Volt 21: Fabulous Experience and Changes in the Works
Well, the sixteen months have passed between the time when my husband made our reservation and the time for our meal at Table 21. Fortunately, everyone was healthy and the weather cooperated Sunday so we were able to enjoy our reservation. Actually "enjoy" is too mild a word. This was the best tasting meal we've had since eating at Jean Georges in NYC about five years ago. It resoundingly trounced our Inn at Little Washington experience this fall. We loved Voltaggio's style; he used some molecular gastronomy but never sacrificed innovation for delicious flavor.
We were all suprised by how happily we were anticipating and enjoying the food towards the end of the meal despite the 21-course length. (Although bread is offered to diners having a regular meal, none was offered to the 21 diners. This was a good decision!!)
o The 21 table now seats eight participants, but I wouldn't recommend going as more than a two-some. The place is noisy enough that only three people in a row along the counter can carry on a comfortable conversation. Everyone is seated at an L-shaped counter with four on each leg of the counter. We were a group of four and that made conversation amoung all of us tough.
o The menu changes nightly, although only a few dishes may change on a night to night basis. There's a huge change in the menu seasonally. You will be asked about any food allergies or dislikes and the kitchen is prepared to cope with these issues. We were told that the chef will look through the menus from other nights as a quick reference for possible substitutes for allergies/dislikes. No one in our group had any food issues since eight identical plates were served each time.
Here is our menu:
1. Chips and dip: Dried slices of Serrano ham in a warm potato dip. Fun to eat and yummy.
2. Celeriac "macaroon" with foie gras: A meringue of celeriac with foie gras piped into a hollow in each meringue. Superb!
3. Mock oyster, with salsify: The texture of an oyster but some sort of molecular gastronomy creation. Inoffensive but easily forgettable.
4. Yellowfin tuna tartare with Yuzu foam: Delicious. The foam was so intensely flavored that it overcame many people's objections to foam as an ingredient. We had fun watching the chefs prepare foam with an immersion blender many times throughout the evening. This dish is one of the more popular ones on the regular menu, but various foams show up with reasonable frequency. (FWIW, Bamix is the brand immersion blender used at the restaurant. I've been shopping for a new immersion blender recently, but haven't yet bought one, so I paid attention. The kitchen uses two brands of knives: Global and Shun, although there are three grades of Shun and I didn't see any knife in use other than Global. The Global handle is easily recognizable.)
5. Cavatelli with a sheep's milk, broccoli rabe, and Parmesan cheese sauce: This was everyone's lick- the-bowl dish of the night. Our friends have lived in Italy for two years, and we've made ten trips there. This was one of the -- if not the -- best pasta dish we've ever eaten. Considering all twenty-one dishes, we seriously enjoyed eleven of the dishes and we disliked none. This pasta dish was the course when we could have left happy if the chef had stopped the meal and simply provided us with a big portion.
6. Deconstructed clam chowder: Mixture of highs and lows. The chowder soup included the best "soup" we've ever eaten: light yet intensely flavored. The clam was perfectly cooked and the precisely cut and cooked carrots and potatoes were a technical marvel. However, there were some threads of "something" that were indifferent tasting and I don't even know what they were supposed to correspond to in the actual clam chowder. If forced to guess, they were clam juices made into strands with a chemical.
7. Frogs legs: It was fun to eat frogs legs for the first time in decades! The cooking of the meat was perfect and the flavor was appealing.
8. Sturgeon with cauliflower, lentils and verjus: This was our favorite fish preparation of the night. The fish had a very crisp crust on one side yet the interior of the fish remained exquisitely moist. I don't know how the kitchen succeeded in achieving these wonderful contrasting textures on such a small piece of fish. Beautifullly sauced and the additions resulted in a marvelous combination of flavors!
9. Arctic char with black forbidden rice, maroon carrots, and soy air. My husband and I like char and eat it often so we were enthusiastic about this course, but our friends were less pleased.
10. Hen egg, thyme, quinoa: This was the big yawn of the evening. A perfectly cooked soft egg yolk was served in nicely flavored nest of quinoa. This was comfort food prepared by a master, but we found ourselves wanting something with more authority added to the mix.
11. Veal sweetbreads: I'm a sweetbreads enthusiast. My husband dislikes them so you'll appreciate his verdict: "If I knew sweetbreads could taste this good, I would have been eating them more often." These had a crispy crust while still maintaining a moist interior -- the gold standard of sweetbread preparation. I'm a great fan of sorrel, too so the additional of this favorite, mushrooms and hazelnuts was a great success.
Below, I've explained the anticipated changes at Volt, especially Table 21, but I've run out of time now for the other course. I'll have to finish the remaining descriptions later in the day.
Essentially, Table 21 is fully booked for 2011 and the restaurant is not taking reservations for 2012. The chef is planning changes for 2012 so they're going to put those yet-undetermined changes into place before accepting future reservations. Actually, Voltaggio may know what the changes are. If he actually outlined the changes to anyone else at the table, I didn't hear him.
The restaurant now has a two-month wait for dinner reservations on the weekend, but mid-week reservations are easier to get than that. The restaurant no longer uses a system for leaving messages. The staff found they were spending inordinate amounts of time playing telephone tag to respond to messages. Now, diners just call and keep on calling until they get through to a person.