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Apr 28, 2014 07:21 PM

Volver - First impressions

My wife and I went to Volver for the pre-theater menu ($75 per + 20%) since she had some finals the next day and didn't have time for the full performance menu. Space is beautiful, and food for the most part varies from very good to great - though, from a value perspective, I believe the pre-theater menu is the better bet (considering only an additional 3-4 constitute the larger menu)

Prior to our arrival, someone called to go over a few "pre-dining" questions - asking questions like mode of arrival, and if "there was anything they can do to elevate our experience". Nice touch, but lots of uncomfortable silence after we politely, not really? :-)

The one strange element was that we referenced my wife has a dairy allergy, but were then asked again by the captain at service if any dietary restrictions he should be made aware of, at which point we explained the details of her allergy again. No big deal, just some new restaurant "kinks" to work out. We had the same experience with the wine pairing - even though I had the grand wine pairing, and she opted out, they paired the first course with wine, and I figured out when they were attempting to pour her second glass that they were mistaken. Again, little to fret about, and both were handled gracefully.

The service is exceptional, despite the opening kinks, and the restaurant's team has done a wonderful job to train all the staff members. It replicates a true "fine dining" environment, while still remaining somewhat casual (two of the parties when we were there were wearing button down shirts with jeans) The only issue we had was with the ridiculously small wine pours on the tasting - though with complimentary champagne in the beginning for my wife and another wine that the sommelier opted to let her try from the tasting, the best of intentions shone through. The sommelier seemed nervous (we asked which prefecture the sake came from, and she said she wasn't sure but immediately came back with the answer and some additional information which we found not only redeeming but demonstrating a desire to answer our question sincerely and quickly)

Anyway, on to the food. The initial try of small bites was interesting - with some caviar and creme fraiche (good, but nothing out of the ordinary); some cured meets including iberico ham and guanciale (good), and, believe it or not, my favorite dish of the night and one of the best bites I have had all year. Unfortunately, I didn't write down the specifics of how they did it, but it was deviled duck liver mousse, with the mousse piped to look like a yolk, and the "egg white" - well, its not an egg white (IIRC, it had strong citrus notes, but I don't remember the exact prep without having my notes handy) and Pedro Ximenez gel. It was literally the perfect bite.

Tsjiki Market Fish with Horseradish and Green Apple Snow - Very fresh fish, and very tasty, though the prep felt a little "wet" to me with the sauce and the snow, slightly "drowning" the beautiful slabs of fresh fish. Maybe a personal preference and probably splitting hairs as the dish was tasty

Cereal Dish (white asparagus milk with rice flakes, quail eggs, chicken oysters, truffle and thyme marshmallows) - supposedly a play on Lucky Charms, this is the most out there the menu gets, but for some reason, it totally worked for me and was an interesting, tasty and thought provoking take on savory cereal.

Living Garden with goat cheese dirt, pistachio puree, duck skin crumble, almond milk crisps, carrots and curried raisins, looked really dry, but upon combining perfectly worked as a tasty and well balanced salad.

Veta La Palma, with Bomba Rice, Shrimp, Fumet, Espelette, Seasonal Fish and Nasturtium - my favorite entree of the night, the seafood broth base was awesome and made the dish. A more traditional prep, for the most part, than a lot of the prior dishes, but a delicious and super flavorful expression of the type of cuisine you would expect from eating at his other establishments, yet elevated and perhaps bolder in flavor.

Wagyu - Cooked on Embers, Beet Root Puree, Salsa Criolla, Beet Root Crema and Nury Potatoes - Look, the beef was definitely high quality, but it was not the best wagyu prep I've had (personally, felt mine was slightly overdone) and the accompaniments were tasty but I didn't fully understand the whole combination. All in all, steak was still extremely tasty, but I had higher hopes considering the pedigree. I do think the dish has potential and hopefully, the temperature issues will be resolved.

Desserts in my opinion were unremarkable.

All in all, I really liked, but perhaps, did not love, the whole experience. It was quite good, but only two of the dishes (one entree, and one amuse) landed in the amazing category for me. That being said, for $75, I thought it was a great deal all things considered, and believe they will continue to get better and refine the dishes and preps even further. Since the waiter, as well as some other preliminary reviews seem to suggest the best dishes are almost all on the theater menu, I don't know that I would jump for the performance menu and associated pricing, until the restaurant was firing on all cylinders. But do go, book a pre-theater tasting, put away any preconceived notions of the place being too expensive or too "not Philadelphia", and have a great and enjoyable meal

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  1. Thanks for the comprehensive and informative review. This is encouraging to me and perhaps at our next scheduled performance we will take your advice and "book a pre-theater(orchestra) tasting" The price puts this right in the range of other exceptional upscale Philadelphia CC restaurants. At our last Kimmel Center visit the restaurant was very busy, at pre-orchestra.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Bacchus101

      I agree - at the pre-theater price point, I think its a definite go. Having tried the pre-theater (and as you can see above, thoroughly enjoying it....) I am still hesitant to do the full performance especially considering only 3-4 courses. I usually always go for the longest menu , but I think in this case, for the price point, the shorter is where the value two cents

    2. What is the pace of the meal like? If someone goes and is not going to the theater after the meal, are they moving you quickly to open up the table for the Performance Tasting seating?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Philly Ray

        Honestly, its hard to say. My wife and I tend to be quick eaters (we did 41 degrees in Barcelona in just over 2.5 hours), and we were finished in just about 1.5. I think they read us perfectly though and timed our pacing accordingly and given their efforts towards great service, I'd be surprised if they rushed you out in an unreasonable time. It should bear mention that there was plenty of room for other diners when we were there at 5:15pm and left just before 7pm.

      2. Thanks for this comprehensive report.
        Unfortunately, for this rather simple and boring diner, save for the Wagyu steak (and even then some reservations), I saw absolutely nothing to choose from.
        The ambitious menu kind of reminded me of NY's Wylie Dufresne fare (WD-50), which is really way out there.

        1 Reply
        1. re: arepo

          I had exactly the same take on the menu and after consideration, I think it isn't the food but the description.

          I don't want cereal for dinner, nor do I want dirt on my plate etc.

        2. My wife and I did the pre-theatre tasting menu, too, and absolutely loved it. The cuisine was highly inventive, yet the taste of the food finally matched the idealism of the chef! Not only were each of the dishes extremely inventive, but I found the flavor, texture, temperature, and even color combinations worked extremely well together and brought the level of the meal higher than anything I have experienced in Philadelphia. Volver is my favorite Philadelphia restaurant now.

          Service was outstanding, and achieved the high-end, fine dining level yet was extremely comfortable and engaging. The wait staff was all suited in very modern, skinny threads, and the restaurant itself has a sleek avant-garde feel without losing intimacy or cosiness.

          The event is all about theatre, as you can certainly tell from the food itself, the stories behind each dish, the presentation of each dish, and even the open-kitchen and restaurant concept, where you can witness all the cooking, even the prep-work, as well as the exterior, since the seating area is glass-enclosed but open to the exterior. You almost feel as though you're eating on one of the most vibrant streets of Philadelphia and people can certainly see you from the outside! Free marketing!

          There are two areas to Volver, the bar area/lounge, which was quite crowded, and the main restaurant area. We went early since we're nerds (5 pm), and the restaurant area was about 80% full on a Saturday night (there were four interior tables that were not occupied).

          All areas of presentation and cooking are perfectly executed. It's all about the details here. Even the napkins are lint-free!

          The descriptions they give are very much playful, but if you read into things you'll realize it's quite sophisticated. Maybe I'll figure out how to post pics here.

          Here's what we did for the pre-theatre tasting:

          1) Snacks (Siberian Sturgeon Caviar + Carnitas Popcorn + 'Deviled Egg' Duck Liver Mouse) -- Outstanding. Very high-end caviar, with creme fraiche which really made it pop. My wife loved the carnitas popcorn. I had a tuna tartar too, since I don't eat meat. They were happy to accommodate with extra fish

          1a) Croissant with thyme -- loved it, and so did my French wife who usually bemoans the state of bread in Philadelphia. The texture is a little bit closer to a cinnamon roll in some ways but the exterior is still flakey and you have the high-end butter infused throughout

          2) Tsukiji Market Fish -- Wow. This was a red snapper (madai) straight from Japan. I'm a big sushi snob, and saw them prep this fish. I saw how it was packaged, which is the same as the top-flight sushi joints in NYC, LA, etc. The fish was outstanding, and the green apple "snow" was extremely interesting. Fantastic dish

          3) Milk & Cereal -- my favorite of the night, believe it or not. Rice flakes, quail egg, truffle, thyme marshmallows, and white asparagus milk all worked together to basically recreate all the warm feelings you have about eating cereal as a kid but elevating it to pure nirvana

          4) From the Garden -- super fresh greens (snipped in front of you), with an extremely interesting goat-cheese "dirt," which is their way of saying goat cheese infused with squid ink. Wonderful, complex dish

          5) Veta La Palma -- I apologize as I forgot the name of the fish here (too much delicious wine!), but this was outstanding and the South Spanish flavors were very unique to me, and I loved the rice

          6) Cobia with beet root creme, charred potatoes -- Fantastic savory course to wrap up the meal. I had this instead of the wagyu beef on embers.

          7) Blossoms & Berries -- first dessert course was my favorite, elderflower panna cota was rich without being overwhelming and the berries made it feel healthy ;)

          8) Chocolate in Textures -- this was the only dish that didn't work for me. The caramelized white chocolate mousse was buried under a mountain of super complex chocolate and too much liquid gold

          Petits Fours and surprisingly good decaf coffee wrapped up the meal. I can't recommend Volver enough. I found the price reasonable, and the pacing was pleasant -- you knew you were at a tasting-menu event, but it didn't drag and the staff had called beforehand to ask about allergies but also any time constraints considering the location.

          Price was $150ish for two plus gratuity and tax. I think we had about $60 of drinks on top of this. Totally worth it IMO.

          2 Replies
          1. re: dndicicco

            Thanks very much indeed for a detailed and knowledgable review. Nice to hear they were eager to accommodate your diet requirements. With a vegetarian and a less than adventurous diner as a couple I am not sure this, while being an exceptional experience, it a fit for us. We tend to enjoy an exception execution of a known dish or exceptional ingredients in that dish. Our issue not theirs and it is pleasing to hear the praise from knowledgable hounds for this new and very special addition to Philadelphia restaurant scene.

            1. re: Bacchus101

              Good call. If you're with a vegetarian and a non-adventurous eater, I'd go another time. They're accommodating, but I can't imagine their menu changing to full-on vegetarian. I would say they veer more to fish and fowl than green and vegan. ;)

          2. Question for those who have been there: did you spot Jose in the kitchen (or anywhere else) during your visit?

            2 Replies
            1. re: Buckethead

              No - I did not see him. My understanding is its his idea and menu but he won't be doing regular cooking, but could be wrong.

              I did ask about the menu a bit, since the dishes are so inventive. They claim they're looking to change up the menu dish by dish about once a month, although this is not set due to the newness of the restaurant.