Yesterday I finally got to Distrito for a meal - lunch, to be exact. Chef Jose Garces is the owner, and when I worked there several months ago the buzz was about him recently being on Iron Chef America up against Bobby Flay in battle melon. The result? He won! Celebrity chef or not, Bobby Flay's food is really quite good, from what I remember when I went to Mesa Grill about two years ago. My friend and I went for brunch, and I was hooked...just by the bread before the meal. There were delicious mini muffins with golden raisins, half yellow corn half blue corn muffins, spicy cornbread. I had the bluecorn waffle with blackberry bourbon syrup and vanilla creme fraiche, and it was mighty tasty. My friend had the 16-spice chicken with some kind of tamale. Both of us were quite satisfied with the food and the price that went with it. But I digress. The fact that Garces had beaten Flay was impressive knowing what good food Flay had.
The first thing anyone notices of this "modern Mexican" restaurant is, of course, the decor. It's insanely bright with pink walls and chairs and tables in various shades of pink and green. Some find the adornment obnoxious, others love it. I found it to be a little unsettling at first, but got used to it. Obviously they're going for the overly-ornamented look, but the shared sinks by the bathrooms upstairs are a little awkward. It's a very trendy place, the hostess had kind of giraffe-like skinniness and looked as though she should be a supermodel, and most of the people there appeared to be on business lunches. The constant theme of Mexican wrestlers is a goofy one that I find hilarious - they even have a giant TV screen upstairs that plays scenes from Nacho Libre(they may have changed that by now to something else). Friday and Saturday nights (I think) they have a flamenco guitarist/singer with a beautiful voice that serenades customers.
Distrito has a lunch special - two courses for $15. This is a pretty good deal, especially considering the quality you're getting (though I've read many other reviews that complain of how expensive it is - it looks as though a la carte adds up quick, and people forget that this is a tapas place). It's a little limiting though, considering how much more is on the dinner menu, including the Kobe beef tacos I'd been told to try that are apparently amazing. There's an incredible range of food even on the lunch menu, from ceviche and soups and salads for first course, with second course items containing duck, chicken, pulled pork, short rib, yellowtail, and even cactus.
For first course, I had the chilango chop: a salad of baby arugula, watercress, cherry tomatoes, green olives (ew), orange segments, and pecans, with shaved coconut on top and a tomato-lime vinaigrette (you can choose that or the chipotle buttermilk dressing). I added the Kobe beef, which will get you about 5 hunks for $7. Except for the olives, it was simple but good. I loved the pecans, and the Kobe beef was rich and served medium-rare. My friend had the camarones ceviche - shrimp served with avocado, a spicy tomato sauce, and plantain chips. He was entirely unimpressed and when I tasted it, I knew why - the flavors instantly made me think of Indian food, and he is not at all a fan of that. Oh well. I liked it, though I've never been impressed by plantain chips. Both were very different in portion size: the salad was a decent spread, while the ceviche was basically 4 shrimp in a sauce and a few little plantain chips.
Second course brought my hamachi tacos - fried yellowtail that resembled a fishstick, chipotle remoulade, red cabbage, avocado, and a lime for squeezing over top. This I really liked - there was good texture contrast with the soft tortilla, crunchy cabbage, creamy sauce, and flaky fish. The sauce had a good balance of spice; it didn't overwhelm the other flavors. It was my favorite. My friend ordered the queso fundido - with duck and poblano and tortillas. Though not healthy or low calorie by any means, it was lovely. It was greasy of course...duck and cheese will do that...but not as much as it could have been. However, it's hard to get the flavor of duck out when it's covered with 3 types of cheese, and it most definitely isn't going to be rare. It could easily be mistaken for pork if unaware.
For dessert we split the coconut flan, as they were out of the tres leches. Having worked the pastry station, I knew how good it would be and it was nice to be able to sit and enjoy it instead of putting it together as fast as possible. Garnished with a quenelle of whipped cream (which had melted on ours by the time it got to us), toasted coconut, and a coconut tuille, it was a good ending to a good meal.
I love the range of dishes available, and the variety of ingredients used. All in all, the food was good - but there was nothing I had that I'll be craving in a couple weeks enough to make me want to go running back. I may go back anyway in a couple of months when I can legally drink to try a margarita - they boast having around 80 types of tequila. And maybe along with that I'll try a couple of the dishes that I've heard the most about, and it will make me want to go back time and time again.