Leftovers: Stray Thoughts From My Review Of Volver

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!

“Wait, $600? Did they serve you liquid gold?”
That’s the question a friend asked me when I mentioned having gone to Volver. Which made me laugh out loud – because they did! They actually did! And when our server announced that he was going to, using the very words “liquid gold” before explaining it was an espresso sauce flecked with gold leaf, I thought, “Oh my God, this is lamer than 1987.” But then he poured it into this bowl that looked like it was filled with solid chocolate, and it melted through what turned out to be a paper-thin chocolate wafer to reveal a caramelized white-chocolate mousse underneath – and all I could think was, “Holy crow, that just did a Persistence of Memory number on every chocolate dessert I’ve ever had.” The presentation trumped the dessert’s taste—partly because I just did not need another bite of anything by this point—but still, that’s the only dessert I’ve ever encountered that I’d order again purely for the pleasure of seeing it.

Another thought on “the sole drawback”
At the outset of our meal, our server asked for a moment of time to tell us about the meal that we were about to enjoy—only he made a slight slip of the tongue, turning it into the meal we were about to “endure.” We all chuckled. But it turned out to be a revealing slip. Because although my wife and I deeply enjoyed our meal at Volver, we would have enjoyed it even more if there’d been a little less of it. The meal just needed editing. We had 15 courses; 12 would have been even better. (Apparently, Volver is going in just that direction in the near future.)

When Jose and I talked about this on the phone later, it was clear that he’d thought a lot about how much food to serve. He remarked on his own experience eating grand tasting meals at vaunted restaurants, and how sometimes at the end of all those small bites, he’d still be hungry—a really, really frustrating feeling after signing a heart-attack-inducing check. It’s a tricky thing to get right, and at Volver I think he wanted to err on the side of serving too much.

But it turns out that he’s still was a little anxious about sending guests away hungry. So, he told me, he had toyed—and perhaps is still toying—with an idea for addressing this. Toward the end of the meal, he said, “We were going to place a card on the table. And it would basically say, ‘If you’re still hungry, we’ll make you a really good cheesesteak.’”

Now, I can think of few things as stale and played-out as the whole high-brow cheesesteak gag, but that might be the most hilariously subversive spin on it yet. Yet I have a way to make it even better. Should Volver ever actually do this, they should serve the cheesesteak with an additional card: a referral to a medical dietitian, because anybody who eats this much and still wants more has a straight-up pathological relationship with food.

Drink Up
Though there was too much food, the beverage pairing surprised me in a different way. Eight wines (some fortified), plus a beer, plus a sake is as indulgent as it gets – yet somehow I didn’t get drunk, nor did I feel hung over in the morning. Not only were Gordana Kostovski’s choices terrific, the actual pours struck the most elusive balance: small enough to keep inebriation at bay, but not so small as to ever seem stingy.

Sake, Please
That “exquisitely polished sake” Kostovski chose to accompany the snapper? It was a junmai daiginjo from Takasago Shuzo, drip-pressed below the freezing point of water in a Hokkiado Prefecture ice igloo. I have never been a sake lover, and sometimes I’ve wondered why I don’t appreciate it as much as some others do. This sake, called “Divine Droplets,” gave me my answer: I’ve just never had anything even remotely this good. It was so good, in fact, that I half-begrudged Kostovski for introducing me to it. Now I feel like I have two choices: either stop drinking sake altogether to bask in the memory of this one, or commit to spending more money than I can afford to on chasing this high forever.

China Fetish
You can’t eat at Volver without realizing, “Wow, Jose Garces is really into plates.” He serves his Kentucky Fried Squab on this wild dinner plate designed by French artists Prune Nourry and JR for the 150-year-old French tableware firm Bernardaud. A photograph of cupped hands is laminated on both the top and bottom. “Families will pass on an heirloom dinner service that once belonged to ancestors of which nothing remains but a photograph and a few plates,” the artists note. “At least our descendants will have the photograph right on the plate!” And Garces plays along, using it to serve a dish paying homage to the picnic meal his father always brought along on boyhood trips to the waterfront.

The chef also takes inspiration from local artisans. Recently, Garces told me, a local metalworker cast an urchin mold for possible use at the restaurant. “I’m going to need more of them to make it work,” Garces said, “but it’s starting to drive an idea for a sea urchin dish.” Some expensive restaurants seem to exist in a realm where every reference is to a world of extreme wealth. These are the worst restaurants in the world. Other restaurants find ways to forge connections with the broader culture and economy they belong to. I like that Garces is oriented in that direction.

A fish with its own TED Talk?
Yep! And you should totally check it out.

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