Some More Details from Jose Garces on His New A.C. Restaurants
A couple days ago, we put together everything we knew about the three new restaurants by the Garces Group that are opening at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. But as we get closer and closer to the actual opening date (which will be March 4 for all three properties), we’re getting more specific detail.
This time, from Jose Garces himself.
I talked to him today from the dining room at Olon, where he was overseeing the final run-up to opening. We talked about a bunch of stuff (including the opening of his new Buena Onda location at 1735 Chestnut Street, which should happen this summer, and the other opening that he’s keeping his eye on–of his new Manhattan restaurant, Ortzi, which is opening in Bryant Park later this month), but mostly we focused on the three new places: Olon, Bar Olon and Okatshe.
Broadly, all three of them will be opening to the public together on March 4. He’ll have Maria Schmidt on board as his chef de cuisine (she’s a serious Garces veteran with 9 years in the organization, who opened Distrito with Garces then went on to work at Amada, Tinto and 24) and Patrick Sterr (who started with Garces at Revel but hung on after the closures) as executive director of fine dining. And the reason for this sudden shift in direction with three completely new concepts, rather than installing restaurants he’s already comfortable with?
“We now have the luxury and ability to have this creative space,” he told me, talking about his new offices at 2401 Walnut Street and his Estudio test kitchen. He’s had that space for over a year now, and was making good use of it long before 24 opened to the public. “[Estudio gave us] the resources and the physical space to step outside a little bit.” These concepts–the Japanese street food and the Ecuadorian beach bar with its “really good pilsner beers, seafood and ceviche” were ideas that Garces had been kicking around for a long time. All they needed was the right moment and the right space. And as for putting them all into the Trop?
“Opposites,” Garces said. Like Tinto and Village Whiskey right next door to each other. The opportunity for discovery that it offers people. “I like creating that effect.”
Specifically, here’s what we now know about the three new outposts in the empire.
–Olon is a city in Ecuador–a beach town full of coastal seafood and beer. “I would go there when I was a kid,” Garces explained. And Olon, the restaurant, is inspired by his memories of that place, offering “a lot of recipes from my family, from my upbringing.”
–You’ll enter through custom-made gates and immediately see a 43-seat ceviche bar which is probably the thing Garces is most excited about. He explained that that’s where all the energy is–cutting the fresh fish, the marinades, the raw bar.
–The dining room is 128 seats with ocean views. And it was these views of the beach and the water that reminded Garces so much of his time in Olon. There will also be 40 seats available on an outdoor deck overlooking the beach, and some cabana-style seating as well.
–Beyond the ceviche bar (which will offer ceviche, natch, plus oysters, seafood towers, and a full raw bar), Olon’s full menu will offer steamed clams, crab cakes, jumbo fried shrimp and surf and turf plates, plus wood-fired Wagyu skirt steak, roasted chickens, jumbo gulf prawns, big-ass lobsters and plenty of crab.
–Olon will be open seven days a week, for lunch and dinner.
–Situated next door to Olon, between it and Okatshe next door, Bar Olon is Garces’s interpretation of the beer bars he knew in Ecuador. Fun, loud, casual, full of cold beer and seafood. “The experience there is really about beer, ceviche carts, these little food shacks on the beach.” And that was what he wanted to capture with Bar Olon.
–The bar will offer 16 draft lines plus 35 bottles. There’ll be live entertainment (on weekends at least), and a menu made up of some offerings from Olon’s ceviche bar, plus “some crispy fried things.” Which, as we all know, are the best kinds of things.
–The bar itself is double-sided and seats 60.
–There will also be seating in a lounge area around the bar and (from the press release): “Vintage looking fans provide a cool, “ocean” breeze with whimsical bongos and neon signage completing the nostalgic vibe. An elevated platform with tropical mural wall-hanging backdrop will serve as a stage for live entertainment.”
–The bar will also offer 20 wines by the glass, over 75 bottles, and eight cocktails.
–Garces went to Tokyo as an Iron Chef. Then, because he liked it so much, he went back later, with his kids. This idea for an izakaya has been in his head for a long time, he tells me. He just never found the right place for it. Until now.
–“With [Okatshe], I’m bringing all the things I really liked from Tokyo,” Garces said. And that doesn’t just mean the menu of yakitori, sashimi, ramen, maki and tonkatsu, but also the vibe. The feeling of the place, which he captured by trying to recreate a kind of “gritty, urban part of Tokyo” right there in the space.
–Guests will enter through a Japanese candy store. “It’s kind of an homage to Japanese packaging, and how creative it is,” he explained. Plus, it’s just cool. It’ll be a full retail shop and, behind one of the counters, there’ll be a door that leads into the Okatshe space.
–“I want people to kind of discover the restaurant,” Garces explained. Which I think is kind of awesome.
–Okatshe will seat 80 people, and will be a full, table-service restaurant.
–The menu? Glad you asked. Here’s the official word from Garces PR: “The full-service, 80-seat sit-down restaurant will serve a selection of small plates, yakitori, ramen, sushi and sashimi. Yakitori skewers include chicken, beef, pork, vegetable or seafood. Ramen noodles are served in three unique styles: Tokyo, light chicken and Dashi broth; Tonkastu, rich pork broth; and Okatshe, lobster dashi. Sushi, sashimi, and maki offerings include everything from scallop and wasabi tobiko to spicy rolls, black jack eel rolls, and the signature Tropicana roll.”
–Okatshe will also have a bar, offering a curated selection of Japanese whiskies, 50 varieties of sake, beers and specialty cocktails.
–The whole place will be open from 4pm until 2am, seven days a week. No reservations are taken. Personally, I can not wait to get drunk and stumble into this place at midnight on a Tuesday.
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