Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Chat: Readers, critic await opening of Volver

In the kitchen-slash-dining room at Volver are (from left) chef de cuisine Natalie Maronski, chef Jose Garces and designer Marguerite Rodgers.
In the kitchen-slash-dining room at Volver are (from left) chef de cuisine Natalie Maronski, chef Jose Garces and designer Marguerite Rodgers. MICHAEL KLEIN /

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat of March 4, 2014:

Reader: Curious whether you tried La Cheri before the chef change, or only after?

Craig LaBan: No, I rarely get to new places that soon, and he was gone before I had a chance to try it. That is why I wait a couple months before visiting new restaurants. Not at all sure, really, what the issue was. I have a senior editor here who keeps muttering about a dry cassoulet he once ate under the previous chef. ... The key question is how Le Cheri will continue to evolve and maintain its high level of cooking once chef-owner Pierre Calmels finds a second-in-command to spell him while he bounces back and forth to Bibou. 

Reader: How many taquerias do you have to review so the paper can send you to Volver for $250 three times?

C.L.: Ha! That would be anywhere from 10 to 15 taquerias. But there's enough room and reason to cover both. I'm eager to see what Chef Garces has for us when he's trying to pull out all the stops. I feel like it's been a while.

Reader: What's your take on Garces doing a Ticket-Only res at Volver, a la Alinea. I'm not sure the Philly crowd will go for it, yet I can't believe he didn't vet this properly. Appreciate your thoughts.

C.L.: Well, this recent announcement certainly stirred some buzz, and we'll see. I like the notion that this is a ticketed "event" - like all the other performing arts going on in the Kimmel Center. Whether there is enough of a crowd to sustain it? I'm guessing yes. If Talula's Table can fill its two tables a year in advance out in Kennett Square, I think Garces has the star power to do the same twice a night with only a slightly bigger capacity in the middle of Center City.

Reader: But Garces' capacity is 3x Talulas, the price is 2x , it's not BYO, and they want to do two turns.

C.L.: The number of seats is still pretty small considering the location and the national notoriety. And yes, it's very expensive - at $175 to $250 a person, even more than Vetri. He may, in fact, be overreaching. It really comes down to the finished product - if Jose delivers the food he's capable of, and maybe even more, I think he'll have a hit on his hands. If not, well, I guess the Iron Chef has no clothes.

 Reader: But what about the fact that Garces will not be in the kitchen every night? If I'm putting up $250 per person, I'd like him to actually be there.

C.L.: Understood. That, of course, was the initial plan - that Volver would only be open the nights he was in town. It was too big an investment, though, for the restaurant's hours to be limited like that. Of course, it won't be a great restaurant simply because Garces is touching every plate - a great restaurant should run like a well-oiled machine whether the chef is there or not. Vetri, for example, is not in his namesake kitchen every night. But he has the team to execute as if he is no matter what.

Reader: My point is that anything less than three bells would put a serious dent in Garces'/Volver's aspirations.

C.L.: That's not really my concern. It'll get what it deserves. But ... let's wait until it opens, people, before the speculation begins. Predictions now are for April, but it was supposed to open in the fall. You can see the progress through the Spruce Street windows right now - and it's pretty intriguing.

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