Tuesday, April 14, 2009

21 Rounds with VOLT: Part 3

(See here for Part 1 and Part 2)

One third down, two thirds to go. There were seven courses in our stomachs, and fourteen remaining. It was at about this time that the head chef wandered over and mentioned that having the menu in front of us would help with the note taking. He disappeared for a moment, then came back, placing it on the raised bench in front of us. As Saunter and I locked eyes for a moment, Chef Voltaggio realised that we might not want to see it, preferring to be surprised, and quickly turned it over.

"Uh, I'll just leave it here for the moment. You can look if you like." Eventually we decided we'd flip it over, and take a photo of it, but not look at it - just in case we never saw it again and wanted to try and remember what we had actually consumed.

The 8th course was one of the crazier dishes of the evening: roasted chicken with spun sugar and curry salt. As the chef announced the dish, I had to admit I had no idea what to expect. When I looked at the dish, I didn't know what to expect either. It appeared to be cotton candy (that's fairy floss, in Aussie-speak), with some golden powder dusted lightly on it. I popped the entire thing in my mouth, and realised that the core of the cotton candy was a cold chickeny paste. Strange! I gave it a 2 - I can't say I would have it again, but it was definitely interesting. Saunter shook her head, and marked a 1 down in her scorecard.

Up next, in the nine-spot, was another outlandish dish. Chef Voltaggio explained that given the amount of time he had spent in a steakhouse he had dished up a ton of wedge salads... and this was his take on it. The cool culinary kids would call it a "deconstructed wedge salad", because that is exactly what it was; all the components of the wedge salad had been separated out and had craziness done to them. Technically it was a "wedge salad with St Pete's select blue cheese and bacon", but it looked like an art project. Each component tasted extremely powerful on its lonesome, but I wasn't sure I really cared for this style. I dutifully finished it off, awarding another 2. Saunter did not get close to finishing hers, and awarded a grade of "FAIL :(".

At this point I had to admit that Saunter any myself were a little unsure of what to expect. There had been some hits, and been some misses, but we had just come off back to back dishes that had been a little out there for us. 10th was a return to food that delighted and challenged (rather than just challenged) our taste budes: arctic char with arugula, leeks, and stewed mustard seeds. The char was excellent, but we both found the mustard seeds really yummy. I awarded a healthy 4.5 to do the dish, Saunter giving her thumbs up with a 4.5.

Up eleventh was one of the dishes I was really interested in: parmesan carbonara (the noodles actually made of parmesan itself!), with a "61 degree egg" served on top. This dish was interesting, but the fact that the noodles were actually made out of parmesan kind of blew me away. After dinner I made a point of asking the chef how the noodles were made - apparently they boil the parmesan for a couple of days, before scooping away the fat (which they use as "parmesan butter"). The then mix the remaining parmesan matter with agar agar, and pour it in thin plastic tubing. After this sets the blow the noodles out of the tubes with compressed air. Insane! Saunter and I both awarded this dish a 3.5.

By this time we had decided to complement the bottle of Cava with a red. I wanted something on the lighter end of the scale, realising we would be pairing it with a wide range of dishes and not wishing to overpower any of them. We eventually settled with a Pinot Noir from Tasmania, for no other reason than I had never heard of a Pinot Noir from that region of Oz. The 12th dish of the evening made us both extremely glad we had it, as it paired with it magnificently. "Woods: foie gras, jerusalem artichoke, and black garlic". The artichoke had been toasted and smoked, and did smell and taste like a very woody potato chip - quite tasty actually. The whole dish was just rich and tasty. Without the red it might have been a bit much, and we were glad we had the Tasmanian vino with us. Identical grades of 4 were given by both Saunter and me.

On the back of the smoked artichoke we were treated to smoked goose with sweet potatoes and nutmeg in the 13th position. We actually saw them apply the smoke to this dish; covering the plate with an overturned bowl and applying the smoke from a hose. By this time we had become quite adept at picking out which dishes were probably going to be ours: any time there were four identical interesting looking dishes next to each other... well, those were gonna be ours. I thought the goose was OK, giving it a 3. Saunter enjoyed it, though she found it a little tough, giving it a 4.

The last dish of the second third of the menu was rabbit with white beans, braised belgian endive, and parsley. This was another tasty dish, another great taste in amongst the proteins. I gave it a 4, and Saunter again went out on a limb and gave a 4.3.

With that we were two thirds through. I still felt good, though I knew my stomach was slowly filling. Thoughts turned to what was still to come... and for the first time in my life it occurred to me that seven dishes to go might be too few.


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