Sylva Senat has been a busy chef since leaving Tashan, the Tiffin family’s onyx peacock on South Broad Street. The Haitian-born ex-New Yorker took his mastery of exotic spices and head of dreads to the Main Line, where he took over the kitchen at the beleaguered St. James (now closed); then went south to Virginia, where he consulted on an Asian restaurant in Newport News (also closed), while simultaneously planning a new concept for the old Letto Deli space back in Philly, Maison 208, on deck to open later this year.
In the midst of all this, Senat opened Dos Tacos, seemingly out of nowhere, with Marc Mattera and Ryan Dorsey, two nightlife vets whose 3Nerds management company appear to specialize in #Dayload parties. The object: cheffy tacos made from high-quality ingredients for an industry crowd.
“I love Ninth and Washington as much as the next chef so much I am doing tacos but let’s be honest, Kobe beef, heritage pork and organic chicken [are] not on that menu,” Senat says, correctly. “[Serving] two tacos for that price point in Center City became our model. It’s really a food-truck idea inside a garage; the garage just happens to be on 15th and Sansom.”
A 10-foot-tall Day of the Dead skull grins at passersby from Dos Tacos’ exterior. Painted in striking shades of purple by sign artist Darin Rowland, its smile is the size of Yukon Denali’s grill, one gold molar winking in the rows of lavender chompers. The kitchen, which is run day-to-day by chef Derek Dietz, takes up more than half the narrow space. There are only four high-tops and 10 stools. Most customers get their tacos to go.
And what of those tacos? The menu says they’re served on corn tortillas that are “made fresh daily,” which is not a lie but is a little misleading because they’re not made in-house, but at a local tortilleria.
The fillings range from succulent Lancaster chicken tinga studded with scraps of foie gras (dubbed the Frenchman) to cubes of raw tuna spritzed with a kamikaze cocktail mist (the Kamikaze) which, I confirmed with Senat, during an alarmed back-and-forth, has the alcohol cooked out of it first. In both tacos, the proteins were impeccable, but the seasoning was timid. So much raw cabbage had been stuffed into the tuna taco, it was all I could taste. There was so little foie in the Frenchman, the $1.95 surcharge felt like a rip-off. Each could have used a sprinkle of salt.
The veggie taco was a love letter to mushrooms and easily my favorite of the three I tried. Portobellos, shiitakes, creminis and buttons were all sautéed to a deep walnut brown with ginger, garlic and herbs piled into a tortilla and topped with smoky chipotle gastrique, pico de gallo and jicama guacamole. Paired with a pack of Dos Tacos’ fluffy, crispy yucca fries, they make a fine meatless meal.
For dessert, churro production is currently outsourced, but the long, skinny Mexican donuts, which Senat dusts in a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar, were delicious and not overly sweet.
I’m happy Senat is back cooking in Philly, but I’ll be happier when he’s on the line at Maison 208. Based on what he produced at Tashan, he’s one of the best chefs in town. Dos Tacos is fun, but it doesn’t do justice to his talents.
Dos Tacos // 120 S. 15th St., 215-567-8226, dostacosphilly.com.
Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Thu.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 a.m.