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After bringing Spain's distinct flavors to Philadelphia with his genius restaurants Amada and Tinto, superhot young chef Jose Garces has decided to take on the food of Mexico. Back in February, Garces called me raving about the taquerias, tequilas and nightlife in Mexico City. He hade been there researching his new restaurant, Distrito, which opens this Monday. Here, he gives some cheeky hints at what we can expect:
I received a fluorescent green lucha libra wrestling mask in the mail as a preview to Distrito. Is that a hint that we can expect live lucha libre fighting?
"One of the walls in the restaurant is made from more than 650 masks that we got from Mexico. It is really striking and sets a fun, lively tone for the restaurant. As for the actual fighting, I can’t make any guarantees, but never say never."
Why did you choose the name Distrito?
"Mexico City is known in Mexico as the Distrito Federal, or capital district. Since so much of our inspiration came from the vibrant culture of that city, the name is an homage."
Is there a signature dish you'll be making? Any personal favorite on the menu?
"My favorite dishes include esquites—sweet corn, queso fresco, chipotle and lime; atun ceviche— big eye tuna with serrano-coconut sauce and a tecate lime sorbet; and the hamachi “estilo OG”— tacos with yellowtail, chipotle remoulade, avocado, red cabbage and lime."
Do you think Distrito will change the way we think about Mexican cuisine in the U.S.?
"Yes, on several different levels. We’re taking real traditional Mexican cuisine and sticking to those traditions. We’re keeping it fresh and light. We’re not Americanizing the food in terms of flavors or portions."
Will California's Mexican-food snobs feel satisfied here?
"Yes, I have fish tacos for them! I’ll put our menu up against any Mexican kitchen in California."
Mexico is known for its excellent tequilas. How many will you be serving?
"We have more than 60 varieties of tequila, which we’ll be serving in a variety of ways including flights and, of course, fresh house-made margaritas with juices we’ll squeeze daily."
Will you have any Mexican wines?
"Yes, as of now we have one on the list. It’s a red blend, a 2005 meritage from Jubileo in Guadalupe, Mexico. But we will be adding more."
I hear that there may be a secret karaoke room; can you comment? If you had to sing karaoke, what is your song of choice?
"Now that is still a rumor, but let’s just say that if there is a secret karaoke room, you’ll find me singing 'The Wheel' by the Grateful Dead."