Tuesday, April 14, 2009

21 Rounds with VOLT: Part 4

See here for Parts 1, 2, and 3.

In addition to the array of inventive dishes, the staff were also universally friendly, and able to take a joke. Even when I took photos at weird times. Here's Sous Chef Graeme in a flattering moment:

The fact they didn't mind us snapping away and asking questions during the entire meal.

The fifteenth meal to cross our palates was braised lamb with sweet potato, granola, coffee oil and mint pudding. Lamb is one of my favourite proteins, but in this case the encrusted granola swamped the meat, which was a little disappointing. I still issued the dish a 3, but Saunter gave a more discerning 2.5.

Up sixteenth was a dish that was presented to us as venison, though after quizzing the chef it actually turned out to be antelope, served with a puree of maroon carrots and vegetable ash. The antelope was extremely tasty, though Saunter's was a little overdone. Me being the gentleman that I am, I quickly swapped my perfectly cooked piece of antelope with Saunter's, a smooth move that did not go unnoticed by the eagle-eyed chefs. The different sauces the antelope was served with all complemented the meat beautifully. I awarded the dish five out of five, while Saunter again going unorthodox, giving the antelope a 4.2.

The antelope dish concluded the mains portion of the meal. Up next, in the 17th position, was the cheese course, featuring a point reyes blue cheese, with celery variations and port sorbet. The cheese was extremely powerful and tasty, and paired nicely with the remnants of the pinot noir. Saunter gave it a 4, while the cheese course rated a 3.5 from me.

Number eighteen was the beginning of the dessert portion of the evening. Up first was a study in white, frozen coconut with lavender and madagascar vanilla. I am some what torn about coconut - sometimes it doesn't sound that appetising, while other times I find it wonderful. In this case it was definitely the latter. Saunter and were both equally taken aback and impressed with the dish, despite its sweetness. The coconut was granted the rare "double five", getting top marks from both of us.

In 19th was carrot cake, with cream cheese, cinnamon ice cream, and banyuls vinegar. This was not your mother's carrot cake, being another of the "deconstructed and re-imagined" dishes. It looked and smelled great, but the taste wasn't quite up to expectations in my eyes, being a little cakey and dry. I still issued a 3, while Saunter (who does not normally have a sweet tooth) quite enjoyed it, giving a 4.

Chocolate was inevitably going to appear on our plates, which it did finally, in twentieth, along with peppermint custard, chocolate caramel, and cocoa snow. The staff also took this opportunity to present Molly and Blake with an extra orange ice cream cake (it was Molly's birthday), while Saunter and I also received one, as we were celebrating our two year anniversary. At the staff's suggestion we made sure to mix the orange ice cream with the chocolate... quite tasty. I gave it a 4.5, while the more anti-sugar Saunter resurfaced, only giving a 3.

Finally we were served with "mignardes", small cookies. I flagged down a waiter and ordered a latte, which was fantastic, finishing off the dinner wonderfully. As I enjoyed my coffee the kitchen was finishing cleaning their stations, as service was well and truly over. At that time the Head Chef came over and had a chat, asking if we had any questions. At this point I began dominating the conversation, asking about the parmesan noodles, the antelope, and about the whole concept of his kitchen. The chef was fantastic about explaining things and humouring my questions, at one point asking if I was in the industry. I don't think he counted "three years of being a dish pig" as really applying.

Inevitably the big moment arrived, and I was presented with the bill. This was definitely the largest meal tab I had ever racked up amongst two people, and it was worth every penny.

Finally we were presented with a copy of the menu, and two mini blueberry cobblers to take home. We bid farewell to the VOLT staff, found our coats, and struggled out the door. It had been over four hours since we had first taken our seats inside the kitchen, awaiting our first dish.

And yes, we would do it all again.

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.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

This Does Not Make Up For SCOOP

But it's nice anyway.

I won a large pot early in the second hour, bluffing in position with a pair of twos... luckily neither of my opponents called. From there rolled over everyone; from about 30 people left I was the leader, usually almost double the second place person. At the final table it tightened up a little, and at one point I was third, before I stormed back and destroyed it.

When we were heads up I had something like a 130k to 10k lead. My opponent said something like "I've come back from worse," and then I promptly eliminated him in our first heads up hand.

Go Drunkie Garth!

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.

I am poop at SCOOP

To all those thinking of shelling 2k to see if I could hang with the big dogs in the SCOOP Triple Draw event: well done in holding onto your cash. Today I could not draw to save my life.

My day got off to an auspicious start when I entered a 500 FPP rebuy event for a seat into the $200+15 event. I was in for the minimum (I double bought to begin with, then added on) of 1500 FPP - handy, since that was all the FPPs I had left - and was heads up for the seat. Unfortunately, that's where it ended, though I pocketed 10,000 FPPs for my trouble.

I had time for one more attempt, this time a 1500 FPP freeze-out sat, but made no headway.

No matter - I was going to play the $200+15 and the $20+2 events anyway. All the events had a chance at overlay, though the $20+2 eventually made the guarantee. The $200+15 ended up with about 13k of overlay, and the 2k event had 20k of overlay.

I got off to a poor start - by the first break I was at 4.5k in the $22, and 4.2k in the $215. This was a far cry from last year's WCOOP, when I had flown out to be sixth in chips after the first break. Coming back from the break I made some minor headway in the $22, before crashing out just before the end of the second hour. In the $215 I was always spiralling towards destruction, though the end finally came moments after my finish in the $22 event.

Depressing all round, particularly when I don't get to play large field TD events that often. I still have vague plans to play the Triple Draw event at the WSOP, but we'll have to see how we go.

Anyone Want to Stake Me in the $2k SCOOP Triple Draw Event?

45 minutes until game time, and there are 25 people registered for the $2k buy-in Triple Draw event for SCOOP on Stars. That means right now there is 150k of overlay in the 200k guaranteed prize pool.

Just sayin'.