Cira Center, 2929 Arch Street, 215-222-2363
Two and a half stars.
Four stars signifies an "extraordinary" restaurant, three stars is "excellent," two stars is "good," one star is "fair" and no stars is "poor."
Another month, another Jose Garces restaurant. They open faster than diners can keep track. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone draw a blank on the Garces Trading Company, I could buy a week’s worth of lunches from Guapos Tacos, the food truck Garces debuted in September. Or roughly five ounces of trapped-in-the-wilds-of-Texas boar from his ambitious new flagship, JG Domestic.
Garces has recast the Cira Centre lobby around an open kitchen with an uncharacteristically fluid mandate: to cook any food at all, as long as it’s produced in America. In some ways, JG Domestic is the logical end of its namesake’s culinary progression. The chef has taken the tapas conceit further from its Spanish roots in the past few years, and his food interests have shifted, too. But it’s also a risky departure from the tight conceptual focus that characterizes his most compelling restaurants — such as the inch-wide-but-mile-deep excavation of Basque cuisine at Tinto.
Shuttling small plates past wooden shelves brimming with frontier-homestead bric-a-brac and potted plants, JG’s pert servers take every opportunity to trumpet the restaurant’s self-imposed restriction to domestically produced ingredients. That’s not much of a limitation in a country that has more arable land than any other, and Garces makes the most of his carte blanche.
Chef de cuisine Dave Conn has been with Gar-ces since the beginning, ascending from line cook at Amada to senior positions at Tinto and Village Whiskey, and it shows; Conn channels his boss’s yen for sharply defined flavors that don’t so much meld as crackle with contrasts. There have been shaved sunchokes with briny olives, winey currants, and preserved Meyer lemons as bright as bottled sunshine. Popcorn under a cheddar-flecked snow of grated horseradish. Heirloom fingerling potatoes ensconced in addictively sweet-sour braised cabbage, beneath a savory cheese melt studded with andouille.
There are equally vivid meat offerings, but none better than that wild boar rib chop. The dark flesh has a feral, backwoods punch as haunting as the evil in Deliverance, yet also a sweetness — the meat is as close to feedlot pork as venison is to a chicken breast. Even lacquered with a mustard glaze and framed by a cluster of peppery mustard greens and pickled mustard seeds, the boar’s flavor remained dominant. Add a smallish side portion of superlatively corny Anson Mills grits, and this is an entrée no carnivore should miss.
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