Global gastronomy in Philadelphia
While Philadelphia has its share of fine-dining establishments, Volvér Restaurant brings in a much-needed element: diversity. Celebrity chef Jose Garces takes you on a prix fixe journey through cuisines from all over the world in the intimate restaurant located inside the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
With seven restaurants dotted across the City of Brotherly Love, his home since 2001, Garces is arguably the king of the Philadelphia restaurant scene, although his culinary philosophy reflects both his Ecuadorian heritage and a myriad of global influences. A graduate of Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts in Chicago, he honed his craft in New York and abroad. Today he owns and operates more than a dozen restaurants under the Garces Group name across the United States from Scottsdale, Arizona to Washington, D.C. Recognizing Garces’ culinary achievements, the James Beard Foundation named him Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic in 2009. A regular fixture on television, Garces is one of only eight chefs in the country who holds the title of Iron Chef, and he frequently appears on Iron Chef America, having won The Next Iron Chef.
Also helming the kitchen at Volvér is chef de cuisine Natalie Maronski, who has been working with Garces since 2006, first at his restaurant Amada and then at Chifa.
Volvér, meaning “to return” in Spanish, offers a culinary meditation and represents Garces’ return to his most influential culinary experiences across the globe. While the menu has experienced some structural changes since the restaurant’s opening in 2014, today Volvér serves eight- and 12-course tasting menus. The shorter menu is essentially a subset of the larger one, and wine pairings are available for both. The menus span the world while also showcasing regional specialties, including locally raised meat, poultry and seafood, as well as produce from Garces’ Luna Farm, a sustainable, organic 40-acre plot in Ottsville, Pennsylvania, named for his family’s dog.
A recent visit to the Philadelphia restaurant included such dishes as chawanmushi (a Japanese egg custard) with teriyaki-glazed shortrib, pickled pearl onions, shiitake mushrooms and puffed nori; an Ecuadorian-style ceviche with tomato gelée and popped sorghum; and John Dory with crispy cabbage, roasted potato crema, caviar and a brown butter jus. One menu item that’s been on the bill of fare from day one, however, is the signature “KFS” — Garces’ playful riff on Kentucky Fried Chicken, which features brined squab and chicken sausage fried with his own version of “11 herbs and spices,” served with a biscuit, squab gravy, celery root slaw and a light corn purée.
With only 34 seats overlooking an open (and remarkably calm and quiet) kitchen, Volvér is an intimate dining experience with top-notch, highly personalized service. Volvér boasts a contemporary décor designed by architectural firm KieranTimberlake and designer Marguerite Rodgers. Light floods through the walls of windows overlooking Spruce Street, highlighting a custom-made textile art installation from Philadelphia-based artist Conrad Booker that anchors the setting of Bar Volvér. A distinctive wood sculpture from Darrell Copeland and wax-dipped paper installation from Jessica Drenk round out some of the striking artwork found in the main dining room. Attention to detail and high-quality design are reflected in the serviceware as well; the Avenue of the Arts restaurant employs Schott Zwiesel glassware, Guy Degrenne cutlery and Bernardaud china for its tasting menus.
Adjacent to Volvér, Bar Volvér provides an inviting setting for a pre-dinner cocktail or a light bite prior to a show at the Kimmel Center. The food menu is designed more for grazing than noshing, with caviar services (American sturgeon, Siberian sturgeon and Ossetra), raw oysters, and tartine-style sandwiches taking center stage. A selection of tartars, such as the chopped Wagyu with shallot, Dijon, capers and a quail egg, or the tuna tartare with fish flown in from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market are also offered. The full wine list (handily displayed on an iPad), curated by sommelier Gordana Kostovski, is also available at the bar; peruse an extensive selection of more than 1,500 bottles and more than two dozen wines by the glass. Local beers and distinctive craft cocktails, such as the Nero Manhattan (rye, amaro and bitters) and the smoked marcona old-fashioned (bourbon and marcona almond bitters), fill out the extensive drinks list.