Philadelphia’s Volver: Jose Garces’ Entirely Unique High-End Culinary Playground
Jose Garces is one of Philadelphia’s leading culinary lights, and none of his restaurants are exactly like any others: 24 specializes in pizza and pasta, Amada is tapas-oriented, Buena Onda is a fast-casual taco concept, Distrito celebrates the casual cuisine of Mexico City, Garces Trading Company is a European bistro, J.G. Domestic is a contemporary American restaurant, The Olde Bar is an old-fashioned cocktail lounge, Tinto is a Basque-inspired wine bar, and Village Whiskey is legendary for its burgers and duck fat fries. At the top of the heap, however, is Volver, Garces’ fine-dining concept located inside the Kimmel Center. It’s divided into two dining rooms; the front room (called Bar Volver) serves a more casual à la carte menu of international-inspired snacks, small plates, large plates, and cocktails, and the main dining room serves a $125 12-course tasting menu that changes seasonally. We recently had the opportunity to try the tasting menu at the invitation of the restaurant, and it was about as luxurious a dining experience as you’ll find anywhere.
The room has a simple color palette, comfortable leather chains, and a handful of well-spaced tables. On one side are floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Spruce Street’s historic townhouses; on the other is the restaurant’s showpiece, a completely open kitchen. Our chairs were angled toward the kitchen instead of the street, and watching your meal cooked and plated in front of you added an entirely new dimension to the meal; it’s like watching a play while also being able to see what’s going on backstage.
After a cocktail, we opted to complement our meal with a wine pairing, which was organized in an interesting fashion, as 12 glasses of wine would have been a little overboard: The snacks were complemented by a Spanish rose; a different wine accompanied every two courses (a Washington State riesling, Terre di Mate vino bianco, an Alsatian gewürztraminer, and a nebbiolo from Piedmont); and a chenin blanc was served with dessert. It was a smart idea, and the wines were expertly chosen so that they could accompany two dishes despite vastly different flavor profiles.