Tapas, Iron Chef-Style


Going to Philadelphia, there was only one place on my list that I knew I had to make sure to eat at. I saw a dish on The Best Thing I Ever Ate that I absolutely wanted to try, and I figured that the last night in town would be the perfect night to make it happen (plus, I spent a couple days talking others into going with me). The restaurant was Amada, and the dish was the whole suckling pig. Unfortunately, the story takes a little turn here. Once I’d rounded up enough people to order the suckling pig (the minimum is four diners) on Sunday afternoon, I called to make a Tuesday evening reservation and was told that my options were 6:45 or 9:15 in the bar, and I wouldn’t be able to get the pig because they needed to have three days advanced notice. I told the hostess I would call back after consulting with my colleagues. After a little deliberation, I decided to go ahead and make the reservation, figuring any restaurant by Iron Chef Jose Garces, would still be pretty darn good.

Amada, like many of the other restaurants I’ve been to in Philadelphia, is located in an area that feels a little run down. In fact, the building next door is abandoned, with broken glass and boarded up windows. Not what you would necessarily expect only two blocks away from Independence Mall and the Liberty Bell. The restaurant itself retained some of the charm of the older building that housed it, with the wood floors and brick walls. The bar was packed when we walked in, and had cured meats hanging from the ceiling as well as a meat slicer on the counter. Our table was right in the front, by one of the big picture windows looking out to the street. The whole place buzzed with an upbeat energy.

After ordering a round of drinks, we all started looking over the menu and the variety of items available. It only took us a few minutes to notice that everything looked good and interesting, and we were going to have a hard time picking things out. Fortunately, we soon realized we wouldn’t have to, as Amada offers a chef’s tapas menu at three price points. We opted for the $55 per person menu, and then got back to our conversation. Within five minutes, the first plate of food arrived. An hour and a half later, the final one left our table.

With the chef’s menu we were treated to a little of everything. It started with salads and cured meats followed by more of an appetizer course. About halfway through, our plates were cleared away and replaced while our drinks were refilled. Then, a variety of vegetables and entrée dishes were brought out. Finally, we ended the meal with some delicious desserts. At final count, we ended up with 16 different courses (including the desserts). We had lamb and scallops and shrimp, asparagus, fava beans, ice cream, and cake. Each dish was different than the previous, and all of them were delicious.

While we were a little disappointed that we were not able to try the suckling pig, we were in no way disappointed in the meal. The comments at the end of the night ranged from “The best tapas I’ve ever had!” to “The best meal I’ve had in quite some time.” I ended up buying chef Garces’ cookbook in the hopes that I could capture some of his flavors. It was without a doubt the perfect way to end a great conference for our team and what turned out being a great dining week for me. The food, the service, the environment; everything was top notch, and it was obvious why he's an Iron Chef.