Craig LaBan weighs in on Jose Garces’ culinary return to Philadelphia. The Inquirer critic calls the cooking at Volvér “egocentric” though he does call many of the dishes three-bell worthy, if he could order them a la carte.
The plates, without doubt, were still camera-ready gorgeous: ember-seared cubes of Wagyu beef posed beside crimson swipes of beet puree; nasturtium leaves floated atop lubina sea bass in a composition of rice and shrimp evocative its own ecosystem; epic salads tweezered into perfect still lifes by talented chef de cuisine, Natalie Maronski. Those dishes were examples of Volvér at its best, in which the inspirations were prime ingredients, not biography. The intricate salad was a naturalistic playground of delicate greens, creamy cauliflower panna cotta, and sublimely sweet carrots drawn from the garden at Garces’ Luna Farms, lifted by tangy Meyer lemon puree and the faux “dirt” of goat-cheese crumbles tinted black with squid ink.
Two Bells – Very Good
Garces’ Volvér overdoes the culinary performance art [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Trey Popp’s four-star review of Volvér [Philadelphia Magazine]
Unit 2008 at Symphony House spans what the listing describes as “the full southern hemisphere of floor 20,” which makes me envision the city as a globe with Broad Street as the Equator. (It does seem hotter below Broad, doesn’t it?) The huge condo does have enough amenities for a small planet, such as multiple TVs, including a 60 inch plasma; floor-to-ceiling glass walls with city views; custom Viking and Sub-Zero appliances; Smart House and sound systems; a bidet; another apartment within the apartment, with a separate entrance and full kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom and full bath; three garage parking spots; and then all the amenities the building itself has. Plus, this unit still has time on a tax abatement.
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People go to bars for all kinds of reasons. To hang out with neighbors over three-dollar lagers. To knock back Beam-and-Pabst specials while stomping their feet to liquor-drinking music. To find out what happens when an eccentric teetotaler mixes a vast booze library with grapes juiced to order. To be quiet and get drunk.
In other words, to escape. And if Philadelphia is what you want to get away from, you need travel no further than to the bar at Volver.
Like the ticketed-entry dining room it abuts in the Kimmel Center, Jose Garces’ champagne-and-caviar lounge is in Philadelphia but not quite of it. Look one way and your eyes fall on a marbled white bar lit by the glow of four sleek halos that could have been commissioned by Starfleet. Look another—at an ultra-saturated blue textile mural crafted by local artist Conrad Booker out of 4,000 buttons and 200 yards of deeply dyed burlap—and you feel like you’ve warp-tunneled your way into Pedro Almodóvar’s Madrid. Meanwhile a soft-footed fleet of servers patrols the ebony-stained floorboards wearing black quasi-judo jackets trimmed with Jupiter orange, like a squad of acrobatic assassins waiting for Roger Moore to request a shaken martini.
It is a very, very cool place to sit down for an hour.
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A few additional musings about my meal(s) at Volver
Volver is very expensive, but…
As I noted in my review, “There’s no arguing that the $600 my wife and I spent, including a few glasses of wine and an inspired beverage pairing, could have bought a fantastic meal elsewhere with enough money left over to feed 10 foster children for a month.” But it’s also true that a year’s worth of cable would feed even more mouths, and that forgoing an iPhone upgrade would save you enough for the full 14 courses at Volver. Personally, I still wrestle with the cost of meals like this. But the debate over the cost of dinner shouldn’t take place in a vacuum. Everybody makes his own choices about what to spend money on, and eating out is one among many options to spend wisely or poorly. I mean, right now the 76ers are selling single courtside tickets for $790. The Sixers! After going 19-63!
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There’s an event today about which there’s scant information, but according to a Media Alert we received, City Council prez Darrell Clarke will “unveil plans for Avenue of the Arts North” today at a noontime press conference. He’ll be joined by developer Bart Blatstein; Ken Scott, President of Beech Interplex; and labor leaders.
The event is described this way in the alert:
A press conference to announce exciting new plans for Avenue of the Arts North, an economic development effort to extend the success of Center City’s Avenue of the Arts north of City Hall along wide swaths of undeveloped parcels along North Broad Street. Council President Clarke also will discuss the catalytic effect developer Bart Blatstein’s proposed Provence Resort & Casino Central would have on additional development on the Avenue of the Arts North project, which is on the former site of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. Council President Clarke also will be touting economic incentives for developers interested in the Avenue of the Arts North project, including a 10-year property tax abatement for new commercial construction, low-interest loans, tax breaks and more.
Clarke has been a fan of Blatstein’s Provence from the start, endorsing the project at its launch party. The Beech Interplex consortium is composed of dozens of groups with a stake in the Cecil B. Moore community. Beech’s real estate developments includes buildings on and around Temple’s campus as well as the Blue Horizon, and more.
Interested in what Clarke has going on? Find out at Broad and Spring Garden outside of Tower Place at noon.
Carl Dranoff hosted the grand opening for Southstar Lofts on Wednesday, but by then his newest apartment building was already 40 percent spoken-for. “It’s the fastest we’ve ever leased,” he said during a tour of the four-story mid-rise just before the party. And they’ve leased a lot – particularly on the Avenue of the Arts (see: 777 South Broad, Symphony House and the incoming SLS tower), which Dranoff champions as a combination of Michigan Avenue, Park Avenue and Broadway.
Southstar, which broke ground last March, features 85 thoughtfully appointed units and was designed to be a sister property to 777 South Broad. Dranoff says they brought some of 777′s most popular features to Southstar and built upon them. Details like 26-inch-wide sinks in each unit, enormous trash rooms built so that the entire room can be wiped down, and free, full-sized washers and dryers available in addition to your in-unit laundry were imported a few blocks north.
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Kevin Sbraga is opening his third restaurant (Sbraga, The Fat Ham). The Top Chef winner is once again teaming up with developer Carl Dranoff and will be opening a rotisserie-based restaurant at the base of Southstar Lofts, at the corner of Broad and South. The restaurant will go in the 1,500 square foot corner space at Dranoff’s latest Broad Street development.
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Photo via Sbraga Dining
Kevin Sbraga is now serving his spring menu at his eponymous restaurant, Sbraga. The four-course prix fixe menu is now $55 and includes a complimentary amuse course of his very famous foie gras soup (vegetarians can look forward to an amuse of carrot ginger soup). Also new is an all-new pasta and grains course. An optional beverage pairing is available for $40. “At Sbraga, our focus has always been hospitality,” says Sbraga. “It’s about giving your guests what they want without them asking. The foie gras soup is one of our most popular items, so we thought it would be nice to give everyone a taste before dinner, making it part of the nightly experience.”
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From the Garden, including live lettuce from Garces’s Luna Farm.
Tonight is the night that Jose Garces’s Volver debuts its ticketed dining at the Kimmel Center. The restaurant will immediately leap to number one in the city in at least one respect, Volver will be the most expensive dining experience in town.
What remains to be seen is whether Garces, chef de cuisine Natalie Maronski and their team at Volver can deliver. There are two menus available, the pre-theater tasting of eight-or-so courses for $75-$100 and the performance tasting, which rings in at 12+ courses for $175 per person. These prices do not include tax, gratuity or alcohol. The grand wine pairing, which is available with the pre-theater dinner is $50 and includes tax and gratuity. That means early evening diners can get out for $146 per person with wine pairings. Or if you want to go all out with the performance tasting, it will be north of $300 per person with the drink pairings.
Check out the menus »