Saturday, February 19, 2011

All-You-Can-Eat at Distrito

About a week ago I attended my first Penn Gastronomy Club adventure – an all-you-can-eat dinner at Distrito. I thought it would be an interesting change: I had only done all-you-can-eat at 1920 Commons (kind of okay), Indian restaurants (greasy) and Penn-sponsored events (ah, the chocolate fountains), but never attended one at this pretty high-profile establishment.

For those of you not familiar with chef Jose Garces, suffice it to say that in recent years, he has become the Robert Pattinson of culinary stardom – HOT HOT HOT. He won the James Beard award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2009 and destroyed his opponents in the most recent season of The Next Iron Chef. His empire spans over eight restaurants (seven in Philly and one in Chicago), all of which offer his innovative takes on traditional or fusion cuisines – Mexican, Andalusian, Chifa (Latin-Asian), Basque and American, among others.

Distrito, which Garces' bio describes as "a spirited celebration of the vibrant culture and cuisine of Mexico City," offers Mexican fare with a modern twist. To give us a taste of it, PCG had reserved half of the restaurant’s ground floor; a massive bowl of tortilla chips expected us when we arrived, accompanied by luscious guacamole and spicy salsa. Surrounded by the neon glow of pink and blue and plaid greeting cards lined along the walls, we were presented with three signature appetizers.

The cornmeal flatbread with forest mushrooms, huitlacoche sauce, mixed cheeses, black truffle and corn shoot was probably the highlight of the dinner. Earthy, juicy and creamy at the same time, it provided a comforting balm to counter the chill outside.

It was followed by the Mexico City style quesadilla with huazontle, royal trumpet mushrooms, Oaxaca cheese and salsa ranchera, topped with delicate shreds of radish. It had a pleasant grainy texture, reminiscent of corn, potatoes and cottage cheese combined, and offset nicely by the crunchy radish on top.

My boyfriend’s favorite was the carnitas taco with pulled pork, black beans and pineapple salsa (think Taco Bell upgraded beyond recognition). The melt-in-your-mouth meat huddled in the taco shell in all of its juicy, dripping glory and paired perfectly with the mellow black beans. I had never tried a taco with sweet salsa before, but the miniature pineapple cubes proved delightfully refreshing and balanced out the flavors in a way that keeps you coming back for more.

The dishes were so heady that we kept staring at the waiters with hungry eyes as they sailed back and forth with trays of goodness that disappeared around the tables sooner than you can say “Huitzilopochtli”. Although at one point it seemed they would always go to the tables across and never make it all the way around the semi-circle to where we sat, our concern melted away like mixed cheese on flatbread. I am positive that not a single guest left hungry – or unstuffed, to be more precise.

I had been used to more variety at all-you-can-eat events, but it was definitely worth it as well, considering the affordable price of $22 and the superb taste and quality. As a special bonus, the restaurant had a happy hour during our visit, with $5 margaritas, $2 tequilas and discounted beers. All in all, this dinner gave me a memorable taste of Distrito which will probably draw me back for future visits.

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to go to that but it was sold out! If only I'd tried to sign up earlier



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