Before the Siberian sturgeon caviar is nudged onto a mother-of-pearl spoon, before the bartender torches an alder wood plank for a smoked-Marcona-almond Old Fashioned, before you ingest anything at Volvér, Jose Garces’s new restaurant at the Kimmel Center—you must buy tickets. Yes, tickets.
It’s a wholly new concept for Philadelphia. Dinner is served Wednesday through Sunday. Garces groupies must register on Volvér’s website and purchase tickets for their desired seating: $75 per person for pre-theater and performance tastings (5 and 5:30 p.m.) and $150 during the summer for the full multi-act Garces performance tasting (7:30 to 8:30 p.m.). Anyone can stroll off the street (or off the soaring, geodesic Kimmel Center lobby) into the Bar Volvér lounge, an airy space with an oval bar, exhaustive Champagne list, small plates, dessert cart, and psychedelic blue textile mural. But for access to the inner-sanctum dining room, separate admission is required.
Siberian sturgeon caviar with brioche migas, whipped crème fraîche, and chive.
“[Ticketed dining] is something entirely new for Philadelphia, which is in line with the one-of-a-kind experience we want to offer at Volvér,” Garces explains. “Being based in the Kimmel Center and having so many performances go on behind us, we decided to make our dining experience a performance as well.”
Tickets are nonrefundable (but transferable, with some hoops to jump through), taking a cue from restaurants like Next in Chicago and Trois Mec in Los Angeles. “I thought that was a progressive look at our industry and how to book tables,” he says. By installing this policy, Garces has placed himself and his cooking on a level with Grant Achatz, Dave Beran, and Ludo Lefebvre—an enormous leap of faith being asked of notoriously persnickety Philadelphia diners, even those who frequent his 11 other restaurants from here to Atlantic City.
Wagyu beef cooked on embers with beet root crema, Provoleta, salsa criolla, charred pepper purée, and Nury potatoes.
But Volvér is Garces’s most ambitious, rarefied restaurant yet: one in which salads are served alive, desserts are gold-leafed, and servers are “captains” with neat manicures and off-centered parts deep enough to swim in. Yours will collect you from the entrance, introduce him-or herself with a handshake, and whisk you into the quietly stunning, sunflooded dining room hidden beyond the bar. It’s one of the best-designed spaces in the city, at once intimate and airy. The square footage between tables is downright luxurious—the best ones line up against floor-to-ceiling etched-glass windows that overlook Spruce Street—and the studded-leather, design-geek chairs are so money you’d swear they were upholstered in $100 bills. Opposite the window wall, the open kitchen gleams. Garces’s cooks, led by longtime Amada general, Natalie Maronski, whom he describes as a “rock in the kitchen,” are a fiddlehead’s throw away with their stations facing the dining room.
Once you’ve settled at a table, the captain presents a wine iPad and the leather-bound menu, inside of which is a welcome note from Garces explaining the restaurant’s name and concept: “[Vol-vehr] to return. A word steeped in memory. An aspiration tonight. Return with me to the places, the experiences, and, especially, the flavors that have shaped my journey so far, from my mother’s kitchen to my travels around the world. Welcome to Volvér.”
Volvér’s interior features floor-to-ceiling etched-glass windows that overlook Spruce Street.
Like a public reading of someone else’s autobiography, the captains preface each course with “chef’s” inspirations for the dishes: cooking in Spain, for instance, or competing on Iron Chef America in Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, or a particular sculpture that inspired him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That piece of art yields another: a clear plastic carton filled with foamy white asparagus milk, served with a bowl of savory “cereal” (rice flakes, bacon, chicken oysters, a softly cooked quail egg, and truffles and thyme marshmallows tinier than pencil erasers). You pour one over the other, stir, and spoon.
Lettuce is raised at Garces’s Bucks County Luna Farm and transported to Volvér in a mobile raised bed that sits like a boxed bonsai on the pass and is snipped to order before joining a landscape of glazed carrots, curried raisins, pickled cauliflower, goat cheese “dirt” darkened with squid ink, duck skin crumble, almond milk crisps, and purées of pistachio and Meyer lemon. Wagyu is seared on embers with salsa criolla and Provoleta. Chocolate discs are drizzled tableside in shimmering gold-leaf sauce. “I can connect with my guests and see their expression after they take a bite,” Garces says. “Each dish has a bit of heart and soul, and that’s what I’m trying to convey.” Volvér at Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St., 215-670-2303