Monday, April 06, 2009

21 Rounds with VOLT: Part 2

(Cont'd from Part 1)

We were lead to our seats, which I had been curious about from the get go. Being seated in the kitchen itself sounded strange, and I was unsure whether this would be some weird deal where we would be tucked in a corner or some annex part of the kitchen. Instead, we were seated at what appeared to be a modified kitchen bench looking across the kitchen, facing the salad/dessert station, with the kitchen line on our immediate right.

The kitchen itself was entirely open, facing the "Chef's Dining Room", allowing all diners in that section of the restaurant to see (and hear!) everything going on. I have never really seen anything like it, and definitely contributed to a quiet and controlled kitchen. The only incident I saw was when some lamb was returned to the grill station for being undercooked... and the result was merely a bout of eye-rolling and some muttered conversation.

Upon seating we were greeted by Neil, the self-designated "restaurant alcoholic". We asked if we could keep notes and take photos of the kitchen, which he assured us was completely fine and even encouraged. Saunter and I decided that apart from taking notes and snaps of each course, that we would also assign a rating.

Neil prepared the first course: campari soda (clementine, C02). This course was designed to cleanse our palates and prepare us for the culinary death march before us. We didn't assign a rating to this course, as its function was not to delight the taste-buds, but to prime them.

The second course was presented to us by the Head Chef, Brian Voltaggio, himself. It was at about that time that Saunter and I realised that we were going to be able to get a lot of face time with the chef/owner, and when I really started getting into the experience.

The second course itself? "Prosciutto chips, served with potato dip". This was the chef's play on chips and dip, just with crisped prosciutto and potato puree. Which was also fucking good (though I am an admitted potato lover), though the prosciutto was best eaten together with spud, rather than solo. I awarded it 3.5 (out of 5), Saunter giving it 3.

The third course was a beet maccaroon, filled foie gras mousse. We saw a lot of them going out through the night to other diners, and I was unsure whether this was a common addition to people's plates. It was interesting, the maccaroon light and the mousse extremely rich, but not something I really felt I needed to have again. I awarded it a a 2, Saunter giving it a 2.5.

Up fourth was a shiitake gnocchi dish, with chilli oil and pine nut. This dish continued the fancy techniques that the chef was using, with a lot of texture in the dish. The chilli oil really made this course - without it there would have been something missing. I gave it a 3, Saunter giving it a 2.5. By this stage I definitely appeared to be the easier judge.

It was also about this time that we got our first bottle of wine. For whatever reason drinks service was the one part of the dinner that had been a little lax so far, but perhaps we hadn't been as assertive as we should have been (or else it was normal practice for people to save money on dinner by not drinking!). We finally managed to get a bottle of cava, which was quite tasty.

Up fifth was a tuna sashimi dish, which was accompanied by an "avocado veil" and "soy air". There were five chunks of tuna, each dusted with one of five "flavours": sea salt, vanilla, orange, citrus, and asian spice. The veil and "air" were interesting and the different dustings on the tuna were tasty. I awarded this dish a 4, and Saunter (the sushi fan) busted out a 4.5. Clearly her favourite dish so far, and the winner of the experience to date.

Speaking of dates, that was what composed our sixth course. Technically it was a medjool date, filled with curry yoghurt. What it actually was, was a fucking taste sensation. The only down side was that the sweetness of the date overpowered the smoothness of the awesome curry yoghurt at the finish, but that was purely nitpicking. Both Saunter and I swooned, and I awarded a 4.5. Saunter could not assign a normal grade, and gave it a 4.8. I looked at her sideways, but she threatened me with a knife, so the grade stood.

The 7th course, closing out the first third of our culinary expedition, was a smoked atlantic salmon croquette, served with caper and peppercress. I thought it was OK, a little fishy and a littly salty, and gave it a 3.5. I was expecting a higher grade from the more fish-friendly half of the tandem, but Saunter (obviously more discerning) awarded a 3.

I think it was around this time that it really began to sink in how epic a 21 course tasting menu really was. I was feeling good, Saunter was feeling good, the food had been interesting and exciting... and we had 14 courses to go.


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