Friday, February 26, 2010


707 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 925-5555

Well I have always been a huge fan of Jose Garces restaurants, way before he was an Iron Chef. I have been to every place he opened in Philly, except for the newly opened Garces Trading Company, and Chifa. I would rank Amada, Tinto and Village Whiskey as some of my favorite fine dining places to eat in the city. Distrito, not so much. But that is another story. Anyway, I have been meaning to get to Chifa, and I was finally able to. I was really impressed, and I will explain why below. Here is the new menu. (Note: The pictures are a bit dark and red tinted because, well, that's what the lighting is like in there)

They start you out with the rolls shown above, on the house. I have read about these things, and let me tell you, they were soooo good. Like a Garces version of the Red Lobster biscuits (a guilty pleasure of mine, much like Olive Garden's salad and breadsticks). These, however, were so good, I actually ate them slow, because I wanted to savor every bite. They are light, doughy and airy, and stuffed with Queso and Manchego. My word. Served with spicy guava butter, I could literally eat them every day. This boded well. Next up was the Banh Mi. On it was pate, char sui pork, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeno. It was a generous size for $7, and as it was the first item to come out, it was hungrily eaten, but I would have to pass on it next time. It was good, no doubt, but I would rather have the authentic banh mi from one of my favorite places in South Philly. The bread was a bit too much and there was an overly generous smear of pate.

The next item to come out was the pickle plate. This involved three dishes of seasonal pickled vegetables. The ones on the ends were very similar and seemed to be pickled in the same kind of sake or plum wine, one was cauliflower and apple, and the other was melon and cucumber. The middle one was spicy greens, and it was a delicious, crisp take on Korean kimchi. This one was my favorite.

If you notice a recurring trend, as opposed to the usual Garces fare, the portions here were ample. I was very happy to see this, because as much as I love ultra savory bites of decadence, I also hate dropping a fair amount of cash and having to eat again later. Next up was the pork belly buns. These were by far the item I was the most anxious to try. I know pork belly is used everywhere and in everything these days, but I love it. I make it every once in a while, and I have even made my own five spice pork belly buns in the past. The buns here were exquisite. Seriously. There was a thick hoisin glaze on them and they were finished on the grill so there was a crust of crunchy, crispy, charcoal flavor that was mind blowing. The pork itself was ridiculously tender, and the pickled daikon and carrot paired with the spicy mayo on the light fluffy buns was on another level. Everything about these buns was perfect. I seriously could have eaten 10. Once again, where I expected to receive one, there were two amble buns per serving.

The next item to arrive was the mussels. Mmmm the mussels. I love to cook mussels, and I love to eat mussels, so this was a must try. And I am glad that I did. They were served in a broth of coconut milk, rocotto (a medium spiced Peruvian pepper), lemongrass and thai basil and garnished with a couple of lightly toasted pieces of bread (as all mussels should). These mussels were so savory and delicious paired with this broth that it was scary. I threw all etiquette to the wind and soon after the last mussel was devoured, I literally slurped the remaining liquid in the bowl with a spoon until the last drop. Classy, no? I couldn't resist the soothing lemongrass and coconut mixture, with the herby Thai basil and bit of spice provided by the peppers. It was that good.

The grand finale was the order of chicken wings I was so excitedly waiting for. To say they were served in a spicy, ginger-garlic sauce was an understatement. There was so much ginger and garlic in the bowl that it was absurd. Absurdly good, that is. The wings were super crispy, large and as you can probably guess, generously portioned. The bottom of the bowl, however, is where the magic lied. It was an spicy oil sauce packed with ginger and garlic and micro greens. A healthy scoop of these on each bite of wing provided some of the most inventive and flavor rich wings I have ever had. I have never seen wings presented with this flavor profile, and the spicy oil did wonders. I will be back for these as soon as possible. Between these and the pork belly (and the dinner rolls) I could eat here in perpetuity and be quite content.

Honorable mention went to the scallion pancakes. They had braised beef and sesame ginger mayo. Meh. The beef was dried and the pancakes themselves tasted of burnt soy. I will skip these next time.

As if they didn't have me already, they finished the meal with a complementary plate of delicious rice crispy treats with edible potato paper on top with an image of a dragon. Awesome. I will certainly be back, as this place is within a reasonable "fine dining" budget, and the portions were on the money.

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