Jose Garces' Volvér: 9 Insights and a Dining Room TourBy Danya Henninger | April 16, 2014 By Danya Henninger | April 16, 2014
April 16 brings the premiere of Volvér, the performance dining room from Jose Garces. Those who score dinner tickets online will be treated to a multicourse tasting feast executed by the Iron Chef and his chef de cuisine Natalie Maronski. We had the opportunity to check out the space and chat with Maronski. Here are nine insights about about the unique restaurant, followed by a slide show of photos of the open kitchen and seating.
1) Dinner will not drag on. The opening menu has just been released, and the $175 prime-time “performance” tasting brings with five “snacks,” 10 main courses and four desserts. However, Maronski tells us she recently clocked the service - from firing up the first bites to close of the hot dishes - at around two hours and twenty minutes. (The $75 “pre-theater” meal has three snacks, five mains and three desserts.)
2) Kitchen talk will be minimal. Everyone cooking on the line becomes an actor on stage, thanks to the open design, so originally, Maronski and her team considered trying to run service without speaking at all. “We did a test run using only hand signals. It actually went alright, but it was only for 16 people. With a full dining room...” A decision was made that quiet speech would be easier and better, at least for the first few months.
3) A tasting menu like this takes a lot of work to execute. At Chifa, which Maronski ran prior to being tapped for Volvér, there were 160 seats. Here it’s only 34-40 at a time, but the food is very different. “Planning for a tasting menu is easier, because you know exactly what to expect,” Maronski says, “but the execution and finesse involved is very intense.”
4) More than 16 different kinds of dishware will be used. Most of these were selected personally by Jose Garces, including several very delicate handmade glass plates from Spain (look for those to carry the sardines, served with eggplant and smoked pepper purée, and the Monteray Bay squid). Pastry chef Jessica Mogarto chose the dessert plates herself.
5) Each plating was well-considered. To find the perfect arrangement for the dish called “From the Garden,” Maronski and her team gathered the more than 13 components and each plated them separately. They took photos of each one and tasted each other’s arrangements, deciding finally on the configuration that was both aesthetically pleasing and offered the best flavor experience.
6) You won’t find fresher lettuce. For that Garden dish, the Garces Luna Farm is growing special lettuce that arrives at the restaurant still growing in the dirt. Leaves are picked, washed and dried not more than an hour before service.
7) High-tech equipment is just another useful tool. Also on the Garden plate is an essence distilled in a rotary evaporator. “It provides an aroma so you feel like you’re eating the vegetables out in a garden,” says Maronski. So, like dirt? “Like dirt and fresh vegetables, yes.” Another one of the dozens of fancy machines in the kitchen is an ultrasonic emulsifier, which lets Maronski skip using chemicals to achieve the proper consistency for a sauce - instead she just sticks it in the “blaster” and lets the sound waves do the work.
8) Dishes on the menu will change often. “It’s very ingredient-driven,” Maronski says, noting that the main focus of a plate might not change as often as the garnishes and accompaniments. Right now, look for ramps, fiddlehead ferns and other spring fruits and vegetables.
9) The kitchen will be staffed by six cooks (plus one). Maronski assembled a team from the Garces ranks as well as some new blood, and she and five others will work the line nightly (Volvér serves Wednesday-Sunday). When Jose Garces is cooking, the number will go up to seven cooks on the line.
Click through to check out that kitchen and the luxurious but very tasteful interior. Tickets are available here.