Friday, January 27, 2012

Bloggers' Bites: Garces Trading Company

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appetit's blog staff. This past Thursday, we held our first meeting of the semester at Garces Trading Company at 12th and Locust.

Nicole Woon: Not only did I share great conversations with fellow Penn Appetit bloggers, I also shared my meal! For the entrees, I split the Lyonnaise Duck Salad (duck confit, poached egg, bacon lardons, mustard vinaigrette) and the Pan Roasted Scallops (bagna càuda, radish) with one blogger. The duck, which acted as the base for the salad, was warm (a pleasant surprise) and incredibly tender: GTC does their confit well. I'm not a huge fan of endive, but the mesclun-based salad allowed for a nice variety of leaves. Including the egg also added a nice roundness to the dish The scallops, which came three to a plate, were plump and tender. My only disappointment was the grit that texturally appeared in a couple bites of scallop. The radishes didn't strike me as anything particular exciting, but the entire dish was well-accented by the fragrant, garlicky bagna càuda (a warm oil dip typical of Piedmont, Italy) that spanned the bottom of the plate. If we had any sourdough bread left over, I certainly would have sopped up the remaining oil!

For dessert, another blogger and I shared the Choux Crème (honey diplomat cream, pecan nougat, crème chantilly) and the Chocolat (valrhona chocolate mousse, chocolate-covered pretzels, peanut butter center). The two desserts are drastically different in terms of texture and taste, so it was impossible to compare them. The irresistibly flaky Choux was made of the same type of light dough as you might find in a napoleon. The cream, although fluffy and generously swirled atop, didn't pack as much flavor as I would have hoped. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the rich Chocolat acted as a nice balance to the Choux. While the dome was filled with airy mousse, it still seemed dense to me due to the chocolatey richness (which isn't necessarily a bad thing!). I also expected the pretzels to add a crunch, but they must have become soggy due to the other ingredients' presence; if GTC could have figured out a way to keep the pretzels' naturally crisp texture, I would have preferred that.

I've dined at GTC before and this particular evening was just as pleasant as my previous experiences. Service is attentive, but not overly so; bread is replaced without a question and water constantly refilled. I was excited to try new dishes on this visit, but if you're considering dining here, I highly recommend the Funghi Pizza (duck fat-based dough with maitakes, royal trumpets, taleggio cheese, and black truffles) and the seasonal verrine for dessert (pudding parfait; their Winter Verrine with caramel and pumpkin was excellent). In any case, I still plan to be a repeat customer at GTC!

Elliott Brooks: I was the other splitee of the pan roasted scallops and the Lyonnaise duck salad. The scallops were deliciously tender and juicy. The garlicy herbed oil they were served on top of would not have been my first pick of what to serve scallops with, and yet they blended together harmoniously. The radishes on top of the scallop were quite a surprise: not crunchy but soft, with not hint of hotness. They almost seemed like little sea creatures themselves.

By the time I got around to the Lyonnaise duck salad, I was in seafood heaven and engaged in conversation so I wasn't paying as much attention to what I was eating as I should have. The duck was warm and delicious, and practically melted in my mouth, while the greens on top were crisp and fresh and added a nice hint of bitterness. Needless to say I gobbled it down.

On to dessert. I got the flourless chocolate "bouchon". It's not on the menu, but our server suggested it to me, telling me it would be a perfect gluten-free treat to satisfy my chocolate craving. And it was! Despite being quite small it was incredibly rich, so I got just the right amount of decadence without being overwhelmed. Furthermore, it was only $2, making it a nicely affordable alternative to the other $7 desserts.

Liz Elder: When I was a child, I walked into a Whataburger with a monstrous appetite. I boldly tottered up to the counter with my stretch pants and kitten-print shirt and demanded a triple-burger with cheese. I was that hungry. When my tiny hands could not pick up the whole burger, I knew I made the right choice. I voraciously ripped into the burger; three seconds later, I collapsed like a house of cards. My idea of my hunger greatly outweighed my actual hunger.

I have grown up quite a bit since then – I wear leggings now and cat-print shirts. However, my demon appetite has remained as active as ever. So when our bloggers went to Garces Trading Company, I was starving. Scanning the menu, I looked for doubles and triples, but realized that I am classier than that. I spotted the Pappardelle Lamb Ragu and snapped it up. The verb pappare means to gobble up, so I knew that I had made the right choice. The pasta dish was delicious. The broad noodles were tender and the lamb ragu provided a salty complement to the sauce. There were even peas, which were quite the colorful addition and provided a buffer against the ragu. For dessert, I ordered the Choux Crème. It was a temple of flaky pastry and fluffy almond cream. While it was quite difficult to eat, it complemented the heaviness of the pasta dish.

Overall, Garces Trading Company satiated my hunger, and let me stay as classy as ever with a selection of elegant and delicious entrées and cheeses.

Laura Sluyter: Even beyond the fact that it was warm and I was freezing, walking into Garces Trading Company felt good. The restaurant décor is a cross between rustic and modern with an ambiance that combines comfort and understated sophistication. I did not feel out of place in a group of college students, but I was also confident that we would be treated to an extraordinary meal. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and Garces Trading Company hit it perfectly.

Even more importantly, however, the food exceeded my high expectations. We began with sourdough bread, brought to the table in miniature crates that kept perfectly with the décor. As the waiter swirled olive oil into little dishes on the table, he explained that it was special oil from Spain. I’m far from an olive oil expert, but it did seem to make a difference. The olive oil and bread was a promising start.

For the main course, I finally settled on pappardelle with lamb ragù. Topped off with peas, piave vecchio cheese, and sunchoke purée, it was heavenly. The meat was tender, and the sauce was creamy, flavorful, and applied just delicately enough not to mask the taste of the pasta. The pappardelle, clearly homemade, held its own among its delicious counterparts. I have a soft spot for pasta dishes of this sort, and this is one of the best I’ve had.

Next, it was time for dessert, and as the case of desserts was within sight (one side of the restaurant plays home to an impressive cheese case and an equally impressive dessert display) at our waiter’s encouragement, we all left the table to goggle over the beautiful choices. Picking a dessert was another taxing decision, but I gave into my love of chocolate and peanut butter and selected the Chocolat. A dome of Valhrona chocolate mousse, it had a creamy peanut butter center and a bottom crust that contained bits of chocolate-covered pretzels. While it was perhaps less uniquely exceptional than the pappardelle, I enjoyed it immensely. Despite all the delicious restaurants in Philadelphia that I have yet to explore, I’m sure I’ll be back to Garces Trading Company.

Leyla Mocan: What I ate:

Goat Bolognese: The pasta came in a delicious sauce with ground up goat. It was my first time eating goat, but it tasted like I could have been eating lamb. The best part of the pasta was a little bit of sauce made from horseradish at the bottom of the plate, it added a slightly different taste and made the dish more interesting. Overall the flavor was great, but the portions were a bit small considering the price.

Chocolat: This was a pretzel crust with a bit of peanut butter mousse surrounded by chocolate mouse and then covered in chocolate. The crust at the bottom was a bit soft and I wouldn't have known that it was pretzel except that I was told. The mousses were really light and delicious, I was impressed by the flavor of the peanut butter mousse. Each bite was light but after a whole pastry you get a full sugar fix, good if you're really craving a substantial dessert.

Brittney Joyce: Our meal started with delicious sourdough bread. The thin slices were served with olive oil for dipping (probably one of the olive oils that they were selling but I didn't catch which one). Our waiter also brought a small container of salt with a serving spoon along with the bread, so I assumed that we were supposed to sprinkle some salt on our bread with the olive oil. Although this may not be what we were supposed to do, it certainly tasted good!

For my entree, I ordered the goat bolognese. I had never eaten goat before, but the waiter told me that it was his favorite pasta on the menu so I trusted in his advice. I was not disappointed. The goat bolognese sauce was a satisfying combination of saltiness, meaty texture and sweet tomatoes. The pasta with sauce was garnished with shaved pantaleo and something that looked like clover, and the textures of these components contrasted nicely with the rest of the dish. The pasta rested on top of a horseradish fonduta that was very mild and helped add a little bit of extra creaminess to the goat bolognese. The only thing that I was sad about was that there wasn't more of it on my plate!

I ended my meal with the choux creme. Large layers of puff pastry were filled with a honey cream, topped with pecan nougat, and covered in large amounts of creme chantilly. The top of the pastry was garnished with a square of chocolate and two "mini-choux cremes" attached to the side. The pastry was extremely rich and buttery, so much so that I had difficulty finishing the whole thing. The only part that I did not really like was the pecan nougat, but that's probably because I don't like pecans much to begin with. The rest was delicious and my only recommendation would be to split this with a friend if you have a low tolerance for buttery overload or are already feeling pretty sated by dinner.

Jessica Chung: Having just studied abroad in France, where I used to eat cheese with my host family almost every night at dinner, I was experiencing some French cheese withdrawal. Now the cheese in France is different from the cheese in the US. It is much richer in flavor. So, because there were several French dishes on the menu at Garces Trading Company, I figured that their French cheeses would be pretty authentic. I chose the Tomme Crayeuse, hoping it would be like the Tomme I had in France, with a side of cherry fig marmalade to add some sweetness to the
pungent cheese. The presentation was beautiful. The yellow wedge was placed on a black plank with a little white dish of the red marmalade. The flavor was robust. It had a deep earthy flavor and a firm texture. The cherry marmalade was the perfect complement. It was very sweet and you could taste tiny pieces of cherry skin. The sourdough bread was a little hard though for my liking. Overall, the cheese was comparable to the one in France, but still not as good.

For dessert, there was an overwhelming selection. Displayed in a glass case, we got to see them, as well as read the descriptions. I ended up splitting two desserts with another blogger, unable to pick just one. We shared the Choux Crème and the Chocolat. The Choux Crème was a flaky pastry filled with pecan nougat, topped with honey diplomat cream and homemade whipped cream. I thought it was good, but not to die for. The pecan nougat had a bit of a kick, as if it had some liquor in it. And with so much cream on top, I thought it became a little too sweet by the end. For me, that is rare, as I have a ridiculously sweet tooth: almost nothing is too sweet for me. The Chocolat was a chocolate mousse with a peanut butter mousse center on top of a chocolate covered pretzel crust, all covered with a chocolate glaze. I thought this dessert was also good but not to die for. I felt that instead of a full crust, there were just pieces of chocolate covered pretzels here and there. I would have liked more of the pretzels because the crunchiness nicely complemented the smoothness of the mousse and the slightly salty taste of the pretzels nicely complemented the rich sweetness of the mousses. Both desserts were very different from one another, so I didn’t favor one over the other.

Overall, it was a good experience at Garces Trading Company. The décor was cute and our server was very nice. My food was pretty good, but not the very best. I actually think that it’s a little expensive for the amount you get. So I wouldn’t rush back, but I wouldn’t rule it off my list either.

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