios, creating sickeningly sweet flavors of sweet upon sweet. Granted deserts should be sweet to a degree, but a hint of tarragon or clove to bring out the deeper dimensions of the chocolate could have elevated the mousse substantially.
Although Philadelphia Restaurant Week offers great deals on hot restaurants in the area, Garces Trading Company is not worth your time. Instead, if you’re craving Spanish-inspired cuisine, I recommend Amada. This restaurant is owned by Jose Garces, the same iron chef who owns Garces Trading Company. Amanda in contrast to Garces Trading Company offers small plates or tapas to share for the table that have food that is not only incrementally tastier, but will satisfy the standards associated with Philadelphia Restaurant Week.
Bistrot la Minette:
Bistrot la Minette is a quaint, typical French café with red accent decorations and wooden chairs. My family and I came here for dinner and shared the three-course meal together.
To start, we sampled the soupe au pistou (vegetable soup), terrine de foie gras (pâté), euf de pecheur (poached eggs and mussels), and the escargots a la bourguignonne (snails). Although some people may cringe at the sound of eating snails and pâté, these dishes were the best out of the four. The snails were cooked well with a warm butter sauce and the pâté paired creamy liver with crunchy crostini. The poached egg and mussels were paired with a sour sauce resembling the taste of greek yogurt. The egg was poached nicely, but the sauce left an unsettling aftertaste.
Following our first courses, we indulged in truite meunière (trout), lapin roti a la
moutarde (rabbit), jarret d’agneau Provençal (lamb shank), and duck confit. The portions for the second course were quite plentiful, and on the whole the dishes were delicious. However, the rabbit was a bit dry and the sauce accompanying the duck was too sweet without enough acidity or spice to counterbalance it.
To finish our meal, we had the terrine de mousse au chocolat (chocolate mousse), baba au rhum (rum pastry), and the mille feuille aux framboises (puff pastry with raspberries). The rum pastry was overwhelmed by the alcoholic flavor and tasted less like a delicate dessert as opposed to a shot of rum. On the other hand, the raspberry puff pastry paired fragrant raspberries with vanilla bean cream sandwiched between crispy, caramelized sheets of puff pastry. The raspberry puff pastry was the best, but the chocolate mousse came to a close second, with rich dark chocolate paired with crunchy hazelnuts topped with a pinch of sea salt to counter the sweetness.
Overall, our meal at Bistrot la Minette was an enjoyable experience and I would recommend the restaurant to any adventurous readers seeking a slice of France in the heart of Philadelphia.
Lyvia Yan can be reached at email@example.com.