Since moving to Philadelphia, it isn't often that I get to spend quality time with my best girlfriends from New Orleans, but recently I was honored to have a visit from two of them. One I have known since I was in kindergarten, and the other since our carefree days at Ursuline Academy in New Orleans. Not to brag on my friends but I must say that these two ladies are by far two of the most classy, intelligent, cultured, beautiful, and fun ladies that I know. I knew I needed to come up with a fun itinerary while they were visiting. The itinerary was ambitious with a day of shopping, a driving tour of the old city, a visit to the Art Museum and the new Comcast Center, a cheese steak lunch, happy hour at my place, and a dinner at Amada. We didn't accomplish everything on the itinerary except when it came to food and wine-we were quite successful. Tired or not from our all day shopping spree, we made sure to be in the cab on time to make it to Amada early for pre-dinner cocktails.
Amada, an authentic Spanish tapas restaurant, located in the heart of Old City Philadelphia, run by Chef Jose Garces (also known as "The Latin Emeril"), was our restaurant of choice. Chef Jose Garces, a young successful chef specializing in Latin cuisine, has made a name for himself through his restaurant group, Garces Restaurant Group, which includes 4 restaurants. Amada was his first restaurant, opening in 2005, followed by Distrito, Chifo and Tinto, all in Philadelphia. Garces also operates Village Whiskey in Philadelphia and Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago. Along with his restaurants, Garces has written his first cookbook, "Latin Evolution", and he will debut on Next Iron Chef on the Food Network as a finalist in this season beginning Sunday, October 4th.
With Amada's rave reviews, my friends and I were thrilled to give it a go. We went on a Sunday night, which still gave us a nice crowd in the restaurant but not overwhelming. The bar however was slow when we arrived giving us the bartender's full attention-fine by us! My friend Genny and I ordered a Ketel One Dirty Martini because we adore them. Ashley went right for a glass of Tempranillo, a full bodied Spanish red wine. While we sampled our cocktails and wine, the bartender went over the menu with us, and ultimately persuaded us into ordering the Chef's Selection tasting menu.
When seated at our table, we immediately ordered a bottle of the Tempranillo wine, and let the waiter know that we wanted the Chef's Selection. The waiter asked if we had any dietary restrictions, and any particular likes and dislikes when it came to the menu. With no dietary restrictions and only a couple of requests, our order was simple.
Our feast began with the Mixto of Cheeses, a mix of 3 cheeses including Manchego of the La Mancha region of Spain, Garrotxa cheese of the Catalonia region of Spain, and a creamy cow's milk Spanish Cadi Urgelia. Each cheese was supplemented with a dipping sauce, and the mixto was served with fresh bread rounds and green apple slices. The Manchego served with truffled lavender honey was by far my favorite. Then we were served the most unexpectedly delicious item of the night for me, the Sardinas Carudas-house cured sardines with pine nuts and olives. I consider myself to be an adventurous eater, however, I had never tried a sardine until that night. The sardines were tender, and each bite was perfectly tangy and salty with undertones of the sea. The pine nuts offered a mild crunch while the green olives added to the divine saltiness of the dish.
The Ensalada Verde came next. A simple yet delicious salad of greens, fava beans, asparagus, avocado, and green beans. Each ingredient gave a different texture and slightly different flavor all working in harmony with one another.
Next was Amada's own Empanada with a filling of spinach, manchego and artichoke, the perfect comfort food to follow the lightness of the salad. Then came the Tomates Frescos Y A Jo, a flat bread covered with heirloom tomatoes, baby greens and majon, a cow's milk Spanish cheese. This course was completed with Piquillos Rellenos, mini peppers stuffed with crab meat and Spanish cheese topped with buttery sliced almonds served sizzling hot on a mini cast iron plate.
The next course was a selection from the grill, which included a succulent lamb chop, skewered scallops in a light pesto, and seasonal mushrooms in a sinfully tasty truffle sauce. The grand finale boasted the Pernil Asada, roasted pork with white beans, arugula and oranges and a fragrant white bean and red onion salad.
With tapas in general and specifically with the dishes we sampled from the grill, Chef Garces allows the taster to truly appreciate the ingredient for exactly what it is. The plate of mushrooms had no frills but was elegant standing alone and proud on the dish, and might have been my favorite dish of the evening.
We completed our meal full and satisfied, and referred to our night as an "eating marathon". If we hadn't ordered the Chef's Selection, then we may have never tasted some of these items, certainly not the sardines. What a great way to try foods that we may never think to order for ourselves. When I treat myself to a night out at a great restaurant, I would much rather partake in a cuisine like Spanish tapas, where I can try small amounts of many amazing dishes instead of just one great dish.
If your travels ever bring you to Philadelphia or if you are a local, I highly suggest enjoying the fine cuisine at Amada. If you can't make it to Amada, then please try a local tapas restaurant in your city. It will broaden your palate's horizons and give you an excuse to drink plenty of wine or sangria!
Check out Chef Jose Garces on Next Iron Chef on the Food Network starting Sunday, October 4th at 9pm/8c.