Adolfo Gatcia is a man who loves life, food, meat, wine, and good times, not necessarily that order, and that is certainly not a complete list. The man behind Rio Mar, A Mano, La Boca, High Hat Cafe, and Ancora has an insatiable desire to represent different regions and styles authentically and respectfully.
"I'm always the guy looking for the next dish," he says, adding that he never orders the same dish twice in any of his favorite restaurants. When he travels, he says, he'll eat at a half a dozen restaurants a day.
La Boca has one of the most well respected steak program in the city, drawing on Argentinian traditions to provide a fresh take on the classic steakhouse. Several years later, Garcia turned his attention to the growing popularity of the Freret Street Corridor, bringing the Mississippi Delta food of High Hat to the area, along with the Neapolitan pizza tradition at Ancora. Helmed by chef Jeff Talbot, Ancora turns out blistering crusts of pizza from an authentic Italian pizza oven as well as an ever-growing charcuterie program of house made salumi aged in a back room visible to the customers. The salumi is used on the pizza, on the salads, in sandwiches, and on a charcuterie board, which changes daily.
Without further ado, we present Adolfo Garcia, Master of Meat.
What was the inspiration to open La Boca?
It was 2006, and at that point Rio Mar was my only restaurant. It was so seafood focused, and me and my partner [Nick Bazan], who is Argentinian, were thinking, what can we do - something that hasn't really been done, but something that's still relevant. And we thought of steak, since that's the flip side of Rio Mar, and Argentina is so well known for its meat.
It's not like we opened with a line out the door, but we grew. We grew so much that we outgrew our space. It's nice to be able to seat more people and now people don't get mad at us for having to wait as long.
How did the charcuterie program at Ancora come about?
Well, the concept of a pizzeria kind of came out of A Mano. We had a clear idea of what we wanted to do, so we scouted locations and hooked up with Jeff [Talbot], who was an employee of mine from way back. It was a true meeting of the minds on the concept. And if you're gonna go through the trouble to make great pizza, you can expand that to include other traditional stuff from the same region like charcuterie. A lot of people want to be everything to everyone - my philosophy is, "what is the one thing we can do really well?" And with the charcuterie program, we just kind of figured it out with trial and error.and lots and lots of practice.Our commitment to the program was there, so we just educated ourselves on the right way to do it.
What is your favorite meat preparation at both La Boca and Ancora?
At La Boca, I love the skirt steak, with the skin on or off, I can go either way. I love the flavor and texture of it - every steak has its own flavor profile. At Ancora, I love the Enzo pizza - it's double pepperoni with calabrian chile.
How do you like to prepare meat at home?
I have a Uruguayan grill in my backyard, which is basically a grill that sits on a brick table. You build the fire on the table and the grill pivots on a hinge to go up on an angle - it can move higher or lower, closer or farther to the coals. You don't cook over a fire, you make embers. I get oak wood from some guy, I use this really coarse salt called grill salt - it's kind of like ice cream salt. I like to cook flat iron, bottom sirloin, or the coulotte, which is the cap on the top round. I cook over indirect heat, and it's an all day affair. I nurse the meat out there with a glass of wine, it takes about two and a half hours. I'll have 5-6 cuts of meat up there. Every time, it's different. The fire isn't exactly the same, obviously, the cow isn't the same. I like that - I like to mix it up.
What are some trends in meat preparation that have your attention right now?
I feel like chefs are going back to basics, sticking with the roots of cooking. Keep it simple - salt, fire, good meat, good vegetables, good products, leaving the froufrou aside. There's a space and time for that, but guys who don't have tweezers are getting in there now.
What's your favorite vegetable or vegetarian dish?
Today, it's an awesome sliced tomato with salt and olive oil. And chanterelles - just sautee 'em up with no additional seasoning. Put them all on a plate with a slice of toast, and I'm happy.