Jose Garces opens his second restaurant at Atlantic City’s Revel tonight. It’s a stunning recreation of his Amada, but unlike the temple of tapas in Old City, Philadelphia that launched his career on its skyward trajectory, the Revel version offers sweeping views of Atlantic City’s beach and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also the sixth restaurant he’s opened since last fall, which means it’s been months since he was home for more than a day at a time. Now with word that he’s booked a place at the Jersey Shore for the summer to ensure that he gets to spend time with his family while simultaneously making certain that the latest additions to his portfolio sail on an even keel for their maiden voyages, it’s going to be a while before he comes back. On the eve of Amada’s debut, Grub caught up with Garces for a quick chat. Keep reading to see what he had to say.
Seems like you’ve been keeping yourself busy since we last caught up with you.
It’s not how I planned it, honestly. It just so happened that everything fell into place like this. Palm Springs was something that came up pretty last minute. The ownership was pushing to get it open before their season started and they got it done.
This (Amada at Revel) we anticipated having Memorial Day, maybe even June, but agian, they ramped up construction and so it all hit at once.
Do you worry about being stretched too thin?
Not really. We’re in a really good spot now as an organization as far as our ability to manage everything. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have Amada opening up today, and Village Whiskey will open a week from today.
What happens after that?
Then we’re going to take a little break, refresh and regroup, and get back to Philly and make sure everything’s copacetic there. We have a lot of confidence in the teams there — you know the managers and chefs.
Speaking of getting back to Philly, what’s up with Frohmans Wursthaus?
It’s supposed to happen in the summer. But with all this other stuff happening, I kind of put it on hold to make sure everything else goes off well.
How about the newly announced project at the Kimmel Center?
I’ll be totally honest with you, the concept’s totally up for grabs at this point. We just have been going through with some designs, and kind of feeling it out. It’s going to be very artful, pretty modern, and I’m really excited about it. It feels like it should have a pretty modern approach to food.
Are you talking, like, a Grant Achatz sort of modern?
Kind of in that vein, but maybe not so much.
What else can you tell us about it?
I know for certain, I’m devoting one area just for me to cook. It will be almost like performances. I’ll see what’s open in my calendar and book it when I’m available, and I’ll do my own contemporary cuisine based on what’s available and how I’m felling. It’s a way for me to expand my boundaries.
What is the difference between opening Amada in Old City, Philadelphia in 2005 and opening Amada at Revel in 2012?
The biggest difference is, when you look out the windows of Amada in Old City, you see the U.S. Customs House across Chestnut Street. Here, you’re looking out over the ocean. I would say that’s the biggest difference. This restaurant is like Amada grew up, went to college and won the lottery.
Really, that’s it?
Well, I was literally lacquering barrels at the last minute before we opened the doors on Amada back in 2005. Here, with so much support from my team and Revel, it’s been quite a bit different, and still very special at the same time.
How similar are the menus at these restaurants to the originals in Philly?
They’re similar, but I’ve tweaked them a little. For instance at Amada we’ve added a pretty big selection steaks and chops to the a la plancha section. We’ve got two cuts of Waygu, two prime cuts of beef, a really great Iberico Secreto steak; all things you won’t find at Amada in Philly.
How about the whole suckling pig?
Yeah, we’ve figured out a way to offer the suckling pig for parties of four without having to call in advance. You can just come in and we’ll have it ready for you.
How about over at Village Whiskey?
I always wanted to have a raw bar feature for Village Whiskey, but we’re so limited by the space in Philly. I mean, we’re in a townhouse with a basement kitchen. Here? I’ve got my raw bar. It’s its own section that will have lobsters seasonal crab, Marvesta prawns, and great oysters. I’m a huge raw guy; it’s what I gravitate towards these days.
Distrito and Guapos Tacos is kind of a merger of the two concepts. So, you have the great Margarita program from Distrito at the Cantina — you know, it’s a bar with an emphasis on Margaritas and tequilas. And then, it’s as if Guapos pulled up into it, and set up shop with really great tacos. I have some of my favorites on there. Plus, I added a goat taco. We’re making really good tamales too. The tongue taco is available and I added what we’re calling the JG Suprema. It’s a taco with all my favorite things — skirt steak, refrieds, avocado, crema and salsa roja. Just like how I’d eat my beef taco at home.
How do you feel about Marc Forgione being right here next to you? You know, like two Iron Chefs under the same roof?
I think it’s great. I mean, it it’s going to attract a lot of people. There are a lot of great operators here, like Robert Wiedmaier, Michel Richard, Alain Allegretti, the LDV guys. When you bring that much talent into one place, it’s only going to create more of buzz and satisfy the customer more. I think it’s a pretty good mix.