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]
When he opened Amada nine years ago, Jose Garces had two visions for his debut restaurant. Only one survived—succeeding so lucratively that it suffocated the other.
You can still visit the latter’s burial place, though: just ask for one of the best six seats in the house.
Philadelphia has so many great new restaurants that it’s hard to keep track of what to eat where. Here’s a cheat sheet of some of the best plates in the city to try right now.
I saw this coming years ago. Not because I’m clever or prescient or some kind of unappreciated soothsayer of cuisine, but simply because I was on the front lines. I was a restaurant critic in Denver, Colorado, back during the second boom of New American cuisine.
I saw this coming years ago, but it had no name — not until GQ’s Alan Richman gave it one a few months back. He wrote about young chefs, exclusively male, working “with like-minded discipline, hardly ever haunted by doubts, seemingly in possession of absolute confidence.” He called it “Egotarian Cuisine” — food that is “intellectual, yet at the same time often thoughtless … straddling the line between the creative and the self-indulgent.” More to the point, food that is created solely, and with arrogant singularity of vision, to please the chef. Not the owners. Certainly not the customers. It’s food as memoir and manifesto. And often, it’s terrible.
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.
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!
Editor’s Note: Beginning this month, Trey Popp’s reviews for Philadelphia magazine will be running first on Foobooz–weeks ahead of their appearing in print. And what better way to kick off this new arrangement than with the first four-star ranking that Trey has ever given–of his near-perfect experience at Jose Garces’s remarkable new restaurant, Volver.
Halfway through dinner at Volvér—after the scallop that was seared while still living, after the duck-liver mousse in a trick egg white conjured out of goat milk and orange-blossom water, after the puffed pork rinds with smoked-buttermilk dulce de leche and the bacalao takoyaki’s crepe-edged crackle—a savory course arrived in a pair of cupped hands.
If paying to be in the same room as a celebrity is your kind of thing, then man do we have a deal for you…
John Legend is going to be in Philly on Tuesday, May 20th, performing at the Kimmel Center as part of his “All Of Me” tour. And what else is at the Kimmel Center? Volver, Jose Garces’s new restaurant that we’ve been talking about a little bit recently.
Anyway, after the show, Mr. Legend will be hanging out at Bar Volver with his friends, associates and Jose Garces. And if you’ve got the scratch, you can be there, too.
Last night, Art, Victor, myself and some friends were lucky enough to be able to sit down at Volver and actually eat our way through an entire “Performance” dinner during the regular course of service. It was the 6th night of business for the restaurant. The room went from nearly full to nearly empty during the course of our 4 hour long, 14-course dinner. And, for each of us, the meal encompassed some of the best, most surprising, most challenging and most amazing plates we’ve ever had. It wasn’t all perfect, but it wasn’t far off. Off the tops of our heads, here’s what we came away thinking of Jose Garces’s newest, most daring experiment.
1) You may think that you want to leave Volver and go elsewhere for a nightcap. Don’t do it. This is one of the most indulgent experiences you can have in the region, and you don’t need to consume a thing after it is over. Go home. Go to bed. –Victor Fiorillo
2) The KFS (Kentucky Fried Squab) is served on a plate with pictures of hands placed like they are cradling the food. And on the bottom of the plate (where precisely no one will see it) are the backs of those hands. –Art Etchells
3) Every single course had a reason to be there. And every single time it was because Jose Garces wanted it there—because it was inspired by some moment from his life or career. As egocentric as this is, I still prefer stories about the chef eating KFC when he was a kid to stories about the provenance of my leeks. –Jason Sheehan