We woke up on a recent Saturday to find that our scheduled Ultimate Frisbee game was cancelled. Having an unexpectedly free Saturday, B suggested we drive up to Philadelphia to use the restaurant gift certificate that his parents had given us for Christmas. Less than an hour later we were on the road. Less than 3 hours later we were standing here watching people do Rocky impersonations:
We worked up quite the appetite touring the museum (museums make me hungry!), so we hurried across town to an early reservation at Chef Jose Garces' Chifa.
Chifa is "inspired by the unique hybrid of Peruvian and Cantonese cuisine found in Peru." It is an interesting blend that might be a disaster in the hands of a less talented chef, but Jose Garces knocks it out of the park.
Garces, winner of the Next Iron Chef, dominates the Philly restaurant scene with five restaurants. He's like the Jose Andres of Philly and his food is just as good.
Thank you to B's parents for providing us with a gift certificate that enabled us to go all out and try the chef's tasting menu, along with a couple of inventive cocktails. Favorite dishes included the Pulpo (rock octopus, garlic-ginger, purple potatoes and ginger gastrique) and the Thai beef salad (Kobe beef!, Thai herbs, romaine, lemongrass and spicy peanuts).
Instead of a bread basket, they serve pan de bono which is a yuca flour/cheese bread concoction that, when paired with the sriracha guava jelly, might be my favorite bread basket of all time. Dessert, rather than being an after thought, was one of the highlights. B, who never gets very excited about dessert, was ecstatic about the coconut panna cotta with mini coconut cakes. People talk about a dish transporting you to an exotic locale and we've never felt that quite as strongly as with this tropical-inspired masterpiece.
Thank goodness B was a champ and drove us home because it gave me time to stretch out in the passenger seat and reflect on a fantastic meal. I fell asleep with my face attractively smashed against the window and dreams of sriracha guava butter dancing through my head.
Second Thoughts From B
I've always thought of Philly as a tough, blue collar town. Maybe I've seen Rocky too many times or heard too many stories about the Broad Street Bullies and Philly fans booing Mike Schmidt and Santa Claus. But let me tell you, the city is a lot more refined than the cheesesteak scene at Gino's and Pat's, and just as delicious. After all, there aren't too many streets in the world that hosts chefs like Jose Garces, Morimoto, and, Eric Ripert all within a few blocks of each other.
Doing a tasting menu at a place like Chifa quickly exhausts your vocabulary. How many times can you say something is amazing, awesome, incredible, wonderful, delicious, surprising, unbelievable, spectacular, phenomenal... you get the idea.
Top to bottom, it was a fantastic meal filled with extremes. Flavors were intense and complex without being overwhelming. The textures alone could have entertained our mouths (the short ribs were so tender I ate them with chopsticks!). The service was knowledgeable, attentive, and enthusiastic. Need I go on?
Like a great chef's menu that gives you a taste of many different things, the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a perfect pairing with our culinary tour of Peruvian-Asian fusion. The museum had enough breadth to cover artistic styles from all over the world across all mediums and eras. But somehow it also had enough depth for us to linger among masterpieces from our favorite genres without feeling overwhelmed.
If life is about balance and a diversity of experiences, Philly has it. From the fine dining of Chifa to the iconic street food of Reading Market, from the high culture of the art museum to the raw passion of their sports fans, Philadelphia has shown me that it is far more than my initial ignorant impression.