Steve and I had our 15th anniversary yesterday and we celebrated by giving Volt all of our money. I’ve been dying to try it after reading all these great reviews and seeing the chef at the Farmer’s Market so often. We got a chef’s table so that we could get a tasting menu. As I mentioned before, I just love little bits of lots of things. I was so thrilled that there was a vegetarian tasting menu–how rare it is for an upscale restaurant to offer more than a cursory veggie dish! I’ve just finished Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and he couldn’t have more scorn for the herbivores. But he clearly hasn’t had THIS food.
The chef’s dining room looks like it seats about 20. Steve and I were given a 4-top, and we sat side-by-side so we could both watch the kitchen. The room is clean and elegant–clearly refined, but not at all stuffy. When we were seated, we were offered a cocktail menu. I got a Negroni (which was served on ice, a no-no in my book) and Steve turned into a girl and ordered the cantelope mojito that the server recommended (“How about *I* order your Negroni and you order the mojito?” “Oh no, if you want a girly drink, you have to OWN it. Sure you wouldn’t rather have a Fuzzy Navel?” “Or an Appletini?”). We were brought house-made breadsticks brushed with olive oil and fennel pollen (“Did she just say ‘fennel pollen?'” “Yes, I believe she did.” “I call bullshit.”). For the record–I tasted nothing that suggested fennel pollen to me. But it was a perfectly lovely breadstick.
Our meal opened with canapes from the chef–a demitasse of creamed celery soup with white truffle oil (yum!), a cube of “compressed watermelon” with something balsamic on it (good, but kind of silly), and a “beet macaroon” stuffed with a goat cheese mousse. Ho.ly. cow. I have no idea how this beet thing was made, but it looked like a wee beet sitting on its head in a soup spoon. But it was as light as air, it was some kind of beet meringue…I don’t know, but it was weird and delicious and interesting. The beet part collapsed in my mouth, almost like cotton candy. I could have eaten a box of those guys. I dreamed about beet bon-bons while we tried to figure our how one compresses a watermelon. I think it’s a big industrial press that goes really slowly. Steve thinks they give the watermelon a high-stress job and a demanding family and then hound in until it collapses under the pressure.
The bread lady showed up (is there a fancy term for the bread lady, like sommelier for the wine dude?) and offered us a selection of breads. I went with the french and it was so good I didn’t venture to the other sorts. The butter was sublime and I think I saw the wrapper in the kitchen, confirming my suspicion that it was Vermont Butter and Cheese company butter, the kind that has sea salt chunks in it. mmmmm.
Our first official course was a tasting of beets. I imagined a row of different sorts of beets, maybe with a fancy sauce each, but no! The weird beet meringue was back, this time in a long cylinder. There were also poached beets and raw beets and, I think a couple of turnip chunks. It came with that goat cheese mousse and was just delicious. It might have been our favorite course. And it was beets, of all things, a vegetable I didn’t even like until this year. It was a shining testament to the fact that simple food, prepared perfectly does not have to be fancy (okay, the fluffy beet tube was pretty fancy. But the other beets were just…beets). All the dishes were just beautiful, too, and we could see the chef placing everying Just So.
Next came a shitake mushroom veloute with a sabayon of pine nuts (translates to smooth buttery mushroom sauce/soup topped with a smooth fluffy pine nut sauce) served layered so that it looked a bit like a black and white cookie from Brooklyn. It had the occasional bit of thai basil flower in it, creating these little bursts of anise flavor. Pheonmenal. I seriously wondered if anyone would notice if I licked the bowl. Maybe I should have caused a distraction…”Hey! Brad Pitt just went into the main dining room! Hurry!” nom nom nom.
Third course: Fennel and Farro risotto. I had to look this one up, as I didn’t know what farro was and was suprised when my RISotto appeared to be made of wheat berries. Farro, it appears, is some sort of ancient wheat that turns up in Italian food. So, you know, wheat berries. Which is not to say it wasn’t yummy, because oh it was. It was topped with beets (it’s what’s in season, and lord knows they work ’em). and had a really rich, full flavor. If I hadn’t been assured it was all vegetarian, I’d have sworn there was a meat base to the stock.
The final savoury course was an eggplant confit on cannelini beans. Confit, it turns out, means that a food has been preserved in its own fat, more or less. Clearly that was not the case here, but whatever it meant, it was the only time I’ve ever really enjoyed eggplant. Not at all mushy or oily, it was toothy and flavorful. There was a really nice smokey taste in there somewhere as well. As will all the other dishes, each bit was delicious on its own, but really fablulous when eaten all together.
There was kind of a long wait for our final course, a tasting of apples. I kind of thought they forgot to give it to us. We got the madiera, we got coffee….then they brought us a little cake with a candle on top to wish us happy anniversary. It was, of course, very yummy. We’d only had a couple of bites when the apples arrived. This was the only real bungle in the service, I’m not sure what order things were supposed to have gone in, but as it was we got madiera, a wait, then coffee, then a wait, then cake and then the final course right on top. I’d have liked to have had the madiera and the apples and then the cake with coffee. As a final touch we got a tray with a fruit square (more please!), biscotti, and some chocolates (meh. AND I was full, but I left those alone after one bite).
Other stuff: We both had the wine pairing. I wouldn’t bother in the future. I’d never done a wine pairing before, so I was curious, but the fact is, I don’t like white wine. I’d just get a nice pinot noir and be done with it. Also, I’m pretty sure the sommelier is just making stuff up. “This wine is from the Fredonian region of Provolone. The terrior suggests a hint of manganese and the floral notes of acidopholus. The winemaker only smokes clove cigarettes so that his ash can complement this vintage.” Then he takes it to the next table and tells them it’s made by blind elves in the center of a hollow tree. Sure, okay. Steve was reasonably certain there’s just one big vat of white wine with a bunch of tubes leading out, each labeled with a different varietel. But it’s all Franzia in a box to us. The reds were really nice, though. And I LOVED that Madeira. I was the driver, so I was just having a sip or two of each wine. I should have just mooched off of Steve and saved a bit of dough.
Service: Aside from the dessert glitch, the service was impeccable. Efficient, polite, well-trained. They never made me feel like a clodhopper. Best of all? I don’t know ANY of their names. None of them told me. Which is good because I. don’t care. Our main waitress clearly watches Mad Men and gave us a Joan-like “of course” at every request. It was pretty amusing. Since I’d just read the Bourdain book and have a bit of a thing for Gordon Ramsay shows, I was expecting a foul-mouthed chef yelling at Central American cooks, but no. It was all but silent, with the cooks working diligently. In fact, we became convinced that we were looking at a sham kitchen and somewhere in the back there’s a lot of yelling and clanging pots and sudden fires. There wasn’t even anyone calling orders. They just seem to know what to cook.
And they know how to cook. Volt is one of the best restaurants I’ve visited. I just wish I wasn’t going to need to squirrel away money for a year to go again. We’ll go a la carte next time as Steve wants more of the steak and I would like a trough of soup and wheelbarrowfull of beety poofs.