|In wine there
is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.
||Home | Featured | The Restaurants | About ||
|« MAR 16: Carmela Ice Cream||MAR 21: The Lazy Dog Cafe in Thousand Oaks »|
exhibits in his cooking at The Vol. 94 is the very opposite: the food is unconventional, bold, and above all, full of soul.
On the other hand, restaurants can go wrong by being daring for the sake of being daring. Not so at The Vol. 94. Dishes, though highly creative, make sense. Chef Lee is very thoughtful about what he puts on the menu. If something doesn't ring true, he won't do his guests a disservice by making them pick what they want to eat from a bunch of kitchen experiments.
At this point, I must disclose an important fact about myself and Chef Lee: we are friends. I've known Chef Lee since his days at Le Cordon Bleu and I have kept track of his career from his first job at Water Grill shucking oysters to working as a sous chef at BottleRock and to the present. I am so proud of him and what he's doing at The Vol. 94. He has definitely come a long way from feeding his friends garlic mashed potatoes and tacos on Sunday evenings :)
Chef Phil Lee very graciously put together a tasting menu for me that included some items on the menu and several items not on it.
What I ate:
This was one long, wild, wondrous ride. (I was at the table for four hours, from 6:30 PM to 10:30 PM!) Hope you're ready, here goes ...
Green Flash West Coast IPA, Green Flash Brewing Co. - San Diego (7 USD). This is the beverage I started the night with. Deep amber color, fruity, and with plenty of hop character. I thought that the West Coast was very balanced for an IPA (one of my favorite styles). It was a pleasure to drink and the nose reminded me of summer fruit, especially apricot. What a great value at only seven dollars!
1. Hama Hama (oyster): Champagne jelly, finger lime, fennel. A nice way to start off the meal. I love oysters and the Hama Hama had plenty of that briny, "oystery" flavor. The globules of finger lime were of particular interest to me as they mimicked caviar and had a unique citrus burst with each pop.
At this point, I noticed the chopsticks at my place setting:
At how many wine bars or fine dining environments can you find chopsticks on the table? How awesome!
2. "Hawaiian Poke": Fluke, hearts of palm, red and black lava salt, toasted coconut almond slivers, Pink Lady apple, oroblanco gastrique. I liked how "white" the composition was - white apple, white hearts of palm, tanned almond slivers. I thought that it was intentional, but now, I'm not one hundred percent sure. In terms of flavor, this dish was very tropical. According to Chef Lee, the inspiration for this dish was a trip he once took to Hawaii.
3. Butter-poached Salmon toro & White baek Kimchi: White kimchi consomme. To be perfectly honest, this was my least favorite course of the evening. The kimchi itself was great: good mool kimchi is dang hard to produce and Chef Lee (and his aunt) deserve credit for it. The toro was fatty and luscious in the mouth. Unfortunately, these two components didn't work quite well together. I understood Chef Phil's intent but my experience didn't match expectations.
4. Spot Prawn - fried head, raw body: Mango (sauce), yuzu, jalapeño, candied ginger, micro cilantro. This was one of the sous chef's creations. The flavor profile obviously conveyed a Southeast Asian sentiment. Faultless.
5. "Cuban Sandwich": Brioche, speck, burrata, tostones (plantain), chickpeas, pickled red onion, micro cilantro, butter pickles. This was definitely one of my favorites if not the best dish of the night. Chef Phil basically remade the traditional Cuban sandwich in his image. It was about two big bites but I wanted more. The brioche was buttery, rich, and had a slightly nutty flavor. Speck - can't go wrong with that. The burrata was soft and the tostones added crunch. I especially liked the pickles. They had a sweet taste but ended in a tangy, zingy finish. How do I get the pickle recipe, Chef?
6. Foie Gras Parfait: Orange marmalade, rosemary, candied kumquats, watercress, shaved nut? It's hard to go wrong with foie gras and Chef Lee accentuated its richness with the citrus from the kumquat & orange marmalade and the pepperiness of watercress. I die and I am reborn every time I eat foie and this time was no exception!
7. Shrimp & Purple Cauliflower: Sultanas puree, vadouvan, garam masala marconas, saba. This dish had a moreish savoriness and weight. I really like cauliflower and pairing it with shrimp was a classic move. New rule of thumb: Only good things can come in Staub cocottes!
8. Razor Clam: Dynamite sauce, chantrelle mushrooms, peas, bonito, togarashi, spring onion, ponzu pool. Here Chef Lee showed some playfulness by dressing the razor clam with a sauce regularly used in Western-style makizushi. The citrusy ponzu pool was the counterpoint to the rich Dynamite sauce, cutting through the fat like a laser beam.
Tolosa Pinot Noir (11 USD, vintage unknown). After the Razor Clam, I asked my server, "MM" how many courses were yet to come. She replied, "Seven." ... Wha? I was taken aback. Knowing more courses were coming up, I decided to order a glass of wine. The nose of the Tolosa was redolent of plum. It was easy to drink, which I valued highly since I'm not big on red wines. The Tolosa had a spicy finish. I would drink this pinot again.
9. XO Risotto: Crawfish, Chinese sausage, chives, garlic chips. Haha, Chef Phil told me this dish was a thumbing of the nose towards something that he and his sous chef used to have to make at WP24: XO fried rice. The risotto was cooked perfectly: each grain had bite to it - al dente. Each bite of crawfish was delightful and the bits of Chinese sausage were delicious. As a whole, the dish was rich and spicy. I love risotto and I loved this rendition.
10. Ray's Bream: Vegetables à la Grecque, peanuts, black garlic (sauce), carrot puree. The fish had just come in from the supplier and was cooked perfectly. I was looking for more flavor from the black garlic but I felt that it was lacking. The carrot puree was very neutral in flavor which helped to moderate some of the other strong flavors on the plate.
11. Pan-seared Diver Scallop: Roasted pine nuts, roasted cauliflower, cauliflower puree. The flavors here married together very well. A simple dish that was well-executed - including a perfectly cooked scallop - and flavors that make sense.
12. Grilled Spanish Octopus: Roasted fingerling potatoes, niçoise olive oil saffron aioli, arugula, Belgian endive. This dish, though nothing groundbreaking, was a solid presentation. The octopus was cooked perfectly: it was tender and not chewy. Although the sauce didn't emulsify very well, the flavor was on point.
13. Seared Foie Gras & unagi: Soybeans, umeboshi (sauce), lotus root chip, daikon sprouts, bonito flakes. Wow, I couldn't believe it: a second foie gras course! I liked how weighty this dish was and how very meaty it was. This essentially Japanese dish was raised up to a higher level with the addition of foie gras. I thought the plate could've used a bit more umeboshi for contrast. Again, I died!
14. Seared Beef Tongue & Braised Beef Cheek: Chili lime corn, sambal caramel, blistered shishito, salsify three ways - chip, purée, braised. In this dish, Chef Phil showed me some ingredients that he had been working with lately. I really liked the flavor and texture of both the puréed salsify and the salsify chip. The braised salsify, however, failed to please. It was nice to see two different cuts of beef side by side. I am an unabashed meat lover!
15. Seared Muscovy Duck Breast: Roasted cherries, baby turnips, pistachio butter, fried shallots, snow of foie gras. All the items on this plate worked really well together. The sweetness of the roasted cherries paired well with the savoriness of the duck and the fried shallots were a nice garnish. For some reason, I struggled to understand the reason for the pistachio butter. Chef Phil explained it to me later, but I forgot what he told me. Oops!
Phew! That was it for the savory courses! By the time I powered through the duck course, I was physically shivering all over from the extravagant amount of food - really!
The desserts at Vol. 94 were conceived by Chef Lee's pastry pro from Dover and they are executed in-house.
16. Crème Brulée: Raspberries. The sugar crust was perfect - thin and with good break. There was some kind of flavor in the custard that I couldn't identify whch elevated this crème brulée above your run of the mill crème brulée.
17. Cheesecake: Blueberries, graham cracker crumble. Who doesn't like cheesecake? The texture of the cheesecake was so smooth I thought it was some other kind of custard.
Here's what the cheesecake looked like beneath the crust:
I loved how the blueberry sauce dribbled all over the filling :)
18. Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta: Dark chocolate feuilletines. In my opinion, desserts ought not to be too sweet and this panna cotta struck the right chord in terms of sweetness.
Thank you for taking care of me, "MM". I'm glad we reconnected :)
Haha, I never once used those chopsticks!
Check out The Vol. 94's Facebook for discounts and deals. Right now (03/20/2012), they're offering a four course prix fixe for 30 USD (Tuesday to Thursday only)!
The price point on beverages overall is pretty good.
Based on what I saw and ate tonight, I'd have to say that Chef Phil Lee and crew are putting out some of the best food in Pasadena right now. In terms of creativity, I don't think anyone else comes close. Believe me, I've looked at the menus for The Vol. 94's competitors and, yeah, yawn.
Although Chef Lee says that he still doesn't have an audience, some of Pasadena's top toques have been spending their free time checking out and positively commenting on his menu. During my epic meal, I chatted with a chef at the table next to mine and it seemed like he was enthusiastic about his meal.
Parking: Enter the parking lot from Union Street (a one way street heading west). Once you pass Garfield Avenue, you will see a black and yellow sign advertising $2 parking on your left. Turn into this parking lot and find a space. Regardless of the signage, PARKING IS FREE during the evening.
The Bill: I paid an amount that will remain undisclosed. Thank you for your hospitality and gigantic heart, Chef Phil!
My Rating: stars out of four stars (outstanding on every level). Yes, I am biased but judge for yourself and take a hard look at their menu and the food presented here. I stand by my assessment that Chef Lee is putting out some of the best food in Pasadena right now. Open Sunday to Thursday, 5:30 PM to 11 PM, and Friday and Saturday, 5:30 PM to 1 AM. Credit cards accepted. www.thevol94.com
Last Word: This was a special meal that I'll remember for the rest of my life. Thank you, Chef Lee and crew of The Vol. 94!
blog comments powered by Disqus
|Gabriel Woo||Navigation||RSS Feed||Previously Featured|
|Editor and Publisher|
|Home||GabrielWooDotCom||February 2011 - Present|
|© 2010 - 2012 Gabriel Woo. All rights reserved.||Featured||October 2010 - February 2011|
|The Restaurants||Social Media||July - October 2010|
|About||May - July 2010|
|Urbanspoon||April - May 2010|
|Flickr||February - April 2010|