Dinner at Chifa 2/19 @GarcesGroup, Fun & Filling

Last night, we had a fun dinner at Chifa, part of the Jose Garces (Iron Chef) food empire growing in Philadelphia.  We really enjoy the small plates/tapas experience as you can try lots of things rather than having to decide on just an appetizer and main course.

We both had mixed drinks from the bar to start our meal:

-Spicy Margarita (Tequila, Passion Fruit, Thai Chiles) & Chinese 5 Spice Manhattan (Rye Whiskey, 5 Spice Infused Simple Syrup).  The margarita had some kick from the Thai Chilis and the Manhattan was nice and smooth.  I’ve been on a bourbon kick recently since attending a Bourbon tasting last year.

Wine during dinner:

  • Crios “Rose of malbec ” 2008 Mendoza, Argentina:  This was in the deep rose family and had enough body to stand up to the spices in my dinner, but also some dry fruitiness to round it out.
  • Riesling: SCHLOSS VOLLRADS 2007 Rheingau, Germany: No doubt a very sweet Riesling that we enjoyed.  I found some pineapple and peach in the wine which might have been better with dessert (which we didn’t have) than dinner.

Then the food arrived…

As if we hadn’t ordered enough, the chef sent out these manchego cheese stuffed breads, almost savory donuts which were light and cheesy!  From there, here’s what we ate and my impressions of each item:

  • Peruvian Ceviche (corvina, sweet potato, pickled pearl onions): There was a good amount of fish in the dish and it had solid, citrus flavor.  My only thought is that it was more of a citrus soup with fish and other good stuff and might have benefited from a more shallow dish.  This was served with corn nuts which we really enjoyed snacking on throughout the meal.
  • Kobe Tartar (sriracha, pear, wasabi mayo): If I see tartar on the menu, I’m ordering it.  The overall flavor of this was ok, but I felt that the steak didn’t shine as there was too much salt.  My wife, who loves salt enjoyed it but could see how I felt that way.
  • Chifa Pickles (melon & cucumber, cauliflower & apple, spicy greens): These are not Jewish deli pickles!  A very interesting set of flavors.  The spicy greens had a sesame oil in addition to the pickling spices and were good; I could have eaten a bowl of that with some tiradito.
  • Pork Belly Bao Buns (hoisin glaze, pickled daikon & carrot, togarashi mayo): Melt in your mouth pork belly goodness sandwiched between rice dough pancakes.  Can’t miss this which can also come with Duck, Tofu, or Lobster)
  • Soup Dumplings (heritage pork, sesame, black vinegar): I’ve had the soup dumplings in NYC, specifically at Joe’s Shanghai which are the best, so this was enticing, but had a lot to live up to.  The noodle and filling were fresh, the pork filling had a pungent ginger and scallion flavor, but there wasn’t much in the way of soup in the dumpling.  Overall good flavor, especially when mixed with the dipping sauce, but more of a steamed bun than a soup dumpling.
  • Pork Bowl (ramen noodles, braised pork, egg, spicy greens): Some of the best ramen noodles I’ve ever had and the broth had a richness to it that was so appealing.  The pork itself was almost a throw in, I could have just enjoyed the noodles and broth.  This too, like the Tartar had a bit too much salt for my taste.
  • Humita (charred corn, bacon, mushrooms, aji cream): This was a real earthy (umami?) dish with the grilled corn cake, almost polenta-like and thinly sliced mushrooms and bacon.  Luckily, this was our first hot dish and we were able to taste it all.

We didn’t eat dessert as we were so full, but the check came with 2 small rice crispy treats with the Chef’s logo on it and that was a nice end to the meal.  Service was fluid, efficient, and educating.  Overall, this was a fun and filling experience and I look forward to returning.

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