JG Domestic

Cira Center: Ground Floor
2929 Arch Street (abutting 30th Street Station)
(215) 222-2363

Rhubarbs and Ramps and Rolls, Oh My! 

If 30th Street Station had a Yellow Brick Road, it would start at its Travelers’ Aid Booth, and track directly back to Kansas via JG Domestic, José Garces’ eponymously initialed rustic restaurant.  The clattering, cloistered eating space, topped by a bustling office building, is intended to bring the freshest foodstuffs from the Oz and Ends of our regional gardens and farms, and to transport equally fine produce from those areas whose bounty is the choicest and authentically USA domestic. 

The flickering emerald green lights (often changing to other colors) adorning the Cira Center’s 29 floor façade enlightens its ground floor décor, down scary-high escalators, toward a mid-western motif.  Century old cans, bottles and jugs are lined scattered upon pine paneling, plants and trees, as if this dining establishment were the 1955 set for WCAU’s “Action In The Afternoon.”   It’s conceivable that Mr. Garces, after having opened six other superb restaurants in Philadelphia, and after having been awarded the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” prize, has decided to write a “Deere, John” letter to Philadelphians.

Chef Garces has likewise put his money where his mouth is by purchasing a farm in Ottsville, Bucks County so that he may plant the north forty to supply pleiades of ingredients for his own JG Domestic tastings.

The Menu here is divided into sections labeled: “Snacks,” “Cold Plates,” “Warm Plates,” “Vegetables,” “Meat & Fish” and finally, ultra-fresh- just-in “*Tonight*”.  You must, I insist, begin with the addictive Iowa Organic Popcorn ($5).   Its crisp cheddar-cheese jaggedness is pulverized by a horseradish kick that takes your breath away and back, through orifices in your face that clear instantly in hopes of another crunchy mouthful.  You innocently observe that you’re hand is palming popped kernels in geometrically bountiful numbers, and that your cheeks are burstingly expansive.   You then notice the arrival of plump browned rolls, served gratis, still in their oven pan, at the side of which is also proffered a creamery soft butter pad.  The bread has bumps like a Challah, with insides that ooze with the smell of baked dough.  Your mouth craves the pillowy softness to counter the harsher cheddar-radish gnashing.  Butter the sweet bulbous roll and lunge your lips around it.  Serenity pervades all senses.    

Chef José Garces has determined that lighter, quicker and more versatile small plates are the present and the future. So, portions are smaller than usual and meant to be shared. There’s some intricate math and measuring involved as you try to divide each plattered presentation by the number of people at the table (everyone with his or her own plate). Rule of thumb is to cut a serving into four portions no matter what its size, and to order enough different servings (or doubling one or two) to fill all bellies and tastes. Somehow it works, and you can always add more choices as the meal progresses.  There is a “Chef’s Tasting” at $65 per person (served only if chosen by all at the table), which will turn out to be a bargain, and as fulfilling as your satiated menu-imagination can meander.

Vegetables never to be missed are Grilled Ramps ($12) and Charred Fiddlehead Ferns ($14).  You must seize the season for the aforementioned to be at prime.  The former are served on a long oblong white platter, where the greens are nuzzled at the top, seemingly spewing soft almonds from its loins.  California olive oil pervades the long scallion-like ramps dissolving any oniony bitterness into flavorful bliss.  The almonds are earthy and sweet, melting upon your tongue’s nudging and nestling.  Edging toward the side are four puddles of pesto-like globules staring at the concoction from a short distance, wondering whether they will be exiting on this ramp.

The charred fiddlehead ferns are as sprite and blackened as crackling concentric circles of dark greenery. Chilled fava beans, clinging to their shells, are shpritzed with Meyer lemon, so that warmth and coolness collide. There’s nothing more virginal and verdant. It’s a challenge not to groan. Moreover, I simply won’t mention the cute Baby Artichokes ($15) except to say that they are surrounded by potato dumplings, black truffle and smoked ricotta. I rest my case of vegetables. 

Your own personal plates, at about this time in the meal, are cleared promptly and courteously, but only after each set of platter-servings have been devoured. Fresh new silverware is brought at every turn by a wait staff whose knowledge and courtesy is unsurpassed. 

If you still have room, try the Pennsylvania Peking Duck ($25) whose ribs and cross-hatched breasts are seared to a mahogany glow, and taste as if smoked with pears and apples. Braised endive angles over the duck’s fatless drippings and chunks of foie gras.  Or delve into caught-this-morning- in- the-wilds-of-Alaska Halibut ($28) whose thick, pearly, succulent texture will be remembered in your dreams.

There’s no better pairing of desserts than sharing Beignets in bourbon sauce, and scarlet Rhubarb Parfait.  You won’t believe what I could say about mingling these two, so I’ll simply conclude: Utopian JG Domesticity.

Copyright 2011 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back