So the PLCB was a little taken aback, insiders say, that the cafe component ended up so front and center - a 75-seat, high-profile eatery. Was this project really a restaurant thinly veiled as a market? (That was how a few ticked-off restaurateurs nearby saw it, especially those who had bought pricey liquor licenses; GTC's eatery was getting the advantages of on-premises, BYO-priced wines without the burden of buying a license.)
Those advantages, of course, have trickled down wonderfully to consumers - a French Cotes du Rhone that commands $30 or more in a state-licensed dining room can be had at the GTC-based boutique for $10.99. For less than you'd pay for a glass in most bistros, you could get a good bottle here. (Or take it home.)
The GTC staff had other concerns. Given that Garces was on such a roll - his other Latin-themed restaurants (Amada, Chifa, Tinto, Distrito) winning accolades, the Food Network crowning him Iron Chef - the kitchen braced for a run on the sit-down cafe.
But a funny thing happened in Week 1. Customers were eating in, all right. But almost half as many were taking out - and filling up bottles at the self-serve olive oil and specialty vinegar bar, and buying breads and vacuum-sealed, boil-in-a-bag prepared entrees. (The enough-for-three coq au vin, $26, that I took to a soiree in Wynnewood was a major hit, the savory chicken carefully cooked - lighter for the breast meat, stewier for the thighs - the French-trimmed carrots and fingerling potatoes packed in separate envelopes to preserve their individual flavors.)
"We were blowing through [take-out] containers," said Adam DeLosso, 34, GTC's chef de cuisine and general manager who started his career cooking on the line with Garces at the Four Seasons hotel in New York 12 years ago: "I thought we'd be doing more a la carte."
So by one reckoning the PLCB's original market-forward conception was being borne out even as GTC's cafe-centric vision was slow off the mark and take-out zoomed. Can you say, something for everybody?
DeLosso oversees an appealing ecology here. The canisters of olive oils (the black truffle oil is already sold out) and specialty vinegars have shaped the antipasti selections, including one of the tastiest snacks in town - tender, slivered baby artichokes ($7) sprinkled with almonds and date-walnut cake, slicked with honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar and an olive oil brightened with preserved lemon.
GTC is also tasked with making some dishes for other Garces properties - Thai chorizo for Chifa, for instance, and rabbit merguez for Amada. But it makes extra, offering the dishes for sale in the market's prepared-food cases.
Visually, the space works like this: Bouquets of flowers for sale in the entry. The market's cases of Spanish cheeses and charcuterie and plats du jour (coq au vin, Toulouse cassoulet, paella, oxtail lasagna, etc.) to the left.
A small sea of cafe tables (where you can order specialty pizzas, duck salad, a lovely lamb ragu pasta, a great "Italian" sandwich, and an obese Cuban one) occupies the middle ground. To the right behind a glass wall are the spare racks of the wine boutique; 200 labels, all European, nearly half the bottles exclusive to GTC (which is staffed by the PLCB's knowledgeable Cindy Carniecki).
An intangible secret ingredient is out of sight, back in the pastry kitchen - Jose's mom, Maggie Garces, who comes in two days a week to help turn out the cookies and tarts.
Garces Trading Co.
1111 Locust St.
Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.