Those of us who relish fine dining are acutely aware of the high markup on wine. This is one reason BYOBs are reproducing like rabbits.
Chef Jose Garces — Food Network’s newest Iron Chef — came up with an inspired idea. He joined forces with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and opened Garces Trading Company, a cafe, wine shop and on-site bakery. Patrons can purchase artisan cheeses, charcuterie, breads, desserts and a number of items that run the gamut from olive oil to honey, sold under Garces’ label.
A most-inspiring element here is the wine boutique. Garces selected about 200 bottles you might find at Moore Brothers but not in state stores. They are stored in a 60-degree enclosed blond wood “cellar.” Because you are buying from the LCB, there is no markup.
I savored two fine meals at Garces Trading Company. The all-day, all-night menu is another inspiration. I enjoyed a light lunch alone and a hearty dinner with my sister Sandy. Prices are uncommonly moderate for a Garces establishment.
The space features white subway tile, pretty round hanging fixtures and wooden tables, a number of which are community oriented so chatting with neighbors is encouraged and fun.
I slid on to a high chair for my lunch and was cared for by Kelly, a charming man who brought me a round loaf of sourdough bread and poured Garces’ olive oil into a white dish.
Lunch began with the most outrageously delicious vichyssoise ($9) this side of the Waldorf Astoria. It was smooth like silk, enriched with the right touch of cream. A few pieces of tender fingerling potatoes met their match in crispy bacon and thinly sliced, slightly sweet seared scallops. It was bliss in a bowl.
Semplice insalata ($8) was the spirit of winter, prepared with baby greens, pomegranate seeds, blood orange segments and a disk of tangy goat cheese dusted with crushed pistachios and tossed in a blood orange vinaigrette. The slightly sour flavor of the blood oranges mixed with the other ingredients made this salad successful in every way.
On my way out, I purchased blue cheese from Spain, saucisson from Lyon and the Basque region, a rich pate, Proscuitto di Parma and three lamb sausages spiked with spicy harissa. The sausages were turned into a pasta sauce for dinner the next evening.
My sister Sandy and I braved the snowfall for dinner and selected a bottle of 2007 Manga del Bruja from Spain ($13.95). It would probably cost about $45 in a restaurant with a liquor license.
From the antipasti, we selected eggplant ($6) mixed with roasted red peppers and a confit of cherry tomatoes topped with aged balsamic from Modena. The rich flavor contrasted beautifully with baby artichokes ($7) bathed in a sauce of preserved lemon, honey and almonds. The flavor was light, slightly acid and a little sweet.
I had to sample a pizza because it is the rage now. The verde ($12) was just that: all green. The crisp crust was topped with spinach, creamy ricotta, thinly sliced asparagus, some Chevre, baby arugula and fava beans. Sound like too many ingredients? Not at all.
The plats du jour are designed for two. Thursday is bouillabaisse ($38). This hearty fish stew is made with any kind of fish and shellfish. Our server brought us a cast-iron cocotte filled with flaky halibut, wild shrimp, mussels and cockles swimming in a tomato/saffron sauce. Each was cooked to perfection. The only fault I found was the use of too much fennel, which is strong and can sometimes overwhelm a dish. Our entrée came with homemade slices of toasted bread spread with a saffron/garlic ruille.
Since Edward is still at home tending to his broken ankle, I purchased an individual baba au rhum ($5) and a dozen madeleines ($3). We enjoyed these sweets with tea while watching Olympic ice skating.
There is not a restaurant in the city to match Garces Trading Company. Garces made a checklist and came up with a concept that is unique in ambience, as well as European flavors and flair.
And it just could be the best new restaurant of the year.
Three extraordinary tips of the toque to Garces Trading Co.
Garces Trading Company
1111 Locust St.