SSSPLATT!!! Paint flung hits canvas and bystanders alike. The mad artist dashes over and swirls the colors, using her hair and elbows as a brush. Finally, she staples a banana peel to the canvas, signs her name with a flourish and says, “Perfect!”
There is something cool about an artist out to please themselves without regard to what you, I or anyone else thinks. But what if the art work—their masterpiece—is for sale in a ruthlessly competitive art market? Should they consider what people want?
Well, food is art and just a few weeks ago, Volta, a new Mediterranean style restaurant in the former Alba space just north of McGuckin, had a soft opening for media types. Our group of four was soon to find out what happens when you cross the chef with ideas of your own.
First, the good…
The new proprietors (who were fixtures at Black Cat Bistro ) lightened, brightened and softened the interior, making it much more welcoming than the dark and stark mood of Alba. And the outside patio, with its plants, bricks and sexy fireplace feels like it would be great for a romantic date or to poach ideas for your own patio redo.
The people associated with Volta seem to want to get it right and make sure each diner is happy. Everyone from the hostess to the bartender to the wait staff and bussers were trying their best. Right on. The bar itself has a giant west-facing window, which casts beautiful colored shadows across the room as sunlight glints through the spirits stacked far and wide; it’s a fine place to drink. And some of the food was exciting. The Octopus Scara, with lemon oil and micro greens was properly char-grilled, refreshingly bouncy and subtle. The salmon tartare on tiny endive cocoons and the goat cheese and beet mini stacks were super
tasty appetizers, as well. A polenta Gorgonzola mushroom app—creatively served on a spoon—was flat and lacking any compelling flavors, but the family-style whole snapper was a huge success. And, literally, it was huge. The fish was draped across a massive oval serving platter, and the delicious snout (complete with buggy eyes) and translucent tail dangled beyond the generous confines of the plate.
Reading the titles for the main courses was a gourmet tour de force, with such things as locally sourced and homemade rabbit sausage, pumpkin flatbread and duck confit salad. They had steelhead trout, they had gnocchi, they had fava bean risotto. And vegetarian scolds aside, who would lambaste a menu that included a trio of hearty lamb dishes: a grilled lamb chop, a braised leg of lamb and a hand ground lamb sausage? Not ewe?
Inevitably, there was the ewwww. Some of it was opening jitters: we waited way too long for dessert, the bartender (though friendly to a fault) basically had no idea what she had in stock or which of their beers was hoppy and the restrooms were neither labeled nor convenient. We were fawned over by at least 6 bussers, hostesses and wait staff, but many of our food-based questions were met with a blank stare followed by a “Let me go find that out for you”, which is the right thing to do…but showed some lack of preparation, Volta’s tender age notwithstanding.
The issue that was hardest to fully grasp, however, was the refusal by the chef to allow any substitutions or even ingredients left on the side. The poor waiter, caught in the crossfire, could only parrot the phrase “the chef believes that the preparation and presentation must not be altered, or the food will not be to the caliber we intended” or words to that effect. The translation is that one of our dinner party—who happens to be a professional dietician, specializing in training folks how to order more healthy foods at restaurants, among other things—couldn’t order what she wanted in the way she wanted it. Leave this off, put this on the side, go light on this….sorry, no, it must remain as the artist/chef intended. In some circumstances, this highbrow strategy might work. For example, the restaurant is insanely busy and doesn’t need to change, the restaurant is located in a town where there is little in the way of competition for fine food, the diners rarely voice dietary restrictions, or the food is so gosh-darn-diddly-delish that the diner will love whatever is on their plate, regardless of dietary needs or preferences.
Quite simply, Volta has not yet earned the artistic privilege.
Boulder is viciously competitive for food bucks, notorious for dietary allergies and, frankly, the food, while sometimes spot on, did not completely blow us away. You have to respect an artist’s sensibility and desire to be true to his or her passion, and surely the chef had the best interest of our palates in mind. But there is a time and a place.
We hope that Volta—which shows flashes of charm, ingenuity and promise—will consider listening to some of the diet challenged folk and be a bit more flexible in their preparation or serving protocols. The stapled banana peel turns brown quick. I’d sub that banana peel for something that makes a lasting impression. If Volta grants that substitution, it’s a win-win.