Monday, January 2, 2012

Off the Map: A Half Pig a Day Keeps Jose Garces Away

Roast Suckling Pig (Cochinillo Asado) -- Amada, Philadelphia, PA

If Vodka excels at one ridiculous skill in life, it is the ability to meet "niche" celebrities.  Never one to be interested in the true A-listers, she tends to only come face-to-face with those that are very famous, but to a specific population of people

Want to meet Bernadette Peters, Regis Philbin, Nancy Kerrigan, Constantine Maroulis, Paula Deen, or Roger Bart?  Vodka will figure out a way, and she will do so without the threat of a restraining order.  Her methods have never failed her.

Until now.

As previously mentioned, Vodka's mother is nothing short of in love with Jose Garces.  A frequenter of his many Philadelphia restaurants, along with the one in Chicago, she has been known to say that she feels like she is "cheating" on Jose when she enjoys the culinary delights of, say, Marc Vetri.

Yet despite all of these hours and dollars spent at Jose's many institutions, their paths have never crossed.  Nevertheless, my mother, as soon as she walks in the front door of any Garces restaurant, accosts the waitstaff with "Is Jose Garces here tonight?!"  He never has been.

So Vodka, never finding a celebrity challenge she couldn't conquer, began her pursuit to get her mother a meeting with Jose Garces three whole months before the fateful December night when my family would be celebrating my mom's birthday at Amada.  Emailing the Garces Restaurant Group, I had explained the situation and said that we would show up at any restaurant if Jose were guaranteed to be there.

And no such guarantee should be made.

Instead, the Garces Restaurant Group (who were, it should be mentioned, quite pleasant in the face of my stalker-like pursuit) recommended that we make the dinner special by pre-ordering a roast suckling pig and a birthday cake.

It's not quite Jose Garces, but I suppose it will have to do.
Charlotte Web Lovers, Stop Reading Now
My Mother Was Still Hoping Jose Would Pop Out of This Cake
In the days leading up the dinner, I remind the staff of Amada of my mother's birthday wish, and they assure me that if Jose is present, he will come meet her.  But, once again, the insist that he will probably not be in town.

Never in my life have my groupie ambitions fallen so flat.

My parents and I arrive at Amada for the consolation prize pig dinner, which had to be ordered days in advance.
We Suppose It Takes That Long to Trim All the Hairs on Their Chinny-Chin-Chins
Still believing that her culinary crush, Jose, might appear before her at any moment, my mom orders a bottle of wine for my parents to share, while I stick to the aptly named "Broken Hugs" cocktail, featuring tequila, grapefruit, and agave.
Because That's Just What Jose's Absence is Providing: A Broken Hug
Despite the fact that we have a plethora of food heading our way, we have been to Amada enough times to our know favorite dishes, and we cannot bear leaving without having had the lamb chops and the costilla de ternera (Spanish flatbread with beef shortribs, horseradish, parmasan, bacon).
Plus, the Chef Sends Out This Appetizer, Which Tastes Like Upscale Tuna Fish
The lamb chops are, with no exaggeration, the stuff I dream about at night, and I am not usually one to be taken by on-the-bone hunks of meat.
Lamb Chops Which Thankfully Do Not Sing "This Is the Song That Never Ends"
Thick, succulent, and just fatty enough on the inside, the meat features a crisp, slightly spicy and very salty outer layer, and it is truly so delectable that each member of my family can be found sucking on the bone like a certifiable caveman once the lamb meat itself has disappeared.
Apt to Cause Fred Flintstone Dining Habits
The shortrib flatbread is just about my parents' favorite dish of all time, and it is easy to see why when it features bread, beef, cheese, and bacon stacked on top of one another.
Well, "Flat"-Bread May Be an Exaggeration
Savory with just a hint of sweetness from the shortribs themselves, this flatbread always proves to be the best among a choice of four almost-as-delicious varieties.
We'll Take Eight More to Go, Please
And then comes the "I'm sorry Jose Garces refuses to meet you" dish, the half suckling pig, which is presented tableside with its very own Garces sous chef carver.
If the Sous Chef Had Only Worn a Garces Mask, We Think We Could Have Fooled Her
When Adam Gertler spoke of the pig on The Best Thing I Ever Ate's MEAT-FEST episode, he mentioned just how grand a feast the dish is, but at the time, I didn't realize that it came with its very own built-in side dishes.
Because Clearly, THIS Won't Be Enough for Three People to Eat...
Indeed, as the pork gets taken apart piece by piece, five additional items appear on the table before us.  The most recognizable among them is the herb-roasted fingerling potatoes, a dish of garlicky starch that compliments perfectly the meat that is about to hit our palates.
You Say Potato, We Say Delicious
Along with the potatoes, there are three versions of bean dishes: garbanzos with espinacas, rosemary white beans, and warm fava and lima bean salad.  The garbanzos and white beans, while both enjoyable, taste almost interchangeable to us.
And I Am Posting Them in Succession Because I Don't Know Which is Which
There Are Just So Many "White Beans" to Choose From
The fava and lime bean salad, however, is a revelation: not usually one for pea-like large beans, these are cooked to such perfection that they outshine the other side dishes by far.
"I Let Him Go, I Didn't Know He'd Stolen My Beans!"
The grilled green onions, which come with a side of hummus-like spread, are a tad stringy for my tastes - onions by way of dental floss - but in this hearty meal, one misstep can be forgiven.
Unlike Buddakan, Amada Serves a Plethora of Scallions
Moving onto the pig itself, it is just about the best pork any of us have ever had.  Managing to be moist and flavorful in each and every piece, it is especially impressive considering that it was cooked whole, so the spices have managed to permeate down into the center of the animal.
This Little Piggy Went to Amada
The skin is sodium-rich and tough - a jerky version of the best crispy bacon - but it is the meat of the pig which really shines here.
The Pig Should've Used Better Moisturizer
Stuffed full like the pig itself by the time the red velvet birthday cake arrives, we shovel the slices into our mouths with less gusto, due more to the sense of imminent explosion than to the taste (though I admittedly find all fondant to taste like plastic pastry, though my mother swears Amada's version is one of the best).
Red Velvet Meets Mood-Lighting
In truth, the roast suckling pig is not my favorite thing I've ever had from the Amada menu, or even in the Top 10.  So considering how scrumptious it is, this goes to show just how scrumptious the rest of the menu items are.
For Instance, This Would Be Number One on the List
Though of course, I'm sure all of the dishes would taste more delicious in the presence of the seemingly enigmatic Jose Garces.  Which is why my mother will never stop flocking to his restaurants until she comes face-to-face with her chosen culinary mastermind.

I just hope when the time comes, she's not the one to break our family's lack-of-restraining-order streak.
Because A Lifelong Ban from Amada Would Be Nothing Short of Disastrous
 Amada's Roast Suckling Pig: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

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