After years running successful restaurants in places like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, chef Jose Garces now brings his brand to New York City, a move celebrated by gourmands all over the city. The culinary artist took the Philadelphia dining scene by storm in 2005 when he opened Amada, his first restaurant. Now, with more than a dozen eateries, a 40-acre farm and his first Five-Star honor under his belt (for the excellent Volvér Restaurant in Philadelphia), the Ecuadorian-American chef has decided NYC is the place to be.
Enter, Amada Brookfield Place, a fine-dining venue focusing on cuisine from the Andalusian territory of Spain. Some of the bites served here at dinner include a Serrano ham and fig salad; roasted cauliflower with pickled mustard seeds; and Catalan garlic sausage. For lunch, an elevated version of a cheesesteak features shaved rib eye, wild mushrooms, Mahón fondue and caramelized onions.
He also brought along a little sister project, Amadita, a grab-and-go café attached to the main restaurant.
Though this is his first location in the Big Apple, he knows the city well. After all, he got his start in New York City kitchens before moving to Philadelphia to work with his mentor, chef Douglas Rodriguez. We talked with Garces to find out why he decided to make the move and why you should make reservations to Amada tonight.
After so many years in Philadelphia and Chicago, why did you decide to finally bring one of your restaurants to NYC?
I always knew one day I would be ready to come back to New York, where I started out early in my career. There’s no city quite like New York, and it’s truly exciting to bring Amada here.
What made you decide to open up the restaurant in the Financial District?
I had been waiting for the right moment for a while, and it felt like being a part of the evolution of this neighborhood was an exciting place to be. There’s an influx of amazing, new establishments and services coming to downtown Manhattan. Life in this part of the city is evolving very quickly, and we’re in the white-hot center of that activity.
Aside from name and location, what makes Amada stand out in your portfolio of eateries?
Amada is a fun, lively place that tends to become a fast favorite with people. The style of Andalusian tapas is very convivial, making it great for groups and celebrations.
Why Andalusian food?
After graduating from culinary school, I went directly to Spain and spent six months working at the celebrated restaurant Costa del Sol, where I was introduced to the ingredients and techniques central to the cuisine of the southern region. I took inspiration for Amada from classic Andalusian dishes that celebrate the flavors, techniques and fresh ingredients of even the humblest of staples like squid or hake.
The regional cuisine fascinates me. It’s sharply distinct by virtue of geographical and cultural complexity, deeply steeped in tradition, and here, and there, on the cutting edge of innovation.
What about the NYC version of Amada channels your grandmother?
Amada was the first restaurant I opened when I struck out on my own. Naming it for her, in a way, gave me confidence to make that big step, to be bold and to trust [that] what I knew and loved to cook would take me far. Opening [in] New York is a new beginning, so it felt right to go back to that core and reimagine what Amada could be for this city.
How is it like the original Amada in Philly?
There are a lot of classics that we brought from Philly that anchor the menu, as well as new interpretations and fresh ideas we have brought to the table. What has stayed consistent is really top-notch ingredients, traditional flavors and preparations of authentic tapas like gambas al ajillo [garlic shrimp], boquerones [white anchovies with pine nuts and olives] and croquetas [breaded and fried ham balls with romesco].
How does the dining scene in Philly compare to the one in NYC?
They are both incredibly dynamic and rich. I’m continually amazed with how New York reinvents itself over and over again, just packed with terrific options and flavors from all over the world.
Do you have hopes to expand further in NYC?
Yes, it is such a great city to be a part of.
Are there any other cities on your radar?
We’re growing in D.C., bringing Village Whiskey to the Shaw neighborhood in a really fantastic little spot called Blagden Alley.
You must have some favorite places to eat and drink in NYC.
So tough to pick. In the summer, it’s hard to beat having drinks and eating oysters on a boat at Grand Banks. The guys at Contra have such a fresh take on how to present a tasting menu. For late-night cocktails and a great vibe downtown, the Dead Rabbit is a must-visit.