Chef Jose Garces’ Volvér at the Kimmel Culture Campus reopens and launches its Chef in Residency Program.
The best thing about Restaurant Philadelphia now, beyond signaling Covid’s worst could be over, isn’t just the glut of new dining spaces that are opening at present. It is seeing how veteran restaurateurs are re-imagining their rooms, their menus, and – in the case of Jose Garces’ beloved free-form Volvér at the Kimmel Culture Campus – his very concept.
To go with Volvér’s reopening at the top of October, there is Garces’ dedication to his new Chefs in Residency Program. Subtitled a “Who’s Who of Philadelphia’s rising talent,” Garces new program is dedicated to the spirit of diversity and the interaction of equity with the inaugural Chefs in Residency 2021-2022 season list including Chef Kiki Aranita from Poi Dog Philly, Chef Phila Lorn from Terrain Glen Mills, Chef Jezabel Careaga from Jezabel’s, Chef Jennifer Zavala of Juana Tamale, Chef Alex Yoon of Little Fish and Chef Dane DeMarco of Sonny’s Cocktail Bar and Wine Dive. While every Chef in Residency showcases their signature dishes on the Volvér menu for six to eight weeks, Chef Garces’ French-inspired favorites will exist alongside them, so that any diner can mix-and-match between the two menus. With that, each guest chef can fundraise through Volvér for their current or future projects, such as Aranita’s proposed new commercial line of sauces.
Poi Dog Philly’s Chef Kiki Aranita – renowned for her hybrid Hawaiian menu and its elements of Filipino, Japanese, Okinawan, Chinese and Portuguese cuisine – was (and is, as Aranita is there until November 28) the first to collaborate with Garces, and the pairing was as thrilling as it was varied.
Starting with the Small Plates portion of the menu, Garces’ savory Milk & Cereal dish was sheer invention with a side of subtle flavors. This has forever been one of Volvér’s traditions, inspired by Chef Garces’ childhood, and was flush with bacon, glazed chicken, plump wild mushrooms, puffed rice, and thyme marshmallows made slightly sweet once a carton of warm asparagus milk was poured slowly over the bowl’s ingredients. Eaten with a spoon with every delicate taste distinctive and present, there’s a reason this treat is one of Volvér’ signatures – it’s awesome.
On Aranita’s side of the Small Plates ledger, there was the Egg Tofu with Maui Lavender Ponzu, Gamtae seaweed, ginger and cucumber. An impressively light start to an opulent dinner, Aranita’s dish had a lovely silken mouthfeel, with just a hint of the lavender and the ginger – even cucumber – peeking through. This Egg Tofu was delightfully gracefully balanced with Garces’ bold, fun, faux-breakfast-y delight.
Aranita’s vegan entrée, Perilla Roasted Mushrooms with Forbidden Rice and Collard Lu’au is, according to the chef, “traditionally a stew made with taro leaves and coconut milk – this one is made mainland-style with collard greens.” This vegan dish was perfectly seasoned and finely flavored featuring mushrooms earthy and tender – the way that you always want mushrooms to be – and with black rice adding texture. Aranita has a genuine feel for delicate, even dainty flavors.
Garces’ Filet Mignon “Philly Style” was, in a word, wonderful. Another playful take on local tradition – the cheesesteak – a hearty rare filet is set upon a toasted sliver of sourdough bread that soaks up the savory juices, and makes the dish even more lavish. Resting beside that is an Alpine cheese fondue, a caramelized onion puree and a generous helping of red wine braised shallot, companions that make Garces’ “Philly Style” one of the best steaks in a town known for its contenders.
For dessert, we opted for Aranita’s Andagi with Dulce de Leche Ice Cream – crunchy Okinawan donuts that were crisp on the outside, airy on the inside, with just the perfect amount of cold, caramelly ice cream alongside. Garces’ Brown Butter Choux Puff of white chocolate with gold flakes and coffee mousse was a chance to savor an after-dinner coffee rush. Though we certainly enjoyed the bar’s alcoholic offerings, we were especially thrilled by the non-alcoholic beverages, with our favorite being the citrus and rosemary made with fresh lemon, soda and a sprig of fresh herb.
Overall, the Volvér and Chefs in Residency Program experience was off to an amazing start. We can’t wait to stop in again to enjoy what each of Garces’ collaborative chefs brings to the table.
Images: Reese Amorosi