Jose Garces makes his way into University City with his brightly colored journey into Mexican Tapas.  Distrito, unfortunately, is like POD: all color and no flavor (read: designed for college students).  We went for University City Dining days, so we got a deal on food, but unfortunately that price included a lot of noise, bad service, and tasteless food.

The Drinks

If you scan for cocktails and beer selections on either the regular menu or the happy hour menu you won’t find much of a selection as wine seems to be the drink of choice at most Garces restaurants. The “drink” menu has around 100 different tequilas on it, but other than being used in a few flights most of them just sit there–versus the real drink menu at Dos Segundos that features a dozen different margaritas, each with its own (different) tequila upgrades.  Even the flight offerings at Dos Segundos make more sense than those at Distrito as they are paired by or in contrast to styles, production regions, or aging techniques rather than just by distiller or  blanco, reposado, or anejo.

I started off with a Michelada (cerveza with salt, lime, and spices) which is something I’ve always wanted to try. I liked it, but its hard to judge it since I don’t have any thing to compare it to.  Holly and I both got a special drink pairing which consisted of 3 cocktails matched with the 3 courses offered in the UC Dining Days menu.  We started off with a basic margarita that was well made and had the proper balance of ingredients, but was without any salt on the rim (Not that Holly minded). The second cocktail was a hard lemonade made with Tito’s vodka that was refreshing and tart, but I was expecting tequila in all the drinks since this is a Mexican restaurant (a symptom of theme park restaurants is to make vodka cocktails as the lack of flavor in vodka makes them more universal).  Lastly we had white russian (Mexican-style) with vanilla vodka and Patron xo substituted for the Kahlua, which may as well have been normal vodka with Kahlua because it tasted essentially the same.

On a final note, drinks come out at different times from food which is always fine, except when those drinks are advertised as course pairings. All of our drinks came out way too early or way too late which completely defeated the point of them being pairings and lead to a lack of quality in the drinking experience.  I great and unnecessary disappointment, as the drinks were actually well-made and tasted alright despite their intended universal appeal.

The Food

The University City Dining Days menu consisted of a wide variety of offerings.  each course got to pick two items, which allowed for a great variety and should have provided a great experience.  Unfortunately, the variety may have actually been the downfall in this case as very few of our dishes were actually satisfying.

Ceviche de Camarones:
I was excited to have ceviche in the first time in over a year, but my hopes were dashed as this was basically butterflied shrimp in a fancier version of cocktail sauce.
Frejoles Refritos:
One of the few highlights of the night, the re-fried beans had a sprinkle of cheese over them and were the perfect texture and flavor. The chips provided by the restaurant to go with this and the guacamole ordered by our friends were half the reason I enjoyed this 1st course tapas as much as I did.
Tacos de Carnitas:
I’ve been on a big pulled pork/roasted pork bend for the past month our two when we go out so I jumped on the chance to get these carnita tacos, but I was severely let down. The pork wasn’t very juicy and both it and the accoutrements in the tacos lacked and strong flavors to mix or standout.
Los Callos:
The best thing I ate the whole night and something I would definitely like to have again. The scallops were perfectly cooked and the habenero reduction had tons of flavor, but none of the heat that could have overwhelmed the scallops. Add to that the chopped onions and greens underneath to cut the richness of the scallops and you have the only balanced dish I had all night.
Tres Leches
Having recently visited  Dos Segundos a week before this and eating their Tres Leches I was again let down by Distrito. It was small for the UC Dining Days menu, but the main issue was again a lack of any strong or standout flavors which couldn’t stand up to the super milky tres leches from Dos Segundos which came with uber-fresh strawberries and blueberries.

Ceviche de Pulpo:
I love octopus.  I order it everywhere I go.  Don’t order it here, unless of course you just want three slices of unseasoned cephalopod with some guacamole at the bottom of the bowl.
This was the only really good part of my meal.  Cool and refreshing watermelon and cucumber, with a fun kick of chile oil.
Squash Blossom Quesadilla:
Just because it’s vegetarian, doesn’t mean it can’t taste like anything.
Mole Amarillo:
This wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t the bold flavor of mole I expected.  The sauce was citrusy and well seasoned, but the (rabbit) meat was as flavorless as chicken breast and it carelessly sat on boring plain white rice.
Los Frios (Flan):
Bite-sized now has a whole new meaning.  A spoonful of flan, a teeny tiny crouton, and a microscopic piece of mango.  Not enough flavor to be so small.

The Design

The walls are pink and the bar top is highlighter-yellow resin with real scorpions in it.  Need I say more?  This place is exactly what I meant by “Disneyland” in the Bar Ferdinand review.  It’s definitely meant to be cheesy – like an overdone version of stereotypes of Mexico – but if I am being asked to accept tiny little food portions for a 5 star price, I don’t want to be sitting on plaid vinyl surrounded by strange plastic dowel dividers and teaberry-pink wood paneling.  I love a cheesy design if it’s done right, but the decor at Distrito just makes me want to punch a Penn student and then go to Dos Segundos for some good old-fashioned Tex-Mex.

The Overall Experience

Not only were we disappointed with our meals, but the service was awful.  It was incredibly slow, and the waitress even had the nerve to be rude to one of our friends at the table for not wanting to order food.  Lady, he wanted to order a lot of drinks–don’t you see that means more money for you?  If your restaurant doesn’t have a policy about not ordering drinks at tables, you can’t give your guests crap when they just want to drink (ESPECIALLY if 4 other people are ordering food).  As Josh mentioned before, the timing of drink arrival was a joke– and besides that there was a ridiculously long wait between each food course arriving as well. The place wasn’t actually all that busy, either.  It just seemed careless and like the wait staff was poorly trained: NOT what I would expect from the restaurant of a celebrity chef.

The Receipt

The only good thing about this experience is that we got to sample a wide variety of food and drinks for the UCity dining days price. 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and a dessert each, plus 7 drinks (because of the $15 drink pairing menu), was about $120 after tip.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 2/5

Food: 2/5

Design: 3/5

Service: 2/5

Budget: 3/5

Overall Experience: 2/5

Will We Visit Again:

Definitely not.  It’s unfortunate because we are big fans of Jose Garces, but  Distrito just left us with a bad taste in our mouth (literally and figuratively).