In addition to the recent announcement that his Iron Chef-ness is swinging into action with a Washington D.C. steakhouse, Jose Garces also has two projects working here in Philly that have been getting his attention lately. The first is the as-yet-unnamed Cuban-style diner that he’s putting into the shell recently vacated by Chifa (which is now scheduled to open at the end of September or the beginning of October). And the second is his highly personal atelier called Volver, which is set to open at the Kimmel Center…at the end of September or the beginning of October.
“Opening restaurants is like a baby being born,” Garces said when I got him on the phone this afternoon. “They come when they come.”
But still, he had some news on both properties, and the first one he wanted to talk about was his “throwback to Miami Cuban diners” which, at least as of today, still had no official name.
He knows exactly the kind of food he wants to do there, exactly the style he wants to evoke. The minute you walk through the door, there’ll be a place to do quick take-out orders of completas–complete meals, the same as they are done in Miami and Tampa Cuban joints. There’ll be empanadas and pasteles, beans and rice, tostones, Cuban sandwiches for sure.
“We have four monster panini machines,” Garces said. “We’re just going to throw the whole kitchen sink at them.”
Beyond that, he explained, there’ll be a first-floor dining room with a slightly more finished menu–ropa vieja, picadillo, whole chickens from a rotisserie that he’s having installed. There’ll be a bar and a big rum program (natch). And there’s a part of Garces that wants to run the place 24 hours a day–do breakfasts and late-night, the whole deal.
“I’m toying with the idea,” he said, but explained that all of the people in his organization thought it was crazy. “I just think that the city could use a 24-hour joint with some class.” And even if he doesn’t go all night, he’s hoping to go until 4am on the weekends. Which, not for nothing, would be kind of awesome.
He has a chef in place–Yun Fuentes, who he brought over from JG Domestic (7-year Garces vet Andrew Sabin is running the JG kitchen right now)–and the details of the menu and design are being worked out. But in the meantime, there’s also Volver.
“That’s right around the corner,” Garces said, sighing. “Both will hit around the same time.”
One of the complications with Volver is that it has several moving parts. There’ll be a champagne bar, with what Garces calls a “no-utensil” menu of “dainty bites” that won’t overpower the bubbly. That means things served in spoons or on skewers, caviar, a couple oysters set on cracked ice. Then there’ll be the main dining room where he’ll be doing a pre-theatre prix fixe menu set at $55. And then a whole other facet of the place–which is the one he’s most excited about every time I talk to him–where he’ll be at Volver cooking himself. In the kitchen, behind a counter, doing tasting menus or something like that, for just a few people. There’ll be nights when he’s doing that and there’ll be nights when he’s not. He’ll use it as an excuse to experiment, to stretch himself, to play. There might be tickets sold. There might be a schedule, set in advance, so that you can book nights where you know Garces will be cooking for you. He’s not sure yet exactly how it will work out, but he’s excited. It’s something that he’s wanted to do for a long time.
On the nights that he’s not there, Volver will be under the command of chef de cuisine Natalie Maronski, most recently ex of Chifa–which will be a nice promotion once the place actually gets open. But even now they’re working on it. Putting menus together. Getting plates designed. It’s all coming together, just slowly.
But they’ll come when they come.
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