pretty recently, emily and i got all gussied up and headed over to jose garces' distrito, in university city. for some reason, i've always had a secret little flame of curiosity for this restaurant. i know of garces' other restaurants, tinto and amada, and neither ever really piqued my interest like distrito did. and let's be honest, i've never actually been to a tapas restaurant before, despite my many discussions of "how great tapas are", and that didn't help keep the curiosity fire at a low burn either.

a friend from work mentioned their 5 course tasting menu for $55 (i was more interested in the 3 courses for $35 myself) and i thought, "hey, that's not as insanely outrageously expensive as i thought it would be!" and then i got some birthday money from my dad, specifically to be used for taking myself and emily out to dinner (does my family know what i like or what?) and then it all just came together. i decided to call distrito to inquire if they wouldn't possibly mind whipping up a little something special for us, instead of just making us ask for 'no queso' and still pay the $10 price tag for a bowl of guac? the hostess/receptionist was waaaaaaay nice and accommodating and after a short while, our reservation was set for tuesday at 8 and a vegan tasting menu would await. we had no idea what we were in for.

(see this menu? we didn't need it, they brought us everything all special-like.)

the first thing i should point out is that the decor of this place is OOC (out of control). gold, bright pink, neon green, yellow, etc. our table top was gold glitter and the menu was white and hot pink. my eyes hurt a little bit, but my tummy was excited and that emotion outweighed all others. our waiter came over to take our order, at which point i mentioned the "call ahead" we had done and he promptly responded "ah yes, the chef has something special prepared for you all". WOOOO! we ordered margaritas (emily, the watermelon, i, the mango) and they were......the best margaritas i ever had. after looking at the menu just for fun, our first course came out.

course #1: traditional guacamole with homemade tortilla chips, smoked salsa roja and salsa verde and a chopped mixed salad with tortilla strips on top. firstly, the salsa verde literally tasted green. i don't know what was in it, but if green is an ingredient with a taste, it was in here. (this is a good thing, people). secondly, we all know how much i love avocados (remember?) and this was THE BEST guacamole i've ever had. hands down. it was so creamy it felt like my tongue was getting a massage. oh and it tasted good, too. the salad had a cumin-lime vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes, romaine lettuce, walnuts, orange segments and a lot of other things that tasted awesome. first course RULED!

the bowls were real fancy too!

course #2: this is where things took a turn for the.....BETTER. because that is when they delivered this baby to our table:

that beautiful vibrant (well, in real life at least) baby is called a "huarache" which is, according to wikipedia "a popular Mexican dish consisting of an oblong, fried masa base, with a variety of toppings. The name "Huarache" is derived from the shape of the masa, similar to the popular sandals of the same name." ok, laymen, it's a grilled flatbread pizza thing but ours had vegetable toppings and no cheese and no meat. what it did have was a cilantro-yucca puree topped with cherry tomatoes, jicama, radish and micro-cilantro. yes, that means tiny little microgreens of cilantro, before they are full grown sprigs. adorable and delicious. this was emily's favorite dish of the night. it was clean and pure with bold fresh flavors that really mingled nicely with the smokey crunchiness of the flatbread. alongside this spotlight stealer was a melon salad with three different kinds of melons, cucumber, yucca, pepitas, and a lime dressing with a dollop of lime sorbetto on top. this was really delicious and fresh, a palate cleanser of sorts but with no real cleansing properties, as it had some crazy awesome taste profiles going on, as well as the juicy ripe melon versus the salty pepita texture battle that won over my taste buds in a second flat. the real beauty of this dish was the uniformity of the diced ingredients. emily and i honestly marveled at the chef's precision in cutting.

look at those cubes, people!

not only was the waiter checking on us at just a perfect amount of "constantly" but it was between course 2 and 3 that the CHEF came out to our table to check on everything and say what's up. i was a bit nervous to be in the presence of such an open minded culinary master but dude was totally chill and it wasn't a big deal at all. he told us he was a vegan in college for four years and was actually pretty psyched to make this meal for us, which ruled because we were kind of nervous he would begrudgingly make us three courses of salad and cucumber soup. nay! he understood veganness all well and good. he told us he was going to buy some special ingredients except that no one reminded him of our reservation until 4pm that day and he had been working on our meal with just the kitchen ingredients ever since! bravo, sir!

before the third course, our waiter came out to inform us that "your night just keeps getting better!" and said that because the cost of ingredients for our meal was so low, we would only be charged $25 per person instead of the normal $35. wha-wha-whaaaat? passing on savings to the customer in the restaurant industry? that's kind of unheard of and em and i giddily and happily cheersed the glasses of our second drinks together. we totally rule!

course #3: this wins the prize for most adorable course which not coincidentally is why it was my favorite dish. one enchilada per person in a teeeeny tiny cast iron skillet, as well as two more tiny cast iron pots - one of corn and the other of black beans.

so tiny, so delicious. the enchilada was topped with some pickled jalapenos, radish and cherry tomatoes and filled with a yucca mash and smoky mushrooms. do you notice how the ingredients seem to repeat a lot? we did, too, but we DIDN'T CARE AT ALL. we knew the chef was working within the confines of his kitchen and we also actually really enjoyed the absence of tofu or seitan which really just let the vegetables shine through as they should: fresh and clean. the waiter told us that normally the corn dish would have mayonnaise and cheese mixed in. ours was straight up corn and onions with some chili powder and tasted like sunshine. the beans were your typical black beans simmered to perfect softness topped with some veggies. i thought of it as the entree but i guess with tapas everything is tiny and there aren't really entrees in the traditional sense. but these were tiny amounts of entree-like foods. i just want to keep talking about how tiny they were, ok? i mean look at that damn pot!

dessert: the waiter told us we'd be receiving a selection of sorbettos for dessert (not as exciting to either of us, because em works at capogiro and eats it all the time, and i go in for free samples all the time) but soon after came back to tell us never mind on the sorbet, the chef has something special prepared. and special it was! grapefruit brulee! a grapefruit cut in half, sprinkled with sugar and then torched till the sugar caramelized. topped with a scoop of coconut sorbet, this was the perfect ending to our meal. mostly because i don't think i could have eaten anything more substantial, but it was also just really amazing and wonderful as a dish in and of itself.

i think it was actually this bright

we then sat back, bellies full, but not too full and marvelled at what had just happened. while we were marvelling, the chef came out AGAIN to make sure everything was ok. yes, it sure fuckin was, sir. we thanked him profusely and then he won our hearts by saying, "thank you for the opportunity."

let's recap: funky over-the-top but fun interior, super not-annoyingly friendly wait staff, open-minded chef who accommodated our request - if we had stopped there and the food was so-so, i still would have given this place props. but then, THEN they had to go and blow us away with the food and THEN they had to give it to us for cheaper than usual. of course they told us to come back (and bring friends!, they said), and of course, we will.

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